NORRISTOWN — Jurors appeared riveted as they viewed crime scene photos of a freshly dug hole discovered behind a Royersford warehouse that contained the body of a Limerick Township woman.
“It was shallow,” county Detective Lieutenant Edward Schikel testified Friday in Montgomery County Court, referring to what he called the “clandestine grave” of murder victim Jennifer Brown, discovered on Jan. 18, 2023, at the rear of a warehouse in the 200 block of North 5th Avenue in Royersford. “The entirety of her body was covered in dirt.”
Schikel testified Brown, 43, who had been missing since Jan. 3, was clad in blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt but did not have socks or shoes on her feet.
“When we lifted her up, three items of evidence were discovered underneath her,” said Schikel, referring glasses, Apple earpods and a broken hair clip.
Schikel, testifying on the third day of the trial of accused killer Blair Anthony Watts, said an earlier search of Brown’s home along the 1400 block of Stratford Court in Limerick uncovered several broken pieces of a hair clip embedded in a carpet. Prosecutors have alleged those pieces were consistent with the broken hair clip found in the shallow grave with Brown’s body.
Relatives of Brown wept in the courtroom as photos of the shallow grave were shown on a large projection screen in the courtroom. Watts stared downward and appeared to try to avoid looking at the photos during the presentation.
Testimony revealed detectives were alerted to the area by employees of AMT Pump Company who reported finding something suspicious to the rear of the business that backed up to a wooded area. Several wooden pallets had been placed on top of the shallow grave, witnesses testified.
County Detective Terrance Lewis testified he located dirt particles in the cargo area of a red Jeep Cherokee vehicle that prosecutors have linked to Watts. Those dirt samples, as well as samples collected from the soil where Brown’s body was buried, were sent to an FBI lab for testing and comparison, testimony revealed.
Watts, 33, of the 600 block of Hunsberger Drive, faces charges of first- and third-degree murder, theft by unlawful taking or disposition and access device fraud in connection with the alleged Jan. 3 slaying of Brown, who was his business partner.
During the trial, First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and Deputy District Attorney Kelly S. Lloyd argued Watts was a “broke narcissist” and a failed businessman who killed Brown, who invested in a proposed restaurant business with him, when he feared she was going to expose his lies about his business dealings, specifically that he used her investment monies for his personal expenses.
Lloyd and McCann alleged Watts had a wife and three children to support and a pregnant girlfriend and ingratiated himself in Brown’s life and told her “lie after lie after lie” and killed her and then buried her in Royersford to cover his tracks.
But defense lawyer Michael Coard argued even if jurors believe Watts is a “broke narcissist” it doesn’t make him a murderer. Coard argued jurors must base their verdict on the evidence.
The trial before Judge William R. Carpenter will continue next week.
A conviction of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, carries a mandatory life prison term. Third-degree murder, a killing committed with malice, a hardness of heart or recklessness of consequences, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison upon conviction.
In other testimony on Friday, jurors viewed a two hour videotaped interview that Watts agreed to with county detectives on Jan. 7. During that interview, detectives confronted Watts about several inconsistencies in statements he previously made regarding the vehicles that he drove.
Watts’ girlfriend, who lived in Stowe, told detectives that Watts had instructed her that if she spoke to detectives that she was “not to mention that he drives the red Jeep Cherokee,” according to court papers and testimony.
Watts, during the Jan. 7 interview, then revised previous statements and stated he did possess and operate a red Jeep Cherokee. However, Watts denied that he ever asked his girlfriend not to mention the vehicle to detectives.
During the Jan. 7 interview, county Detective John Wittenberger told Watts investigators were seeking the truth and he asked Watts if something happened to Brown while she was in his company or if he knew what happened to her and had information about her whereabouts.
“I don’t know anything. I didn’t do anything to her. We never had bad dealings. We never argue. We never scream,” Watts said, according to the videotaped recording played in court.
“This is not funny to me. This is (expletive) crazy,” Watts added, at times appearing nervous.
Watts also gave detectives consent to search the red Jeep.
On Jan. 8, a cadaver dog, Patton, from the Philadelphia Police Department, detected the odor of human remains or human biological material on the floor board behind the driver seat of the red Jeep, according to testimony.
An autopsy determined Brown suffered three broken ribs. The cause of death was attributed to “homicide by unspecified means,” with compression and asphyxia, a mechanism that would account for the fractured ribs, authorities alleged.
Detectives alleged cellphone analysis showed that between 8:27 p.m. and 8:42 p.m. Jan. 5 Watts’ cellphone was in the vicinity of where Brown’s body was eventually discovered. Surveillance cameras in the area also depicted a Jeep vehicle linked to Watts “in this same exact area, during the same exact time frame,” detectives alleged.
The investigation began on Jan. 4 when Limerick police responded to Brown’s Stratford Court home to conduct a welfare check at the request of Watts, who told police he was a friend and business partner of Brown and had been unable to contact her, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Mark Minzola and Limerick Detective Sergeant Paul Marchese.
Watts, according to court papers, claimed to detectives that he had last seen Brown at 2 p.m. Jan. 3 when he was at her home. Watts claimed Brown and he had agreed that Watts would pick up Brown’s 8-year-old son at the school bus stop that afternoon and would keep him overnight and take him to school on Jan. 4, which Watts described as not uncommon.
Watts told detectives he picked up the child at the bus stop and claimed that he texted Brown at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3 and again in the morning of Jan. 4 and never received a response from Brown, according to the arrest affidavit. Watts allegedly claimed he went to the school bus stop about 4 p.m. Jan. 4, found that Brown was not there and picked up Brown’s son and went to her residence but no one answered.
Detectives found Brown’s vehicle parked near her home.
During the investigation, detectives determined that on Aug. 28, 2022, Brown entered into a business partnership agreement with Watts to invest money in Watts’ restaurant which they were planning to open in Phoenixville by the end of January 2023.
However, when detectives spoke to the owners of the property they learned that the owners had never signed a lease with Watts and no renovation work had been completed on the building by Watts to ready it for a restaurant, according to court documents.
When detectives analyzed the contents of Brown’s electronic devices they found two cash transfers totaling $17,000 to Watts between 4:23 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. on Jan. 3, according to court documents.
Detectives alleged that the $17,000 was never part of a written agreement between Brown and Watts. Authorities alleged that Brown was already dead when those money transfers occurred and that Watts made them using Brown’s computer tablet.
Source: Berkshire mont