Feb 18, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Two local families stand shattered by the awful events of Nov. 19, 2010, when Steven M. Pieper squeezed the life out of his estranged girlfriend, 20-year-old Jenni-Lyn Watson.
On Feb. 15, the 21-year-old auto parts clerk pleaded guilty to second-degree murder at the Onondaga County Courthouse in downtown Syracuse.
According to District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, Pieper admitted to strangling Watson to death after she told him she was ending their relationship. Until he testified before a grand jury on Valentine’s Day, Pieper had maintained his innocence.
At his arraignment Feb. 15 which lasted just eight minutes, the young man publicly admitted his guilt to County Judge Anthony Aloi. In accepting the plea, Aloi said he’d sentence Pieper to 23 years to life in state prison on March 8.
Two families suffer
Members of both the Watson and Pieper families were present in the courtroom but declined to comment. The Watsons are expected to break their silence at next month’s sentencing.
After last Tuesday’s proceeding, DA Fitzpatrick pointed out that, while the Watson family lost a beloved daughter, the Pieper family also suffers.
“The Piepers are good people,” Fitzpatrick said, “and to their credit they reached out, in a very quiet way, to the Watson family, and I thought that was very decent of them.”
Pieper lived on Coconut Tree Drive in Clay, and the Watsons live on Donegal Way. The prosecution maintained that Pieper visited Jenni-Lyn at her parents’ home the morning of Nov. 19 while she spent Thanksgiving break at home from college.
Fitzpatrick said Pieper fatally strangled her between 11 and 11:30 a.m., placed the body in the trunk of his Volkswagen Jetta and drove away.
“Jenni-Lyn was seeing other people, which is perfectly normal for a young woman at college,” the DA said. “I’m convinced that her desire to live her own life enraged the defendant and led to her murder.
Defense attorney Scott Brenneck said his client pleaded guilty in order to spare both families the anxiety of a criminal trial. Fitzpatrick insisted, however, that the mountain of evidence against him convinced Pieper to forgo the trial.
Evidence of crime
“He didn’t have much wiggle room,” the DA said. After the prosecution provided Brenneck with details of the case against Pieper, the defendant “realized that the sheriff’s department had wrapped a noose around his neck that he wasn’t getting out of.”
Pieper had left his own cell phone at the scene of the crime along with his watch, but stole Jenni-Lyn’s mobile phone. Minutes after leaving Donegal Way, Pieper was stopped by Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Andrews because Pieper’s car lacked a front license plate.
“He must’ve thought he was the unluckiest son of a gun in the world,” Fitzpatrick said, “because not two minutes after leaving the Watson house here he is with a dead body in his car and he’s pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy.”
Andrews warned Pieper that he may be pulled over again. “This led the defendant to dispose of the body more quickly than he had planned,” Fitzpatrick said. “The end result being we had a much stronger case.”
Eyewitnesses and e-mails
After the traffic stop, Pieper drove to Clay Park Central about two miles north of the Watson home where he hid the girl’s body in a swampy, wooded area down a slope behind a storage shed, some 350 yards north of Wetzel Road. Investigators discovered the body on Nov. 27.
He had also claimed he’d seen a stranger in a vehicle parked outside the Watson home as he left that morning. He subsequently used Jenni-Lyn’s cell phone to make it appear as though she’d been taken from her house by that imaginary stranger.
“I think the most damning evidence we had was the cell-phone tower records,” Fitzpatrick said. “We had pings off the cell towers, eyewitnesses who saw his car in the park where the body was found and we had e-mails that he’d sent to the victim while trying to disguise his identity, indicating he was obsessed with her.”
Pieper would first become eligible for parole in 2034 when he’ll be 44 years old. Fitzpatrick said that he himself will be 81 years old at the time, but he vowed to do everything he could to keep Pieper behind bars for the rest of his natural life.