Saturday, December 17, 2005

Not pc to report divorce related murders for what they really are

SANTA CLARA Teen admits killing dad over poor grades After fatal shooting, he set father's body on fire, police say

Suzanne Herel, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, December 17, 2005

A 15-year-old boy charged with murdering his father told Santa Clara police that he had shot him to death so he wouldn't find out how poorly he was doing in school, according to court documents filed Friday.

Ryan Alain Watts, a sophomore at Santa Clara High School, said he had shot his father twice in the head and neck and then -- unable to move the 350-plus-pound man to the backyard, where he planned to bury him -- set his body on fire Monday morning.

Watts then walked to a Taco Bell, where he ate a few tacos before returning home, hoping to find the house fully engulfed in flames, the records show. It was not, so Watts called 911 himself.

Firefighters responding to 673 Bucher Ave. around noon found the badly burned body of John Bruner, 50, on the floor of his bedroom. It was not immediately apparent that foul play was involved in Bruner's death.

"He was pretty disfigured," said Santa Clara police Officer Patti Lynch. It wasn't until an autopsy was performed the following day that police were notified that Bruner had died of multiple gunshot wounds, she said. The autopsy showed that Bruner had been shot with a .45-caliber pistol, according to court records.

After conducting a number of interviews with family, friends and neighbors, police arrested Ryan Watts on Wednesday in Sunnyvale, where his mother lives. He is being held at the county's juvenile probation facility.

Watts was arraigned Friday on a charge of murder with two enhancements: using a firearm and lying in wait, said David Tomkins, assistant district attorney for Santa Clara County.
That charge requires that Watts be tried as an adult. However, because he is underage, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty. If convicted, Watts will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Tomkins described the case as grisly.

"This is not the kind of case you want to see at the holidays," he said.
According to court documents, "Watts told us (police) that he was afraid of his father finding out how poorly he was doing in school. Watts was failing a couple of his classes and his father was going to be meeting with a school counselor early the following week.''

So, sometime before Monday, Watts took one of his father's handguns and ammunition from the safe in his bedroom and hid the weapon in his own room. Sgt. Wahid Kazem, an investigating officer, recounted Watts' interview with police in an affidavit of probable cause filed with the court. "On Monday morning, he walked out of his house with the loaded .45-caliber handgun and a knife," he wrote. "Instead of going to school, he hid in his backyard and snuck back into his house."

When Watts heard his father pick up the telephone, Watts burst into the room, shooting his father in the neck area as he lay in bed. "Watts then approached the victim and shot him in the head at close range," the affidavit says. "Watts believed the victim was calling his school and would confirm his failing grades."

After being shot the second time, Bruner rolled off the bed and onto the floor. Watts told police he had tried to move his father's body, but it was too heavy, so he covered it with an old sleeping bag and poured flame accelerants on top. He lit several small fires in the room to spark a blaze and hid the gun in a kitchen cabinet on his way out of the house.

In a search of the home later, police found a .45-caliber gun in the kitchen and ammunition in Watts' bedroom, along with a bloody sweatshirt and evidence of accelerant.
Bruner and his wife apparently were estranged, and Watts was living with his father.
Neighbors described him as a "quiet kid," Lynch said.

Brad Syth, principal of Santa Clara High School, said Watts had called in sick on Monday and had not been seen by school officials since. Students at the school Friday were enjoying their last day before their two-week winter break.

Syth said that he had never had any interaction with Watts and that the 10th-grader had no history of discipline or attendance problems. For the most part, he earned average grades, Syth said. "When I heard his name, I had to go pull his file up in the computer to find out who he was and what he was all about," Syth said. "He's never been on my radar screen as far as good, bad or indifferent. This one was a complete surprise."

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