LIMERICK — A Limerick Township man will face a trial on homicide charges for allegedly killing a township woman, who he claimed was his friend and business partner, and whose body was found in a shallow grave in Royersford several weeks after she went missing.
Blair Anthony Watts, 33, of the 600 block of Hunsberger Drive, was held for trial, after a preliminary hearing on Thursday before District Court Judge Richard H. Welsh, on charges of first- and third-degree murder, theft by unlawful taking or disposition and access device fraud in connection with the alleged Jan. 3 slaying of 43-year-old Jennifer Brown, who lived in the 1400 block of Stratford Court in the township.
Watts now faces an April 26 formal arraignment hearing on the charges in Montgomery County Court after which a judge will set a trial date. Watts will remain in the county jail without bail while awaiting trial.
“Hell no,” Watts responded as he was escorted from district court by detectives in handcuffs when asked by a reporter if he committed the crime.
After a more than four hour evidentiary hearing, Welsh determined prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to move Watts’ case to trial.
During the hearing, First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and co-prosecutor Lindsey Mills called three witnesses who presented testimony about Watts’ alleged inconsistent statements, cellphone analysis that placed Watts near the location where Brown’s body was discovered and a cadaver dog’s signaling human remains or human biological material inside a vehicle used by Watts.
“There is a web of circumstantial evidence to send this case to trial,” McCann argued to the judge. “Circumstantial evidence can meet the commonwealth’s burden on every element of the crime.”
But defense lawyer Christopher Mandracchia argued prosecutors presented no evidence of intent to kill and no DNA evidence to link Watts to the crime.
“There is no direct evidence. There’s been nothing but hearsay or circumstantial evidence. They have no evidence of intent. They have no evidence of where this alleged murder even happened,” Mandracchia argued to the judge as he asked that all the charges be dismissed.
McCann explained circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support charges at the preliminary hearing level.
“It’s a preliminary hearing. We’re obviously not going to put our whole case on but I think that the circumstantial evidence is very incriminating and very powerful in this case. But I’m not going to decide that, 12 people in Montgomery County are going to decide that,” said McCann, referring to a trial. “I have confidence in our evidence. I feel confident that our detectives did a very thorough investigation in this case.”
During the hearing, Mandracchia, who was assisted by his father, longtime criminal defense lawyer Charles Mandracchia, suggested detectives focused only on Watts as a suspect and ignored others. Mandracchia, hinting at a potential trial strategy, suggested someone else killed Brown, perhaps someone with whom she was romantically involved.
“This is not a fair proceeding and we hope to get our day in court to actually analyze the evidence,” Mandracchia said after the hearing.
County Detective Edward Schikel testified Brown’s body was discovered shortly after 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 in a “clandestine grave” at the rear of a warehouse in the 200 block of North 5th Avenue in Royersford. Authorities were alerted to the site by employees of the warehouse, according to testimony.
Underneath Brown’s body detectives found sunglasses, Apple earpods and a broken hair clip. Schikel testified a Jan. 5 search of Brown’s home uncovered several broken pieces of a hair clip embedded in a carpet and those pieces were consistent with the broken hair clip found in the shallow grave with Brown’s body.
An autopsy determined Brown suffered three broken ribs. The cause of death was attributed to “homicide by unspecified means,” with compression and asphyxia, a mechanism that would account for the fractured ribs, detectives testified.
County Detective Mark Minzola testified that cellphone analysis showed that between 8:27 p.m. and 8:42 p.m. on Jan. 5, Watts’ cellphone was in the vicinity of where Brown’s body was eventually found.
Surveillance cameras in the area also depicted a grey Jeep Renegade vehicle linked to Watts in the same exact area, during the same exact time frame, Minzola testified.
Additionally, detectives testified when they used a cadaver dog to search the floor mat behind the driver’s seat of the grey Jeep, the dog signaled human remains or human biological material had previously been in that location.
Schikel testified that a cadaver dog, during a Jan. 8 search of a red Jeep Cherokee vehicle linked to Watts, signaled human remains had previously been in the back seat area.
“His demeanor changed when he got behind the rear driver’s seat area. He became fixated and began to bark and would not leave that area,” Schikel testified.
Limerick Township Police Sergeant Brian Tyler testified the investigation began about 4:20 p.m. Jan. 4 when Limerick police responded to Brown’s Stratford Court home to conduct a welfare check at the request of Watts, who told police he was a friend and business partner of Brown and had been unable to contact her.
Watts, according to court papers, claimed to detectives that he had last seen Brown at 2 p.m. on Jan. 3 when he was at her home. Watts claimed Brown and he had agreed that Watts would pick up Brown’s 8-year-old son at the school bus stop that afternoon and would keep him overnight and take him to school on Jan. 4, which Watts described as not uncommon.
Watts told detectives he picked up the child at the bus stop and claimed that he texted Brown at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3 and again in the morning of Jan. 4 and never received a response from Brown, according to the arrest affidavit filed by Minzola and Limerick Detective Sergeant Paul Marchese.
Watts allegedly claimed he went to the school bus stop at about 4 p.m. on Jan. 4, found that Brown was not there and picked up Brown’s son and went to her residence but no one answered.
Detectives found Brown’s vehicle parked near her home.
When detectives entered Brown’s residence they initially observed no signs of a struggle and found the keys to Brown’s vehicle inside the residence, as well as her purse, credit cards and a work phone. Brown’s personal cellphone was not found in the home, detectives said.
On Jan. 6, detectives searched Brown’s home with a K-9 cadaver dog that signaled to investigators in the kitchen “that a cadaver, human remains and/or human biological material had previously been in that location” as well as at the exterior of the home near a trash receptacle, according to testimony.
During the investigation, detectives contacted Brown’s wireless cellphone carrier and determined the last known GPS location for her personal phone was at 7 a.m. on Jan. 4 in the vicinity of Lewis Road and Ridge Pike in Limerick.
Court documents indicate that Brown’s son later told police that he saw Watts with his mother’s personal phone when Watts picked him up at the bus stop on Jan 3.
On Jan. 6 detectives interviewed Watts, who according to testimony was married and also had a girlfriend who lived in Stowe, and at that time he described Brown as a close personal friend and business partner and claimed Brown had a business relationship with a restaurant he planned to open, “Birdies Kitchen,” and that Brown would send him money every six weeks or so and had invested about $36,000 in their business. Watts, according to court papers, added Brown owed about $10,000 to fulfill her obligation.
When detectives analyzed the contents of Brown’s electronic devices they found two cash transfers totaling $17,000 to Watts between 4:23 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. on Jan. 3, according to court documents.
Detectives alleged that the $17,000 was never part of a written agreement between Brown and Watts. Authorities alleged Brown was already dead when those money transfers occurred and that Watts made them using Brown’s computer tablet.
During the investigation, detectives determined that on Aug. 28, 2022, Brown entered into a business partnership agreement with Watts to invest money in Watts’ restaurant which they were planning to open in Phoenixville by the end of January.
However, Minzola testified that when detectives spoke to the owners of the property they learned that the owners had never signed a lease with Watts and no renovation work had been completed on the building by Watts to ready it for a restaurant.
“This guy is defrauding her the entire time he knows her,” McCann argued.
On Dec. 28, 2022, the property owners informed Watts that they would not be moving forward with the lease and were dissolving the relationship and Watts allegedly threatened to sue, according to testimony.
One of the property owners told detectives that Watts showed up at the property on Jan. 4 saying he had money to put down on a lease, according to the arrest affidavit.