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Monday, Oct. 5, 2015

Will seek death penalty

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two men arrested for 1986 murder

With tears streaming down their faces, the family of Katherine Bone Watts sat in the courtroom quietly as Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver announced that two men have been arrested in the murder of the 21-year-old woman and her husband in 1986.

Law enforcement officers in Kissimmee, Fla., arrested Steven Victor Wertz, 56, May 1 on a warrant issued in Sharp County April 27. Georgetown, Ky., authorities arrested Wertz' alleged accomplice, James Guthrie Burr Snyder Jr., May 2 on a warrant issued April 28. Both men are charged with two counts of capital murder.

Wertz has refused extradition and local authorities are working with Florida Governor Jeb Bush to have him sent to Arkansas. Snyder waived extradition during a hearing May 4. He was transported to Sharp County May 7 from the Scott County Detention Center in Georgetown, Ky.

The state will seek the death penalty against both men, said special prosecutor Jack McQuary during a press conference at the Sharp County Courthouse May 4 with Weaver and Det. Sgt. David Huffmaster, the lead investigator in the case.

Wertz, who was working as a security guard, and Snyder, who is unemployed, have been the primary suspects in the case since the Dec. 31, 1986, murders, Weaver said.

"You can't bring charges unless you're able to prove or have probable cause," McQuary said. "You don't want to start a case until you're pretty certain you can prosecute them."

Huffmaster said the fact that the two men live out of state is one of the many reasons it has taken this long to get a warrant.

"Timing is important in everything," Weaver said. "Things are available to us that wasn't available 19 years ago. Nothing stays the same. Things change. People get married and divorced and end with hard feelings sometimes. We tried to take advantage of that and it worked."

McQuary said the case hadn't ended in the issue of warrants until now because of a conflict of interest that existed with prosecutors from the area. Terry Watts had been involved in a custody battle with his ex-wife, Belinda Wertz, over their daughter, Chasenda, 5. Deputy Prosecutor Tom Garner had represented Watts in the past with the issue. Watts was granted custody of his daughter Dec. 18, 1986, after a bitter battle in Oklahoma.

"Henry (Boyce) was concerned and did not want to let it rest on a shelf," said McQuary, a deputy prosecutor in Benton for the 6th Judicial District, who accepted the case a year ago.

When McQuary took the assignment he already had other special cases he was working on. He began working with Huffmaster when he was freed up. He began working on the case diligently in the fall of 2005.

Terry and Kathy Watts were found dead inside their home the morning of Dec. 31, 1986, by Kathy Watts' mother, Judy Bone, who had stopped by the home to take Terry Watts to work at Cherokee Frame Company.

The front door of the home had been kicked in and the front glass had been broken. Terry Watts was found naked in the living room and had suffered a gunshot wound to the chest. His throat had also been cut and a finger had been severed. The couple's 11-month-old son, Joshua, who turned 1 four days after the murders, was found sleeping next to his father in the living room. He was not harmed.

Kathy Watts was found naked in a bedroom of the home. She had sustained two gunshot wounds, one to the left thigh and one to the head. Both are believed to have been shot with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot.

Wertz, a Vietnam veteran, reserve officer for the Guthrie, Okla., Police Department and an employee of the Oklahoma National Guard, became a suspect immediately.

Chasenda Watts was spending the Christmas holiday with her mother and Wertz in Oklahoma when the couple was found murdered in their home. Chasenda was scheduled to return to her father in Arkansas Jan. 2, 1987, but she remained in Oklahoma after the deaths. She is now grown and married, Weaver said.

The Watts' son, Joshua, grew up with Bone. They moved away from the area shortly after the murders. She now resides in Missouri, Weaver said.

Since the murders, Steven and Belinda Wertz divorced and Wertz remarried. Wertz moved to Florida about 15 years ago, Weaver said. Snyder recently moved to Kentucky.

Police spoke to Snyder, who knew Wertz at the time from his involvement with the National Guard in Oklahoma on April 25. At that time Snyder confessed to the crime, Huffmaster said. He told police he had accompanied and assisted Wertz by providing the transport and getting Terry Watts to come to the door and then acting as a lookout after the initial shots were fired, Huffmaster said. He also assisted in arranging the false alibi that Wertz provided when the two men returned to Oklahoma, Huffmaster said.

"We don't want to minimize the work that was done on this case in the beginning," Weaver said, adding that Investigator Steve Huddleston with the Arkansas State Police, former deputy sheriff and current Sharp County JP Dennis Burton and former Sheriff Sonny Powell all worked on the case.

The case became cold but was never closed, Weaver said.

"The case was never closed. You don't close cases like this," Weaver said, adding that he "reactivated" the case when he took office.

Weaver and Huffmaster have made seven trips to three states. They have worked with agencies in four other states including the FBI. The two traveled almost 3,000 miles last week trying to arrest the two suspects.

Weaver said the Watts family has been supportive of the department's efforts. Family members declined to comment about the arrests during the press conference.

McQuary said the department is carefully filtering information about the case.

"We've been real careful about putting out any information," Weaver said. "We don't want to say anything to jeopardize this case."

McQuary declined to talk about evidence in the case.

"The state of Arkansas can't bring charges unless we feel they are the suspects," he said. "It's a case we feel certain in."

Belinda Wertz has remarried and is known as Belinda Stewart. She now lives in Kentucky. She had not been charged in the case as of press time May 8.

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