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By DAMON LAWRENCE
For the third time in less than 18 months, Mildred Anne Watts told a jury her recollection of what transpired in the May 11, 2006, shootout that left Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along friend Mike Brown dead.
The gist of her testimony Friday morning was the same as it has been in two previous trials. The first shots to ring out in the gun fight came from Jones' patrol car.
“The passenger's gun was up and it fired immediately,” Watts said. “Then the driver's gun came up directly behind that and fired.”
Watts was one of three people present at Leon Houston's home when he and his brother Rocky Houston got into the shootout with Jones and Brown. Special prosecutor Kenneth Irvine alleges that Jones and Brown died as the result of a premeditated ambush orchestrated by Rocky and Leon.
Watts said that's not how it appeared to her when she visited the home that day. She said Leon appeared peaceful and serene.
“He was just like any other day, sitting on the porch, enjoying the afternoon,” she said.
Watts went to Leon's home on Barnard Narrows Road that day after she had gotten off work. Watts testified that she and others were on Leon's porch smoking marijuana when Rocky showed up. Rocky was aggravated about the patrol car driving by, Watts said.
The shooting rang out a few minutes later. Watts was adamant that the first shots came from the patrol car when it pulled up to the home.
Irvine asked Watts about her statement to the FBI the night of the shooting, and why it differed from her testimony. Watts was interviewed by the FBI at her home.
“He asked me did you see any flashes from any of the guns and then he said, 'Never mind, don't answer that,'” Watts testified.
Watts said it was at that moment she realized the first shots came from the patrol car, but she didn't tell the FBI because she feared for her safety.
“I looked at the Roane County officer standing to my left,” she said. “He had an assault rifle. I looked at one FBI, another FBI, another Roane County standing at my door and then I looked to the bedroom where my two boys were at.”
Watts said at that point she didn't know what to say.
“Was I going to say, 'Oh, wow, the cops just shot first,” Watts said. “That's when it hit me, the cops shot first, was at that moment. On the porch, no I did not realize at that instant. Everything happened so quick, everything was dramatic and just blew up. When he asked me that specific question that's when it hit me that the first shots came from the patrol car and I was in shock.”
After Watts concluded her testimony, Irvine called FBI agent Buddy Early to impeach her testimony. Early testified that Watts told him Rocky came off the porch and immediately started firing his weapon at the driver's side of the patrol car.
“She was pretty clear when I talked to her,” Early said. “She had a pretty vivid memory of what happened that afternoon.”
Early said he and another agent were in the home during the interview, and neither had a gun displayed. The cross-examination of Early brought some of the most lively testimony so far in Leon's retrial.
“Do you have a statement that she signed or approved as the statement she gave you?” defense attorney James Logan asked.
“No, sir,” Early responded.
Early said he had no audio or video recordings of Watts' statement, either. Logan pointed out that the discrepancies about Watts' statement might not exist if Early had recorded the interview.
“If I'm correct, sir, it is the policy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation not to use those to record the statements of witnesses,” Logan asked.
At that point, a United States attorney who showed up with Early objected.
“Agent Early can testify as to what his personal knowledge was in this case. He is not here as an expert, and he cannot testify as to what the policy of the FBI is,” the U.S. attorney said.
Watts testified in Leon's July 2008 trial, which ended with a hung jury, and Rocky's trial in December 2008. The jury in Rocky's trial found him not guilty of first-degree murder in Brown's death. They also found him not guilty on several lesser charges, but former Houston Judge James “Buddy” Scott ruled the verdicts on the lesser charges did not count.
Rocky's case is now stayed pending a decision from the Court of Criminal Appeals.