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Trial starts for ex-sailor accused of murder

Jun. 29, 2011 - 05:46PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 29, 2011 - 05:46PM  |  
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PENSACOLA, Fla. Surveillance footage from the Pine Forest McDonald's showed shift supervisor Samira Watkins counting cash in a small office on Oct. 29, 2009.

It was the last day anyone saw the 25-year-old mother and expecting mother alive.

The videotape was shown Tuesday in the first day of evidence in the trial of former Master-at-Arms 3rd Class (SW) Zachary Littleton, 26, Watkins' mistress and the man who now faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in her death.

The pair met in August 2009, according to Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen's opening statement. When Watkins became pregnant, the two fought over how to deal with the pregnancy. She wanted to keep the baby. He wanted her to get an abortion.

"The defendant was in the military, where adultery can get you in trouble," she said. "The defendant was married, where adultery can get you in trouble."

In the afternoon, the 14 members of the jury saw photographs of a large duffle bag discovered Nov. 3, 2009, by two men who were riding a personal watercraft on Bayou Grande.

"It was the biggest one that I've ever seen," Joshua Cross said on the witness stand. "It had a master lock holding the zippers together."

In the photograph, Jensen noted that the bridge to the front gate of Naval Air Station Pensacola, where Littleton often stood guard, could be seen in the background.

Cross said that felt the bag and noticed a bump. When he and his friend moved it, they noticed the sand was stained red and that flies began to gather.

They called 911.

"I figured there was somebody inside," Cross said.

Jayson Barnes, supervisor of the uniform patrol division of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. responded to the scene. He cut the lock from the bag and found Watkins' 120 pound body stuffed inside.

"Her face had been duct-taped from the chin up to the forehead," Barnes said.

Chief Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard's presented a series of photographs taken during the autopsy.

Members of the jury grimaced and turned away from the large screen that showed close-up photographs of Watkins' face duct-taped from her chin to her eyes. Her body was stripped of all clothing with the exception of a red bra.

Watkins' sister Sylvia Watkins wept and buried her face in the palms of her hands as each slide of the presentation progressed. One woman excused herself from the nearly packed courtroom as Minyard explained the terrifying manner in which Watkins might have died.

"The cause of death was asphyxiation," she said. "Whether it was due to the duct tape or due to the water, we're not sure. There's no way medically to distinguish between the two."

In an initial interview with investigators, Littleton said he wasn't positive that Watkins' unborn child was his, according to his arrest report.

In the videotaped interviews, Littleton denied knowing anything about the still-missing Watkins' whereabouts, but eventually he began to reveal small details about their relationship.

It's a case where small details create a larger picture of the state's case against Littleton, Jensen said.

Paper towels found in the duffle bag matched a roll found in Littleton's apartment.

A gold earring found in Littleton's apartment match one taken from Watkins' ear during Minyard's autopsy.

An examination of Littleton's computer search records revealed queries about abortion clinics in Pensacola and prices for the procedure.

Other online searches included, "Effects of sulfur on human remains," "lime and dead bodies," "bodies in landfills," and "what speeds up human decomposition?"

Littleton's attorney, Sharon Wilson, encouraged the jury to note the evidence that doesn't exist in the state's case, including the absence of her client's DNA on the duffel bag.

"You won't hear about the glaring lack of evidence by the state," she said. "At the end of the trial there will be reasonable doubt in your minds."

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