Calif. inmate confesses to killing 2 inmates in letter to newspaper
“As I got to the lower tier, I saw a known child trafficker, and I figured I’d just do everybody a favor,” Watson wrote. “In for a penny, in for a pound”
The Mercury News
CORCORAN, Calif. — Jonathan Watson, the California inmate accused of beating two convicted child molesters to death with a cane last month, has publicly confessed to both killings and says he gave prison officials plenty of warning that an attack would come if he wasn’t transferred to a new facility.
In a letter to this news organization, Watson, 41, said he murdered David Bobb, 48, and Graham De Luis-Conti, 62, with another inmate’s cane just one week after being transferred to California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, in Corcoran.
Watson wrote that hours before attacking both men, he told a counselor at the prison that he wanted to be transferred, adding that the request was “urgent,” and that he would soon attack an inmate, but said that the warning was ignored. After the first attack, Watson said he was surprised at the lack of response from guards, so he singled out a second “child trafficker” and began beating him. Authorities were unaware of either homicide until Watson located a guard and led him to the bloody scene, he wrote.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment on Watson’s account of the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.
In a news release last month, prison officials identified Watson as the person responsible for the Jan. 16 killings, and said he had “attacked two inmates with a weapon…causing multiple head wounds to both victims.” Bobb died later that day, officials said, and De Luis-Conti perished three days later, at a local hospital. Both men were serving life sentences for convictions of aggravated sexual assault involving children under the age of 14, prison officials said.
No charges have been filed yet against Watson, who is serving a life sentence for a 2009 murder conviction, court records show.
In the letter, Watson said he had recently been given a lower-level security classification, from Level III to Level II, prompting his transfer from a single-person cell to dorm-style living at the Corcoran prison. Watson was displeased by the transfer, which he called a “careless” mistake by CDCR, adding he left “quite a paper trail” of grievances protesting it.
Six days into his stay at the prison, Watson wrote, “a child molester” moved into his pod. His letter does not refer to Bobb nor Luis-Conti by name but said the man — referred to as “Molester #1” — began watching PBS Kids in full view of other inmates, which Watson and others took as a taunt.
That night, Watson wrote, “I could not sleep having not done what every instinct told me I should’ve done right then and there, so I packed all of my things because I knew one way or another the situation would be resolved the following day.”
The next day, two hours before the attacks, Watson told a prison counselor that he needed to be transferred back to Level III “before I really (expletive) one of these dudes up,” but that the counselor “scoffed and dismissed me.”
Watson’s account of the killings is the second recent allegation that housing decisions by state prison officials put inmates in harm’s way, resulting in a homicide. Last month, the family of Rodney DeLong filed a federal lawsuit against CDCR, alleging that officials at High Desert State Prison made the mistake of placing DeLong in a cell with an Aryan Brotherhood member who’d murdered another inmate months earlier.
DeLong — who the suit claims was listed in internal prison records as an “enemy” of the Aryan Brotherhood — was stabbed to death by his new cellmate within a half-hour of being placed in the cell.
In Watson’s case, his warning to prison officials was a clear red flag that he might turn violent, said Joshua Mason, a formerly incarcerated Bay Area man who has become a gang expert and legal consultant.
“This guy should have never been housed with those people and that’s common laymen knowledge,” Mason said. “He told them, ‘I can’t be housed here,’ and that’s admirable. That’s a deviation from normal prison general population behavior… The culture is, if you’re uncomfortable, do something about it. The fact that he did seek out the administration shows he was just trying to do his time.”
In his letter, Watson said that after warning the counselor he might turn violent, he returned to his pod. “I was mulling it all over when along came Molester #1 and he put his TV right on PBS Kids again,” he wrote. “But this time, someone else said something to the effect of ‘Is this guy really going to watch this right in front of us?’ and I recall saying, ‘I got this.’ And I picked up the cane and went to work on him.”
Afterwards, Watson said he left the pod to find a guard and turn himself in. On the way, he encountered his second victim, and decided to kill again. “As I got to the lower tier, I saw a known child trafficker, and I figured I’d just do everybody a favor,” Watson wrote. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
When the beatings failed to draw the attention of any corrections officials, Watson said, he approached an officer himself to confess what he had done.
“I told him, ‘I’ve got some pretty bad news,’ to which he ironically replied, ‘You’re not going to hit me with that cane are you?'” Watson wrote. “So after jesting for a moment, knowing this might be the last decent moment that I have for a long time, I told him what I’d just done, which he also didn’t believe until he looked around the corner and saw the mess I’d left in the dorm area.”
He said after being detained for the killings, he gave prison officials a full confession, “detailing the situation as I just did for you.”
Watson said he will plead guilty to both killings if the state takes him to court —and hinted that he may try to kill again if he is housed with child molesters in the future. The letter — which came in response to a request for a phone interview from this news organization — explained that he can communicate only by mail, as the prison has restricted his phone privileges and placed him in segregated housing as a punishment for the killings.
“Being a lifer, I’m in a unique position where I sometimes have access to these people and I have so little to lose,” Watson wrote. He later added, “And trust me, we get it, these people are every parents’ worst nightmare. These familys (sic) spend years carefully and articulately planning how to give their children every opportunity that they never had, and one monster comes along and changes that child’s trajectory forever.”
Robert Hood, a retired prison warden who spent three years in charge of the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, said that while it’s no secret child molesters are routinely targeted in prison, the number of inmates with sex convictions is so high, it’s challenging to find facilities where they can be safe.
“With the division that occurs between white collar criminals, drug addicts, different gangs and all that, the one magnet that pulls them all together truly is the sex offender,” Hood said. He added: “I’m not trying to sound like a bleeding heart here, but the chemistry we put people into in certain prison environments is not healthy for anyone — especially the person at the bottom of the totem pole, which is the sex offender.”