LARGO — The "jailhouse lawyer" went face-to face with a real attorney on Friday, and by the time they were done, Anthony Edward Watson had admitted to robbing a woman, abducting her, sneaking into a house with a firearm, and using cocaine.
Watson, 51, testified Friday in his own defense against rape, robbery and kidnapping and other charges.
Though he does not have formal legal training, Watson has filed numerous appeals since pleading guilty to multiple charges nearly 19 years ago, with remarkable success. His state court appeals, with help from public defenders, cut more than a century off his 160-year prison sentence. And a federal appeal granted him the trial that played out this week.
Although he is knowledgeable about many legal issues, Watson's decision to testify conflicts with standard advice from many defense attorneys, because it opened him up to vigorous cross-examination from a seasoned prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Thomas Koskinas.
Watson's testimony capped an odd week in which he refused to come to court, spit on his own attorney, was forced to wear a mask-like "spit guard," went to the hospital because of a hunger strike and then got released in time to testify on Friday.
"I'll make it simple and short," Watson told jurors. "I did commit the crime of robbery on March 26 … because I was high and I was getting money."
Earlier in the day, jurors heard testimony from the woman Watson admitted robbing that day in 1992. She said she was a clerk at a Pick Kwik store when Watson took money from the cash register, forced her into a car at gunpoint, and told her he would kill her if the police stopped them.
But Watson denied other crimes he is charged with, including raping a 19-year-old pregnant woman at a dry cleaner's at knife-point, 19 years ago Friday.
Watson's testified for three minutes — and then Koskinas' cross examined him for more than an hour and a half trying to get Watson to admit to more crimes than robbery.
Yes, Watson said, he forced the Pick Kwik clerk at gunpoint into a yellow, wood-paneled station wagon (which belonged to his mother.) Yes, the crack cocaine found in the car belonged to him, and came at the end of a five-day binge, Watson said. Yes, he sneaked into someone's garage while fleeing police. The state will likely point to those statements next week in arguing that Watson is guilty of robbery, kidnapping, possession of cocaine and armed burglary.
But Watson denied raping the pregnant woman at the dry cleaner's. The victim identified Watson in court, witnesses identified him and his fingerprints were found inside the bathroom where the rape occurred.
"I wasn't raised to disrespect women like that," Watson said.
But, Koskinas asked Watson, hadn't he just admitted to robbing a woman at Pick Kwik and forcing her out of the store at gunpoint?
"Did you disrespect her by pointing a firearm at her, sir?"
Eventually, Watson answered: "I do not consider robbing her disrespect."
Koskinas and fellow prosecutor Frank Piazza later said they believe the crimes Watson admitted he committed could carry a life sentence, providing that they establish he is a "habitual offender" under the law.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.