Watkins Found Guilty of Illegal Possession of a Firearm; New Charges Filed for Reported Witness Intimidation
CLARION BOROUGH, Pa. (EYT) – A Clarion man was found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm by a Clarion County jury on Monday, and additional charges of witness intimidation have been filed in the case.
Nathan Gene Watkins, 34, was found guilty of Possession of a Firearm Prohibited, a second-degree felony, by a jury of nine women and three men after two hours and twenty minutes of deliberation.
The following additional charges against Watkins stemming from the November 20, 2020 incident in New Bethlehem have not been resolved:
– Aggravated Assault – Attempts to cause or causes BI with deadly weapon (2 counts), Felony 2
– Firearms Not To Be Carried W/O License, Felony 3
– Terroristic Threats W/ Int To Terrorize Another (2 counts), Misdemeanor 1
– Simple Assault (2 counts), Misdemeanor 1
– Reckless Driving, Summary
According to First Assistant District Attorney Erich Spessard, the trial could only pass judgment on the firearm possession charge as a verdict on the other charges would be prejudicial since Watkins was previously convicted of a felony in 2006. Spessard was referring to a PA Superior Court Trial Decision wherein the prior convictions clearly prejudiced the jury.
Spessard began the trial by arguing the Commonwealth only had to prove Watkins was in possession of a firearm; all other criteria to find him guilty had already been met.
“The case really boils down to the defendant possessing a firearm when he wasn’t allowed to,” Spessard told the jury. “There’s no serious dispute that the defendant is a convicted felon. The only real question is can we identify him and prove he had a firearm.”
Defense Attorney Matthew Parson warned the jury of bias towards his client during his opening argument.
“My client being a felon can create a lot of bias,” he said. “If he’s a felon, he can break the law again, you need to put that aside. Don’t rush into this because my client has a felony charge.”
The prosecution’s case rested on video footage taken from the location of the November 20 incident, the APlus gas station in New Bethlehem.
As evidence, Spessard introduced video from both inside and outside the gas station, as well as from across the street of the APlus.
Teresa Lee, the first witness of the prosecution, identified herself, Watkins, and her husband, Shawn Lee in some of the video footage.
Teresa Lee said she and her husband had been friends with Watkins, and on November 20 had invited him to go mudding with them and their four children.
Using video footage, she identified herself and Watkins inside the APlus and stated he was carrying one of her three handguns, which according to Lee, Watkins took from their home from time to time.
In the APlus video, the man identified as Watkins carried a silver object on the left side of his hip.
One of Lee’s handguns was introduced into evidence by the Commonwealth as the handgun Watkins allegedly had in his possession on that day.
Though the handgun is mostly matte black, it has a distinguishing silver grip, which the Commonwealth used throughout the trial to identify it with the purported handgun shown in the videos.
Lee was also shown footage from the APlus’ exterior camera depicting a black GMC Yukon which she identified as her family’s.
With the video playing, Lee pointed out Watkins is the one who got into the driver’s seat of Yukon before it left the gas station and leaves the frame of the video.
Less than half a second later, the Yukon appears in another video from across the street of the APlus, also Commonwealth’s evidence, showing the driver of the Yukon exiting the vehicle during a confrontation with two other men, Patrick and Travis Crawford.
The Crawfords were in a green Jeep in front of the Yukon, and Travis was the man who called 9-1-1 originally.
During cross-examination, Attorney Parson asked Lee if she was certain Watkins was carrying her gun and not his phone.
“Are you saying this is the same gun you said?” he asked Lee. “Are you sure it’s not his cellphone?”
“His phone was in the car, on the dashboard,” Lee replied.
Parson also questioned Lee about an affair she had with Watkins prior to November 20, which Lee admitted to.
The defense played audio of a phone call between Lee and Watkins after the November 20 incident, in which Lee purportedly admitted to Watkins she was “setting him up.”
Parson interrogated Lee about this, querying, “Isn’t it true you’re covering up for Shawn threatening these people?” though Lee replied in the negative.
New Bethlehem Police Chief Robert Malnofsky and Officer John Smith testified for the prosecution, as well.
Malfnosky said the video from across the street of the APlus depicts the driver of the Yukon pulling a firearm from a holster.
