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By filing an appeal, Pinellas rapist seals fate: four life sentences

LARGO — Anthony Edward Watson was scheduled to get out of prison in 2018 and there was nothing any judge, prosecutor or victim could have done to prevent it.

Originally sentenced to 160 years in prison in 1992 for charges that included rape and robbery, Watson became a self-taught "jailhouse lawyer" and filed a series of successful appeals that lopped more than 100 years off that sentence.

But as he entered the home stretch of his shortened prison sentence, Watson won another appeal — one that gave him a right to a new trial.

He was convicted during that retrial in March.

And on Friday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce sentenced Watson to four consecutive life sentences.

"It's karma with this guy," Assistant State Attorney Frank Piazza said. "Careful what you wish for.

"He got a just sentence," Piazza said of Watson, who was charged with raping a young pregnant woman and robbing and kidnapping a teenage convenience store clerk.

Luce told Watson that his series of crimes "was purposeful, it was evil. That's the only view that I have of you. I would not want you in the community. And that's why I have imposed these sentences."

Before getting sentenced, Watson said, "I just want the victims to know I'm sorry for what happened that day" and "I wish somehow I could take it back."

He said he was under the influence of drugs at the time, but admitted that was no excuse because "I chose to do the drugs."

Before those conciliatory comments, however, Watson argued that Luce did not have the legal right to punish him.

Watson, 51, with close-cropped gray hair and a bushy beard, argued that Luce couldn't sentence him because court records indicated he was already serving a lengthy prison term. Serving two sentences for the same crimes would be double jeopardy, he said.

Luce quickly dismissed that notion, pointing out that a federal judge vacated his previous sentence — a result of his own appeal.

Watson, originally from New York state, was arrested in 1992 for a series of crimes.

He had walked into an Oldsmar dry cleaners on the pretext of picking up clothes, but took the 19-year-old pregnant clerk to the bathroom and raped her at knife-point after threatening to kill her unborn child.

She testified at trial that she thought, "he's going to do what he wants with me and kill me,'' and "that's where I die, on the floor of the bathroom.''

The next day he robbed a Palm Harbor Pick Kwik at gunpoint and forced a 19-year-old clerk into the back of a car. She escaped.

Both victims said they have struggled for two decades to cope. The rape victim had post-traumatic stress disorder. The other victim, whose comments were shared in a letter Piazza read aloud in court, said even today she can't walk into her house without checking closets and nooks and crannies for possible intruders.

Watson pleaded guilty to multiple charges in 1992 and was sentenced by Judge Brandt C. Downey to four consecutive 40-year terms.

During his time in prison, Watson spent countless hours in law libraries, reading old cases and studying possible appeals. He even hand-wrote a book on the process, called A Guide to the Plea Circus.

Most of the time, his appeals began with his own paperwork and on some occasions, they were taken up by public defenders.

In a federal appeal, Watson argued that he was not mentally competent at the time of his 1992 plea. A judge called the case a "morass" and a "calamity" and said Downey showed a "cavalier approach" to accepting Watson's plea.

The trial this March featured plenty of bizarre behavior from Watson, including when he spit on his own attorney and a hunger strike.

Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

By filing an appeal, Pinellas rapist seals fate: four life sentences 09/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 11:02pm]
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