LARGO — For the second time in 19 years, Anthony Edward Watson is going to prison.
A jury took less than an hour to convict him of rape, kidnapping and robbery Monday, ending a bizarre legal saga that saw a man who plead guilty win a new trial, then refuse to come to court, then spit at his own attorneys, then smile and joke as bailiffs fingerprinted him and lead him away in shackles.
One of his victims, who was 19 and six months pregnant when he raped her at knifepoint, sat quietly in the courtroom as the verdict was read, then smiled at prosecutors, mouthed "thank you,'' to jurors, even shook hands with public defenders, thanking them for doing their job well.
"They fixed it,'' said the 38-year-old. When she heard Watson was getting a new trial, "I thought, 'This is wrong. The system is wrong. Somebody fix it.' Well now they fixed it.''
Watson, 51, also sat quietly through the verdict, smiling frequently through his salt and pepper beard. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce will sentence him May 13 after an investigation to determine whether he is a habitual offender.
The rape took place in 1992 in an Oldsmar dry cleaners, where the victim worked. A scruffy man with rotten teeth came in, pulled a knife, stole money from the cash register then took her to the bathroom and raped her after threatening to stab and kill her unborn child. She thought, "he's going to do what he wants with me and kill me,'' she told the jury last week. "That's where I die, on the floor of the bathroom.''
Watson didn't kill her, and she described his yellow, wood-paneled station wagon. The next day, he robbed a Palm Harbor Pick Kwik at gunpoint and forced a 19-year-old clerk into the back of the car. Pinellas sheriff's Deputy John Hubbard spotted it on McMullen-Booth Road. When he pulled Watson over, the woman jumped out of the car from beneath a blanket on the passenger side. Watson took off but was caught after a chase.
Watson pleaded guilty to rape, robbery and kidnapping in 1992 and was sentenced to 160 years in prison. In prison, he began filing legal petitions with some success. Courts knocked 100 years off his sentence, then a federal judge gave him a new trial, saying he was mentally incompetent when he pleaded guilty.
At last week's retrial, which covered both the Oldsmar rape and the Palm Harbor kidnapping, evidence against Watson was substantial. Both victims testified. Then Watson took the stand and acknowledged many of the crimes he was accused of.
The rape victim said she is now a stay-at-home mother with "many'' children, declining to say how many. "I'm stronger now'', she said after the verdict was read. She has a supportive husband, is going to therapy and takes self-defense classes.