By Traci Shurley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Jun. 23–FORT WORTH — A Wise County woman tried to hire a hit man to kill the wife of her former lover after an unflattering article appeared in the local newspaper, a Tarrant County jury decided Friday.
Rebecca Simpson, 44, dropped her head as the verdict finding her guilty of solicitation of capital murder was read.
The sentencing phase of the trial was expected to begin this morning. Simpson, the wife of a prominent Wise County attorney, faces up to life in prison.
In closing arguments Thursday, Tarrant County prosecutors said that jurors need look no further than two audiotapes and a videotape made by investigators to convict.
On those tapes, Simpson is not the polite, victimized woman who spent hours on the witness stand this week.
She’s a woman who always gets exactly what she wants, who was motivated, in part, to have another woman killed because of something as simple as a newspaper article, prosecutor Kim D’Avignon said.
“It’s a crazy motive,” D’Avignon said. “A normal person doesn’t think your name in the paper equals trying to have someone killed, but to Rebecca Simpson that made perfect sense. Think about what kind of person that makes sense to.”
Simpson tried to hire an undercover Department of Public Safety officer to kill Shemane Watts, the wife of her former lover, jurors decided.
The trial was in Tarrant County because Simpson had her discussions with the DPS officer in Southlake.
Her seven-woman, five-man jury began deliberating about 4:15 p.m. Thursday. After two hours, they asked District Judge Mike Thomas if they could go home for the evening.
Deliberations resumed at 9 a.m. Friday.
During Simpson’s trial, jurors heard audiotape and saw videotape of two meetings Simpson had with the undercover officer, on Oct. 26, 2004, and two days later.
On those tapes, she agreed to pay $3,000 to have Shemane Watts’ wrists slit. She told the officer that Shemane Watts and her husband, Danny Watts, had been harassing her family and that police in her city, Bridgeport, would not help.
She also wanted Danny Watts beaten up, and instructed the “hit man” to make the assault look like a drug deal gone wrong.
Danny Watts, the owner of a fitness club in Bridgeport, testified that he and Simpson began having an affair shortly after he became her personal trainer in 1999. He said the affair lasted through 2004, even after he married Shemane Watts in June 2003.
Simpson’s husband, Ross Simpson, filed for divorce a few days after her arrest.
D’Avignon and prosecutor Christy Jack told jurors that Simpson wanted Danny Watts for herself and was angered that he would choose Shemane Watts over her.
D’Avignon said that after an Oct. 13, 2004, altercation where Shemane Watts stood up to Simpson, Simpson started looking for a way to get rid of Watts.
About a week later, a front-page article about their fight printed in the Bridgeport Index fueled her anger and strengthened her resolve, the prosecutor said.
Simpson and her defense attorney painted a different picture.
Simpson testified that she began receiving threats of retaliation shortly after she accused Danny Watts of propositioning her 16-year-old daughter in late September 2004.
It was fear, she said, that drove her to ask a security guard named Kevin Cash to point her toward self-defense classes and ask him to vandalize the Wattses’ vehicles.
She said Cash came up with the idea of killing Shemane Watts and wouldn’t listen to her as she tried to back out of meetings with the supposed hit man.
After the first meeting, Cash told her she had to go through with hiring the killer or the man would become angry and harm her family, she testified. Simpson always planned to call off the hit before anyone was hurt, she said.
Ray Bass, Simpson’s attorney, characterized Cash as a wanna-be tough guy fascinated with the intrigue of a murder-for-hire plot. Bass said Cash could have been working on his own or on behalf of someone else.
Cash, in testimony last week, said he went to police when Simpson brought up murder-for-hire.
Bass urged jurors to look at all the evidence in the case, including detailed records of phone calls between Simpson and Cash. After what they had heard, jurors couldn’t help but find that Cash “induced” Simpson into committing the solicitation, Bass said.
Because of that, they had to find Simpson not guilty, he said during closing arguments.
“He set this lady up,” Bass said. “He took advantage of the turmoil that was going on in this lady’s life, and he set her up.”
Traci Shurley, 817-390-7757 [email protected]
Copyright (c) 2006, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
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