“If you’re law enforcement trained, it appears he’s pulling a firearm out a holster.”
Smith was the one who acquired the video from the APlus, and stated it was his opinion Watkins was carrying a weapon as his behavior inside and outside the gas station indicated he was bearing a holstered firearm as he kept touching it.
Watkins testified in his own defense, and stated though it was him in the video from inside and outside the APlus, and admitted to getting into the Yukon at the APlus as the driver, the video from across the street of the APlus, which depicts the driver of the Yukon exiting the car, was not him.
According to Watkins, the silver object on his hip in the APlus video is his cellphone.
He also claimed he exited the Yukon before it appeared on the video from across the street of the gas station.
“At that point, that’s not you?” asked Spessard during cross-examination.
“No,” replied Watkins. “Not the whole time, no. By the time the vehicle gets out of the frame, I jump out and Teresa’s brother, William, jumps in.”
During closing arguments, Parson argued the videos were of too low quality to distinguish individuals and that it was never proven there was a gun in the videos.
He also stated not hearing from the Crawfords leaves out much-needed testimony.
“You did not hear from the Crawfords,” he said. “They weren’t here.”
Spessard rebutted by saying the Crawfords’ testimony would not have added much, and the evidence the Commonwealth presented proves Watkins was in possession of a firearm.
“It gets down to what your eyes and ears can tell us,” he told the jury. “The evidence speaks for itself.”
After the trial, Spessard told exploreClarion.com, “Today was another step toward ensuring the continued safety and well-being of the citizens of Clarion County.”
“The people of Clarion County can rest a little easier knowing that individuals, like Mr. Watkins, who should not be in possession of firearms are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Resolution of the additional charges will be determined at a later date.
New Charges Filed Against Watkins
Court documents indicate Nathan Gene Watkins was also arraigned in front of Magisterial District Judge Jarah Lee Heeter at 9:05 a.m. on Friday, October 8, on the following charges:
– Intimidate Witness/Victim – Withhold Testimony, Felony 2
– Terroristic Threats With Intent To Terrorize Another, Misdemeanor 1
The charges stem from a report of witness intimidation leading up to his trial.
According to a criminal complaint, on Wednesday, October 6, Detective Wright, of the Clarion County District Attorney’s Office, was assigned to investigate a report of intimidation of a witness in a case.
The complaint indicates a known female victim had contacted the District Attorney’s office to report that Nathan Gene Watkins had made threats to another known woman (her sister), specifically threatening harm to her brother and “everyone she loves” if she testified at his criminal trial scheduled for Monday, October 11, in the Clarion County Court of Common Pleas.
District Attorney Drew Welsh advised that these threats were made from a jail phone call placed by Watkins to the known woman on Tuesday, October 5, and provided investigators with a copy of the phone call made by Watkins from the jail, the complaint notes.
According to the complaint, during the call, Watkins advised the woman that if he didn’t get out (of jail) on Monday, the victim’s brother “ain’t getting out.” The woman asked Watkins which brother, and Watkins reportedly responded “whatever brother she got in prison,” and then reiterated “he ain’t getting out either.”
He also reportedly said “Don’t play with me. She gets up there and lies one time say I did something I didn’t do, dude’s getting beat,” the complaint continues.
The woman told Watkins the man he was talking about was her brother, too, and Watkins reportedly said “I gotta make an example, bro,” and told the woman he planned on going after everyone the victim cares about. Watkins also reportedly said he would send word with a man that the victim’s brother can’t be touched and stated “literally bros were waiting til Monday to send the word after they left the courthouse.” He also told the woman the victim’s “whole world is getting crushed,” according to the complaint.
Police then spoke to the victim who had received the call.
According to the complaint, the victim stated her sister called her earlier that morning and told her about the threats Watkins made and said she was frightened of what Watkins will do if the victim testifies. The victim told police Watkins had also previously relayed other messages to her through her sister. She indicated that a couple of weeks prior, Watkins had said if she testified, she would be going to jail.
Bail for this case was set at $25,000.00 monetary.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on October 19 with Judge Heeter presiding.
Court documents indicate Watkins has a criminal history in the local area dating back to 2004 with convictions ranging from burglary and theft to criminal mischief and escape.
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