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Parents’ possible coercion of child witnesses concerns prosecutors in Auburn Child Drowning

parents possible coercion of child witnesses concerns prosecutors in auburn child drowning

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Lee County prosecutors are concerned the Auburn mother accused of starving and drowning her six-year-old son and her husband, who is also charged in the case, may try to coerce their six surviving children who are considered witnesses in the case involving their parents. 

Prosecutors filed a motion Wednesday, June 28, asking a judge to prohibit defendants from contacting their minor sons as well as their 19-year-old son except through their attorneys. Defense lawyers for Kelly and Mark Watford will have an opportunity to respond before the judge rules.

Based on the motion filed Wednesday, prosecutors believe Kelly Watford is in constant communication from jail with her oldest child, who is a material witness in the case against his mother and father. The state is concerned the son and other minor child witnesses are subject to coercion by their parents, and/or third parties at the direction of the co-defendant, both of whom are charged in the case. Prosecutors are simultaneously filing a corresponding motion, to prohibit Mark Watford from contacting the child witnesses, including the oldest son, except through attorneys. We will let you know the defense’s response and court ruling.

Lee County Judge Russell Bush has already denied bond for 49-year-old Kelly Watford who is charged with the Felony Murder of her son Sulivan, the youngest of Kelly and Mark Watford’s seven sons. Mark Watford, a registered nurse, is facing charges of Aggravated Child Abuse in connection with Sulivan’s death and is out on bond. The couple lost custody of all the boys after Sulivan’s death.

parents possible coercion of child witnesses concerns prosecutors in auburn child drowning

On June 14, paramedics responded to the Watford residence on Core Drive, where they found Sulivan unresponsive.  Kelly Watford claimed Sulivan started having trouble breathing while she was bathing him and she had not left him unsupervised during the bath. The postmortem examination revealed Sulivan weighed only 21 pounds and exhibited signs of drowning. Medical personnel reported during their resuscitation efforts, approximately 400 milliliters of fluid consistent with drowning were expelled from Sulivan’s airways. Watford was arrested by Auburn Police and charged with her son’s Murder. Mark Watford was arrested and charged with Aggravated Child Abuse. 

The court’s decision to deny bond came at the request of Assistant District Attorneys, Clay Thomas and Garrett Saucer. Judge Bush heard testimony from witnesses for the prosecution and defense. The court also presented pictures of Sulivan taken shortly after his death. Judge Bush described the images as resembling scenes from Holocaust documentaries, expressing shock at the severity of Sulivan’s condition.

The full court order issued late Friday from Judge Bush can be read on To summarize, the court affirmed evidence suggesting the child died as a result of drowning and exhibited signs of severe malnourishment. The defendant claimed the child’s death was due to an allergic reaction to a vapor rub, but the court found no evidence supporting this claim. The court also considered the defendant’s character, lack of criminal history, and ties to the community. However, based on the seriousness of the offense, the risk posed by the defendant, and the compelling evidence against her, the court granted the state’s request to hold the defendant without bond.

Testimony indicates Kelly Watford admitted to police Sulivan had never seen a pediatrician since birth, and none of the seven boys had visited a doctor since the onset of the Covid pandemic in early 2020. She homeschooled all the children and primarily cared for Sulivan, while her husband, the children’s father, worked during the day as a nurse at an Opelika plasma center. 

Testimony revealed Kelly Watford is a licensed professional counselor who had previously worked at the Lee County Department of Mental Health. 

On the day of her son’s death, Kelly Watford reportedly told investigators he had been coughing, and she used a vapor rub on him for the first time. According to testimony from Watford’s mother and brother, she attributed Sulivan’s death to an allergic reaction to the rub. Both her mother and brother testified Watford was a good person, excelled in school, cared for others, and was a good mother. They mentioned Sulivan was a “picky” eater.

However, when shown the postmortem photos of Sulivan, both Watford’s mother and brother became visibly shaken and upset.

Authored by Elizabeth White via WRBL June 30th 2023

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