An ex-scoutmaster who admitted to molesting his son’s teenage friends and fellow troop members for years at his Keswick home pleaded guilty to 36 felony sex crimes Wednesday in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
David Brian Watkins, now 50, entered into an agreement with prosecutors that shields him from additional local or federal charges and calls for an active term of 30 years and five months in prison.
The agreement “provides closure for … very promising young men who can now get on with their lives,” Assistant Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Darby Lowe said after the hearing. “The young men would have had to come through and testify about very, very difficult and horrendous offenses against them.”
Watkins faced more than 70 charges after a wave of indictments handed down in August, nearly a year after the first victim walked into the county police department to report years of abuse at the hands of his former troop leader. Watkins was arrested a week later, on Nov. 28, 2012.
The victims and their family members remained stoic on Wednesday as Watkins murmured “guilty” 36 times, after the clerk read aloud each indictment for carnal knowledge of a child between the ages of 13 and 15.
Watkins’ lawyer said that none of the acts against the three children, now men, whom Watkins admitted to abusing between 2006 and 2009, were violent.
“There are laws that restrict age for a reason, but I want to reiterate that this was not an actual force case,” Andre Hakes said.
Prosecutors said Watkins used his command of Keswick Troop 1028 to manipulate his son’s friends, learning their interests and gaining their trust at group sleepovers. Lowe said what began as inappropriate behavior, such as skinny dipping, escalated into groping and other sex acts.
“He was in a position of trust with those young men,” she said.
Watkins stopped serving as a scoutmaster in 2008 but remained active in the Boy Scouts of America until summer 2012, when the organization severed ties with him, Stonewall Jackson Area Council spokesman Michael Hesbach said in 2012.
Charlottesville police said they investigated allegations of inappropriate activity outside of scouting that summer but filed no charges.
Watkins’ interaction with children was not limited to scouting, according to court records. He coached his son’s T-ball and Little League teams, Watkins testified in 2006, as part of divorce proceedings with his ex-wife, Annette Morgan.
Morgan raised questions about the attention he was paying to his scouts as the abuse was occurring, according to the couple’s divorce records.
“Maybe he has found someone at [Troop 1028] that he likes or loves,” she wrote in a journal saved to a family computer.
By “someone,” Morgan meant “lots of little boys,” she later told the court.
An attorney grilled Watkins about the allegations during divorce proceedings in 2006: “Are you aware of these claims that you are a pedophile, a child molester, a bisexual, a homosexual, a pervert of the worst kind?”
“Yes, I am,” Watkins replied.
“Have you ever done anything inappropriate with … [a] child?” he asked.
“No sir, I have not,” Watkins said.
Watkins, during a four-hour interview with Albemarle police Detective Greg Anastopoulos, later admitted to sexual contact with three children, Lowe said.
Hakes told Judge Cheryl Higgins she had several hours’ worth of evidence to present on Watkins’ behalf during sentencing. Higgins blocked off a full day on April 25 for sentencing. Watkins faces a maximum sentence of 360 years in prison and $90,000 in fines on the 36 charges. Lowe withdrew the remaining indictments.
The 30-year, five-month prison term recommended in Watkins’ plea agreement is a mid-point recommendation under Virginia’s sentencing guidelines. Higgins is not required to follow the guidelines.