"Thank you for justice," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Heidi Engel told the jury following the murder verdict.
The jury of eight women and four men took 39 minutes before recommending they each receive a life sentence, after two hours and 44 minutes of deliberations before finding both guilty of murder.
Defense attorneys asked for leniency, cited their minimal criminal records and said the
Watkinses did the best they could in a bad situation. Prosecutors said they deserved nothing of the sort.
"Show no mercy because those two showed that baby absolutely no mercy," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Heidi Engel said to the jury during the penalty phase. "Those two should never see the light of day."
Throughout the trial, the Watkinses denied hurting her, saying she was a child with behavioral problems and a history of abuse. Their attorneys said she was a danger to herself and her siblings after being abused while in her mother's custody. They maintained that she fell several times in the 36 hours before her death and believed she was acting out, not that anything was seriously wrong.
Adams said she knew a different Michaela, one who dressed as Barney for her second Halloween and just wanted to be loved.
"People will know the truth, and my daughter is not the person they made her out to be," Adams said. "She was a very naive little girl. She'd believe anything anyone told her. Her smile lit up a room. All she wanted was to be loved."
Michaela and her younger brother were taken from Adams by a judge after she left them alone for several hours. The family is trying to regain custody of Michaela's younger brother from foster care, their aunt Christina Jones said.
Social workers approved Patrick and Joy Watkins receiving custody of the children, despite previous charges against Patrick Watkins for not paying child support. Social workers also testified during the trial that Michaela had been subjected to both sexual abuse and physical abuse before being placed with the Watkinses.
Joy Watkins told police on March 12, 2007 that she got in a tussle on the kitchen floor with Michaela. In trying to keep from being scratched in the face by Michaela, Joy said she tried to forcefully restrain the girl. During the altercation, Joy said Michaela bit her. Joy Watkins bit back, and also backhanded her across the face twice, leaving multiple bruises.
They said they went to Red River Gorge on March 11, 2007, but had differing accounts of what happened and Michaela's behavior during the trip. Prosecutors speculated that Michaela died on the way home.
They also said Michaela burned herself in the bathtub the night before. Medical personnel said there was no way she could have burned herself in the tub, due to the burn patterns.
No one could say what caused Michaela's flail chest, where several ribs were crushed and one of her lungs partially collapsed. Prosecutors suggested it was caused by a table leg found in the family's car. Dr. Cristin Rolf, a state medical examiner, said the injury was caused by a single, high-speed blow from a blunt object.
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is the murder weapon," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Charles Johnson said Tuesday in his closing argument, swinging the table leg for emphasis. "The other weapon: a bathtub."
The defense attorneys said the couple were trying to do the right thing, but panicked following the trip to the Red River Gorge. One even admitted their statements about falling down the stairs were not true.
"We know for sure Michaela didn't fall down the stairs," Patrick Watkins' attorney Scott West said in his closing argument. "The police didn't believe that from the beginning. It was a cover story to protect Joy, to protect himself."
"Patrick Watkins, somewhere along the way, lost control of what was happening at his home," his attorney Leta Baharestan said. "He didn't do what he should have done."
"These people did try until that fateful weekend when the train went off the tracks," Joy Watkins' attorney Tim Despotes said.
Despotes said he planned to appeal the verdict against Joy Watkins. Patrick Watkins' attorneys left immediately after court was adjourned.
Prosecutors said state law calls for the Watkinses to serve the lesser of 85 percent or 20 years of their sentence before being eligible to meet the parole board. The couple will be sentenced on Oct. 9 in Clark Circuit Court before Senior Judge Gary Payne.
Contact Fred Petke at firstname.lastname@example.org.