Two years ago, when we told you about the murder of Claudia Miller, a local attorney, and the subsequent arrest of Warren Watson in the case, it was already clear that the crime was extraordinarily disturbing.
However, information that came out in Watson's just-concluded trial is even creepier than we might have imagined.
Prosecutors argued that Watson planned for months to act out the fantasy of killing a female lawyer, targeting several other potential victims before settling on Miller.
And now, a jury has agreed.
Warning: The details may disturb some readers.
At around 8:15 p.m. on March 5, 2013, as we've reported, Lakewood police officers responded to an office complex at 445 Union Boulevard.
Turns out a member of the building's cleaning crew had found a woman's body that early reports said had suffered "some trauma."
The victim was subsequently identified as Miller, a veteran litigator.
Miller was admitted to the state bar back in 1983 and was a longtime member of the First Judicial Bar Association who chaired the group's banquet committee.
She specialized in family law and was known by colleagues for her ebullient personality.
In the wake of this gruesome discovery, investigators followed up several leads
Among them: surveillance footage from a Walmart at 36th and Quebec and a King Soopers not far away, at 28th and Quebec.
Still photos released by the Lakewood Police Department showed a man using Miller's plastic.
The image from the Walmart store gave only a vague indication of his features, but the two shots from the King Soopers offered more detail.
Here's the first....
...and the second:
Also missing was Miller's car, a black 2012 Honda Accord, and the timing of its disappearance suggests that her killer may have driven it away.
The vehicle was subsequently found in a north-metro-Denver location. Afterward, it was impounded and processed for its "evidentiary value."
A short time later, Watson was publicly identified as a person of interest in the case — and he was hardly an unknown quantity for law enforcement.
Over the years, Watson had racked up four pages worth of raps on his Colorado Bureau of Investigation sheet, including forgery, burglary and vehicle theft charges during the 1990s and a couple of escape attempts in the 2000s. He had an active warrant in his name at the time and was considered armed and dangerous.
Within days, however, he was in custody — but in a community far from the one where Miller had died. He was found in the City of Caldwell, Idaho.
By the end of the month, a grand jury had indicted Watson in Miller's death — and the document produced in the process (see it below) offered chilling information about what took place.
The indictment reveals that Miller's body was found lying on the floor in a file storage room — and signs of sexual abuse were obvious. Her shirt and bra were pulled up over her chest, her pants were unbuttoned and had been lowered, and her underwear was missing.
In addition, Miller's wrists showed evidence of what the cops describe as "ligature marks," and she had postmortem abrasions on her stomach. An additional description adds a disturbing element: "The victim appeared to be very wet."
An autopsy later determined that she'd been strangled to death.
Investigators subsequently contacted Miller's secretary, who revealed that her boss had credit cards through Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Capital One and US Bank, plus a debit card with Mutual of Omaha — and many of them were used between the hours of 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on the day Miller died, at retailers such as multiple King Soopers outlets, a Ross clothing store, a Walmart and a Sapp Brothers truck stop in Commerce City.
The surveillance photos of a man resembling Watson pointed investigators in his direction, and so did a tipster. Police received a call from a woman who said she'd been staying with Watson at a Best Inn and Suites on the 4500 block of Quebec in Denver. She subsequently provided a cell phone number for Watson that showed up on Miller's call logs.
More surveillance footage offered still more evidence. Miller's phone was found in a dumpster on the 2800 block of Downing in Denver, and a camera from a nearby video captured a black Honda like the one she'd owned pulling up to it. The driver then put a black trash bag inside, and the indictment identifies him as Watson.
Among the other items in the bag: blood-stained panties, plus zip ties of the sort that might have created the aforementioned ligature marks.
Investigators later found Miller's car at a Sapp Brothers truck stop not far from the Best Inn where he'd stayed, and determined that he'd boarded a flight to Idaho on March 7. He was captured the next day.
What did Watson say when he sat down with detectives from Colorado? The indictment quotes a graphic confession. A chilling excerpt:
Warren Watson admitted to pulling out what he described as a fake gun and telling Claudia Miller to get down on the floor. He admitted to tying her up, going through her purse and taking her money and her credit cards. He admitted that he strangled her. He admitted touching her labia and running his hands on the outside of her vagina. He stated that he took a Kleenex to wipe her and his hand went inside her. He said that the napkin fell apart and he used water to flush it out. Warren Watson admitted to being sexually aroused and intended to have sex with Claudia Miller at some point. He also admitted to killing her.
At trial, notes the First Judicial District DA's office, more background emerged.
Prosecutors say Watson's had sought out a female attorney who practiced family law in the months prior to the killing — and "his plans included sexual fantasy and robbery."
He allegedly "called other female attorneys, who had declined to meet with him on such short notice, before he called Ms. Miller."
During the call, Watson allegedly identified himself as a doctor and used a false name when asking for an appointment — and he scheduled it for 4:30 p.m., then called to say he would be late, under the theory that Miller would be alone in the office by the time he arrived.
These factors no doubt contributed to the huge number of charges of which the jury found Watson guilty: one count apiece of first degree murder after deliberation, felony murder/sexual assault, felony murder/robbery, sexual assault by force and tampering with evidence, as well as two counts of aggravated robbery and seven counts of identity theft.
Because Watson had seven prior felony convictions prior to the latest batch, he will be tried as a habitual criminal on September 2, at which point a sentencing hearing will be set.
Our condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of Claudia Miller. Look below to see Watson's booking photo and the aforementioned indictment.
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