Jennifer Shereika Scott said she wanted to confront the man who had killed her mother nearly 20 years ago because she wanted answers to questions she had carried for more than half her life.
She got her chance Monday, in an extraordinary meeting arranged by prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty, which he did yesterday, and meeting with the families of the victims, serial killer Alexander Wayne Watson Jr. escaped a possible death sentence and will instead spend the rest of his life behind bars for three brutal killings between 1986 and 1993.
Meeting amid tight security in the room where Anne Arundel County grand juries meet in an Annapolis courthouse, Watson, shackled and seated, spent nearly six hours meeting first with each of the three families individually, and then with all of the relatives as group.
Scott, 36, said Watson was "respectful." But he never apologized, and never dropped eye contact with her as he answered questions about killing Elaine Shereika in 1988.
"He said he had been getting high in the park that morning, and she just happened to be the first person who went by," Scott recalled yesterday.
Watson, she said, also explained that "he had gotten away with it once, and he wanted to see if he could get away with it again."
He was finally caught in 1994, for the murder of the woman he says was his fourth and final victim. But for the DNA matches in 2003 and 2004, he might have gotten away with the previous three killings.
Yesterday, under a plea agreement ratified in a courtroom enveloped in melancholy, Watson, 37, admitted to the rape and murder of two women and the murder of a teenage girl in exchange for five life sentences, two without parole. Three of the life sentences will be served consecutively, and two concurrently.
"I think you are an evil man. I think you are a dangerous man," Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck told Watson before handing down the sentence.
First, he will serve time for the Oct. 6, 1986, rape and murder of his friend's mother, Boon Tem Anderson, 34, in her Gambrills home; then for the May 23, 1988, rape and murder of Shereika, 37, who lived around the corner and was running past him; and then for the Jan. 15, 1993, murder of Lisa Kathleen Haenel, which occurred as the 14-year-old who lived in the same Glen Burnie apartment complex headed down a path to Old Mill High School.
In a statement Scott read in court, her brother Dan Shereika Jr. wrote that the meeting showed Watson "has no remorse for what he has done" but agreed to the meetings and plea to avoid a death penalty in Elaine Shereika's killing.
Kimberly Kilgore, Anderson's daughter, wrote that she left the meeting with Watson "feeling more frustrated and angrier than before. I felt I was being lied to with every question that I asked."
Watson said nothing in the Annapolis courtroom yesterday beyond agreeing to the plea, but he appeared to listen and not react to damning words said about him by devastated parents, siblings and children in court - similar to the demeanor Scott described in Monday's meeting. No one spoke in his behalf, and he appeared not to have family present.
Though he told her and her brother, Dan, that he had not stalked their mother on her 5:30 a.m. runs through the Four Seasons neighborhood, Watson apparently was prepared with a knife to kill their mother.
"He said at that time he was carrying knives in his car," she in an interview.
Scott asked why, when he was charged in Prince George's County in 1994, he didn't try to use the earlier homicides as bargaining chips. "He could have ended this for us long ago. He says it never even dawned on him," she recounted.
"I am not certain that Mr. Watson is evil. I think Mr. Watson is cold," she said. "He doesn't scare me."
Pointing to the gap between the 1988 and 1993 murders and saying he had a chance to help others, they asked if there were other victims. He told them "there is nobody else out there," Scott said, and State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee confirmed it.
In court for the 1994 murder of Debra Cobb in Forestville, Watson noted a drug problem and asked a Prince George's County judge for a "second chance" - something that has grated on families because it implied the murder of the office manager in the plaza where he worked at the time was his first crime.
In statements read in court, relatives told Manck of their anguish, and prosecutors summed up cases in chilling detail. Manck had begun the hearing by telling them he sat where they did 12 ago, after the murder of his mother.
Dan Shereika Jr., then 13, rode his bike to scour the neighborhood looking for his mother when she didn't return home from her early run to send him off to school.
"Mother's Day is the worst - I spend time at the cemetery - not with my mother - but with my only child," Lisa Haenel's mother, Meg Enck, said in a statement.
Police said the cases show the value of DNA in cold cases - especially because technology failed to alert them to a fingerprint of Watson's left on a hairdryer in Anderson's bathroom. Anderson's partially nude body was discovered in the bathtub by her fiance's son when he came home from school.
Watson gave an older son in the family a ride home later that afternoon, taking him to what Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson referred to as a "freshly developing murder investigation."
The victim was strangled and stabbed. DNA taken from the rape initially matched no one.
Shereika's partly naked body had been found by a farmer plowing his rye field. She, too, was raped, strangled and stabbed. DNA swabbed from the rape matched no one.
Haenel's mother's boyfriend, now husband, found Lisa's body, naked except for a sock. She was stabbed and strangled. Seventeen feet from her body was a cigarette butt with DNA from blood of Lisa's type on the burn end, and unknown DNA from saliva on the lip end.
The cases went cold. In 2002 - six years after Watson was convicted in Cobb's murder - DNA showed a match between the DNA in the latter two cases, police said. In late 2003 and early 2004, with the state DNA databank growing, the three cases were linked through DNA to Watson, who was in prison. On July 12, 2004, Watson was charged.
Yesterday, three of the investigators on those homicides sat silently in court, saying the outcome was worth every one of the thousands of hours worked on them.
At the request of the families, prosecutors ended the pursuit of the death penalty for the rape and murder of Shereika. Watson was 17 when he raped and killed Anderson, too young for a death penalty, and the Lisa Haenel murder did not qualify for it.
"I don't know if I could have lived with myself if he didn't take responsibility for Lisa's murder," Scott said in a press briefing after the plea. She has two daughters. But, Scott, said, the delays in taking a death penalty case to trial and in carrying out an execution were an enormous factor.
"If we had decided to pursue the death penalty, how old would I be, when and if Mr. Watson was executed? 46? 56? Older?" she said.
She urged officials to streamline death penalty cases, provide more funding to expand the DNA databank and test more people, saying earlier moves to create the database might have hastened the identification of Watson as a serial killer.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said last month that the Maryland State Police have reduced the backlog of DNA samples from convicted felons, and he said he would probably include in his legislative agenda for next year a proposal to require samples from anyone who is arrested, a suggestion that has alarmed civil libertarians.
The Maryland Court of Appeals temporarily halted executions in December when it ruled that the state's lethal injection procedure was improperly created. The state has not yet drawn up new procedures.