Pair Pleads Guilty to Starving Grandson, Nephew

Just shy of a year after 4-year-old Austin Watkins' death, his paternal grandmother and aunt have entered pleas of guilty to his death.

Tuesday morning, both pleaded guilty to capital murder in Austin's death in November 2008.

At the time of his death, Austin was staying at his grandmother's house in Ludlow and where officials say he weighed only 19 pounds.

Described as being stone-faced after entering the plea, attorneys for both 44-year-old Janice Mowdy and 23-year-old Stephanie Bell say accepting the plea bargain was a difficult decision for both women to make.

"It was. It was, because they're making a decision that ends their lives basically," said Bell's attorney, Shawn Harris.

The attorneys say both women were of sound mind when doing so.

"I think she clearly grasped the severity of the charge. I think one thing, they were was scared," said attorney Andre DeGrey who represented Mowdy.

The big question now is why this happened to the boy. In previous reports, family members had said that there was an insurance policy on Austin and that it was hanging on the wall in his room at Mowdy's mobile home. Officials say the insurance policy had lapsed before Austin died.

"I don't know of any motive. I have racked my brain during the entire course of this case to try to figure out how or why this happened and I just do not have an explanation for it," said Scott County district attorney, Mark Duncan.

Austin had an older sibling and cousin who also lived in the house with him. Officials say both of those children were fed, but not often.

Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee says both of the children are now in foster care.

Mowdy and Bell were sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to Lee, both Mowdy and Bell are expected to remain at the Scott County Jail until they are officially turned over to the Mississippi Department of Corrections Thursday.

Since they were first arrested, Lee said the two had to be transferred to jails in Leake and Neshoba counties due to threats.

"Well, the sheriff's department, we had received death threats on the two through letters, phone calls, and so we have pretty much had to have them under close guard everywhere that they went," the sheriff said.


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