A former Tucson firefighter found guilty in 2017 of the 2000 death of his ex-wife and the 2003 murders of two other women has been granted an opportunity by the Arizona Supreme Court to argue for a new trial based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
David Dwayne Watson’s convictions and sentences of 16 years followed by back-to-back life sentences were upheld last year by the Arizona Court of Appeals. He filed a petition for review to the Arizona Supreme Court in January, and in August the justices ordered the court of appeals to reconsider one portion of their ruling.
As a result, Watson is set for oral arguments at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at the state courthouse in Tucson on the issue of whether the Pima County Attorney’s Office committed misconduct during his trial, and if so, whether it interfered with Watson’s fair trial and due process rights.
For purposes of appeal, prosecutorial misconduct is defined as “intentional conduct which the prosecutor knows to be improper and prejudicial” and which is “not merely the result of legal error, negligence, mistake, or insignificant impropriety.”
Court records show Watson’s first trial ended with a hung jury, but in May 2017 a second jury convicted him of the May 2003 murders of his former mother-in-law Marilyn Cox and her friend Renee Farnsworth, who were found shot to death outside their Tucson home. The jury also found him guilty of the second-degree murder of his ex-wife Linda Watson, who was reported missing in August 2000 at age 35.
Prior to sentencing, Watson’s trial attorneys, Michael Storie and Natasha Wrae, filed a motion seeking yet a third trial. They argued in part that prosecutors had engaged in multiple acts of misconduct during the second trial.
Watson’s motion for a new trial was denied in April 2017 at which time he was sentenced. A notice of appeal was filed in May 2017, but the court of appeals affirmed in a 3-0 decision in November 2019. The case then spent months at the Arizona Supreme Court until the justices issued an Aug. 27 order remanding Watson’s case back to the court of appeals.
The catalyst for the supreme court’s action is an opinion the justices issued in July in another Pima County murder case, State v. Vargas. In its Vargas ruling, the supreme court agreed Vargas was entitled to argue that the cumulative effect of a pattern of alleged prosecutorial misconduct can warrant a new trial, rather than having to argue each individual act of misconduct.
Sarah Meyhew, Watson’s appellate attorney with the Pima County Public Defender, has until Oct. 26 to file a supplemental brief to the original appeal in order to address the recent State v. Vargas opinion. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office which is handling the appeal on behalf of the Pima County Attorney’s Office will then have until Nov. 6 to file a response brief.
At the time Cox was murdered, she was in a custody battle with Watson to ensure visitation with her granddaughter, who was five-years-old when her mother disappeared. Linda Watson’s body was found in 2003 in Pima County, but it took several years before the remains were identified. She had been shot in the head, according to the medical examiner.
Watson will complete his 16-year sentence in April 2031. He must then serve at least 25 years of each life sentence before being eligible for release.