LARGO — Nineteen years ago, a young pregnant woman was raped on the floor of a bathroom at an Oldsmar dry cleaners. And nearly 19 years ago, she thought the legal case was done because Anthony Edward Watson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 160 years in prison.
But thanks to an appeal, Watson has won the right to a trial — his first, since he pleaded guilty without one in 1992.
So on Wednesday the woman, now 38, sat in court, identified Watson as her attacker and told a chilling story of the day nearly two decades ago that changed her life.
Watson, who at various times this week has been strapped in a restraining device and ordered to wear an anti-spit face shield while in court — has decided to stay out of the courtroom unless ordered by the judge to be present.
The woman was working at a dry cleaners on March 25, 1992, and saw a tall man with dark hair drive up in a yellow station wagon. He came in and said he was there to pick up a two-piece cream-colored suit.
Something didn't seem right. He was "scummy-looking" with rotting teeth, shaggy hair and clothes that didn't look dry-cleaned.
Eventually, he pulled out a knife, locked the door, stole cash from the register and forced her into the bathroom.
"I kept saying 'please don't hurt me, I'm pregnant, can't you see I'm pregnant,' " she testified on Wednesday.
In the bathroom, he took off her clothes and forced her into a sexual act. He made her get on the floor.
"I couldn't even believe how disgustingly awful it was. Who would do this to a pregnant woman?"
And then, surprisingly, he set the knife on the floor, next to her right hand.
"I picked it up and I leaned back," holding the knife firmly with both hands,'' she said. She said she stabbed him somewhere around the head.
"He said 'you stabbed me' and he sounded surprised," she said.
But then, she said, Watson grabbed her hands and began turning the knife back around — pointing it straight at her belly, when she was six months pregnant.
"He says let go of the knife, drop the knife, or I'll kill your baby," she said.
She let go of the knife.
"Then he raped me," she said.
At the time she was thinking, "he's going to do what he wants with me and kill me. … That's the end. That's where I die, on the floor of the bathroom."
But that wasn't Watson's only crime, Assistant State Attorney Frank Piazza said. The next day, he robbed a Pick Kwik in Palm Harbor and forced a 19-year-old clerk into his car — a yellow station wagon.
He threw a blanket over her and told her that if police stopped the car, he would kill her and shoot the police.
Not long afterward, a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy did stop the car. The woman rushed out. Watson escaped, but was found hiding inside a boat.
This woman also plans to testify in the case, probably today.
Watson, who is charged with rape, robbery and kidnapping, could be sentenced to life in prison. If so, he would in a sense come full circle.
After he pleaded guilty in 1992 and received the 160-year sentence, he filed numerous appeals, some of which succeeded, with help from state and federal public defenders. Appellate courts agreed his sentence was longer than the law allowed. And a judge gave Watson the right to this trial, after reviewing evidence that Watson was mentally incompetent at the time he pleaded guilty.
This week Watson claimed again to be mentally incompetent. On Monday deputies found him in his jail cell perched naked atop his sink — even though he normally gets around in a wheelchair. He came to court shirtless and in a restraining device, often times slumped over as if sleeping. He is on a hunger strike. Nonetheless, Pinellas-Pasco Judge Richard Luce listened to medical testimony and ruled that he is mentally competent for trial.
On Tuesday he spit on his attorney, Jonathan Saunders, who wiped it off his sleeve and continued defending his client. Luce then ordered Watson to wear a "spit guard" over his face.
The trial resumes today.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.