Tuscaloosa Judge Says Trial of Alleged Cop Killer Likely to Be Set in Early 2023
Almost three years after Luther Bernard Watkins, Jr. allegedly shot and killed a Tuscaloosa Police Officer in the line of duty, a judge said Thursday that the capital murder case against him may finally be set for trial soon.
Anyone following crime and courts news in the Tuscaloosa area is almost certainly familiar with the details of the case, but as a refresher, the victim killed was TPD Investigator Dornell Cousette.
Police say Cousette was on 33rd Avenue in West Tuscaloosa on September 16th, 2019, when he spotted Watkins outside a home there.
Cousette reportedly knew Watkins had an outstanding warrant on a robbery charge and attempted to take him into custody, but Watkins, who was 20 years old at the time, ran inside the house.
Cousette pursued, but came under fire just inside the door. The investigator and suspect reportedly exchanged shots and both were injured. Cousette died later the same night at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.
Watkins allegedly fled the scene, but with an officer down, a multi-agency manhunt was launched in the area and a few hours later, investigators tracked Watkins to Northport Medical Center, where he was being treated for his own gunshot wound.
Watkins was arrested and charged with capital murder in the case, and he has remained in the Tuscaloosa County Jail without bond ever since.
The case is being heard by Circuit Judge Brad Almond and Watkins is being represented by Tuscaloosa defense attorneys are Jim Standridge, Stuart D. Albea, and Laura Fikes.
In May, the lawyers subpoenaed the Tuscaloosa County Jail, the police department, Mayor Walt Maddox, the Tuscaloosa City School system, two area bail bondsmen, two credit unions, two hospitals, and Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, asking for a bevy of records related to Watkins and Cousette.
The hearing Thursday morning was meant to allow Tuscaloosa City attorney Scott Holmes to ask Judge Almond to quash parts or all of the subpoenas served to the police department and Mayor Maddox, but because of a clerical error the hearing lasted less than three minutes and Almond agreed to come back to the matter at a later date.
The hearing was not without news to share, though -- Almond said the case against Watkins will likely be set for trial early next year, after the resolution of three murder cases against two men and a woman accused of killing 23-year-old Jennifer Nevin in summer 2017.
"I have set for trial the Nevin cases and those have been set for the latter part of this summer and this fall," Almond told Standridge and Holmes. "I would expect a trial setting in [the Watkins] case after the first of the year."
Prosecutors said in January 2020 that they would seek to see Watkins sentenced to death if he is convicted of Cousette's murder.
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