TRAVERSE CITY — Prosecutors plan to add torture to a list of charges against a Traverse City man who’s accused of imprisoning his pregnant girlfriend and repeatedly striking her in the abdomen.
Keith Robert Watson, 21, on Wednesday moved a step closer to trial after he waived his right to preliminary examination on imprisonment and aggravated assault charges. But then Grand Traverse County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg told 86th District Court Judge Thomas Phillips that Watson also should face a torture charge, but it hadn’t been added to court documents.
That move surprised Watson’s attorney Janet Mistele, who said she walked into court expecting to waive a hearing on charges with a maximum 15-year prison sentence, only to be “stunned” that prosecutors were also pursuing a felony — torture — with a potential life sentence.
Phillips sent the case to 13th Circuit Court on the original charges, meaning the case could be back in district court for another preliminary examination once the torture charge is added.
“It will not be waived, at this point,” Mistele said.
A police report states Watson’s girlfriend, 20, told officers that Watson became upset with her pregnancy, struck her and created a makeshift barricade to block her inside a room for a stretch between Jan. 25 and 26. It states Watson brought out and loaded four different guns and threatened to kill her and any police officers who arrived.
The victim also said Watson kneed her several times in the abdomen, the report states. She eventually convinced Watson to take her to the emergency room because she was in pain.
Moeggenberg said police initially requested a torture charge but she didn’t authorize it until she met with the victim. She wasn’t sure why the complaint wasn’t amended before Wednesday’s examination.
“I am adding it now,” she said.
Moeggenberg said Watson’s case involves accusations that for a prolonged time the victim anticipated being killed. That fits the torture law’s conditions that a suspect caused cruel physical or mental pain or suffering in a victim under their control.
Mistele said she has “serious questions” about the victim’s story. She noted the police report states that at one point during the incident the victim left the residence but returned. The police report states the victim went to a supermarket but didn’t contact police because she feared Watson would kill her.
Watson remains in Grand Traverse County’s jail on a $1 million cash or surety bond.