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Acquitted man says he's guilty

Utahn cites conscience in admitting he killed S.L. toddler in 1991

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2006 11:00 a.m. MST

Michael Lane, left, confesses to police that he killed a toddler in 1991.

Courtesy CNN

A man acquitted in court nearly 15 years ago of murdering a 2-year-old boy has confessed to police that he was actually guilty of the crime.

But because of double jeopardy — meaning a person cannot stand trial twice for the same crime — he will walk away without serving any prison time for the homicide.

Michael Lane, now 41, stood trial in 1991 on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Paul "PJ" Eugene Watts. Lane was baby-sitting the boy for his live-in girlfriend, Jennifer Watts, now 32, at her Salt Lake home while she went to church. When she returned, she found the toddler unresponsive in his crib.

In court, the Utah Medical Examiner's Office testified PJ received at least seven blows to his head and died as a result.

But Lane was acquitted in 3rd District Court when the defense convinced a jury that the boy's injuries could not be pinpointed on Lane.

The jury deliberation took four hours because one juror did not agree with the others but reluctantly changed her vote after much debate.

"I think he was guilty. I think I may have made a mistake," said the juror shortly after the verdict was read. The juror asked in 1991 to remain anonymous. "It's so awful. A little child was murdered. There wasn't any question of that. I feel really bad. The killer's gone unpunished."

It turns out the juror was right.

In August 2005, Lane contacted Salt Lake City homicide detectives, saying he wanted to talk to them about PJ's murder. He was prompted to speak to police after reportedly confessing to his bishop what he had done, Salt Lake City police detective Dwayne Baird said.

"He stated he wanted to 'clear this up and get it off my conscience and on the record and do the right thing,' " Baird said. "The reason he (confessed) was to clear his conscience and repent of his sins."

Lane sat down with two detectives at Salt Lake City police headquarters and confessed what really happened in a conversation that was recorded on tape.

"He said he was high on meth. He was going to change (PJ's) diaper but the baby wouldn't stop crying," Baird said. "That made him upset, and he slammed the baby to the floor."

PJ stopped crying momentarily, but when he started crying again Lane slammed the small boy against the floor several more times, Baird said.

"He had him in both hands and just slammed him down on the floor on his back . . . throwing him back from about 14 to 20 inches off the ground," Baird said. "He admitted he was rough with the child, and he was just getting him to stop crying."

When PJ stopped crying for the final time, he put the boy back in his crib and waited for his mother to get home.

Lane denied ever hitting or kicking the boy, even though there were allegations during his trial the boy may have been kicked, Baird said.

During the trial, Jennifer Watts stood by Lane, unconvinced he caused the boy's death, making the case more difficult for prosecutors.

During his interview with police in August, "He stated he lied during the investigation and the trial," Baird said.

A couple of years after his acquittal, Watts left Lane. Baird said she began to see signs of a violent temper and soon began to doubt his innocence in the death of her son.

When police contacted Watts, who now lives in California, about Lane's confession, "she became clearly upset," Baird said.

On Tuesday, CNN interviewed Watts about the case and the confession.

"It's all real. Everything that I imagined is true and everything that I've lived with all these years is true," she told CNN. "It's hard to look back on everything and realize that I defended the man that killed my son.

"He stole a part of me I'll never get back. I'm a different person now . . . angry . . . it's not fair," she said in tears to CNN.

When Lane confessed in August, he apparently was not aware of the double jeopardy rule.

"He stated he was prepared to go to jail today and face his consequences," Baird said.

Instead, police could only advise him that his statement would be given to the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office and he would be notified if any charges came from it. He then told police he would turn himself in if he needed to, Baird said.

In addition to not serving time for the homicide, Baird said there apparently aren't enough records from the court proceedings to bring up any possible perjury charges.

However, Baird said the information was presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible civil litigation.

Police have not talked to Lane since his confession. Attempts to contact Lane for comment were not successful. Lane turned down CNN's interview request.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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