Rape charge against Texas man dismissed

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A 40-year-old Texas man who faced life in prison after being charged with raping an Aspen hotel employee last spring was vindicated Tuesday.

The District Attorney’s Office dismissed the sexual assault charge against Peter Watkins 10 months after he was arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands, beat up in jail there, extradited to Aspen and spent a total of four and a half months in jail.

“This shouldn’t ever have happened,” Watkins said outside the District Courtroom in Aspen after the charge was dismissed. “Charges should never have been brought. They were all false allegations.”

Beth Krulewitch, Watkins’ lawyer, blamed Aspen police for a shoddy investigation of the incident, saying red flags that came up were never followed up on.

“It was quite clear (at the preliminary hearing) there was no adequate investigation,” she said.

Aspen police Officer Rick Magnuson, who investigated the case, declined to comment after Tuesday’s dismissal.

Prosecutor Anne Norrdin told District Judge Chris Seldin she was dismissing the case because there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of proving the sexual assault allegation during trial.

Later in a statement emailed to The Aspen Times, Norrdin pointed out that the warrant for Watkins’ arrest was reviewed and signed by a judge, and that former District Judge Gail Nichols found probable cause for the case to go forward after a 4½ hour preliminary hearing in October.

“The prosecution team was diligent in investigating the case, and based on interviews by both the Aspen Police Department and the D.A.’s chief investigator, new information came to light,” Norrdin said in the statement, “and because of that new information, we made the determination that we did not have a reasonable likelihood of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”

Watkins and his wife got to know the alleged victim in the case after staying at the Aspen hotel for two months between October and December 2014, according to court documents. The employee told police she provided marital advice to the couple, who were having troubles.

In the spring, Watkins remained in Aspen while his wife returned to Texas. On March 7, Watkins and the employee had sex, which he said was consensual and she said was not.

During the preliminary hearing in October, the alleged victim testified that she told Watkins not to have sex with her but that he held her down and did so anyway. Nichols later said she found the victim credible, though not totally.

“Is it beyond a reasonable doubt?” Nichols said at the time. “I don’t know about that.”

The alleged victim was not in court Tuesday but was informed of the D.A.’s intent to dismiss the case a month ago, Norrdin said.

Krulewitch said Watkins deserves restitution for what he went through and urged Norrdin to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refilled. Norrdin said she’d dismiss it without prejudice, meaning it can be refilled. Seldin said he will make a decision on that issue after reading briefs from both sides.

Watkins entire life was affected by the case against him, including his relationships with his children, his ability to make a living and the whispers he had to endure from people he knows in the small Texas town where he’s from, Krulewitch said. For example, Watkins said his daughter didn’t want him to walk her out on the field after she was named homecoming queen.

“When someone is accused of something like this, the mere allegation is enough to constitute guilt,” Watkins said. “I learned that nothing may be as it appears. It was horrible.”