San Joaquin County
District Attorney's Office
OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY 222 E. Weber Ave., Room 202, Stockton, CA
P. O. Box 990, Stockton, CA 95201
T (209) 468-2400 | F (209) 465-0371
TORI VERBER SALAZAR District Attorney Scott A. Fichtner Assistant District Attorney Kristine M. Reed Assistant District Attorney James Bojko Chief Investigator
News from the Office of District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar
For Immediate Release
December 10, 2019
CONTACT: Angela Hayes, Deputy District Attorney
T: (209) 468-2400 | E: Angela.Hayes@sjcda.org

Man Sentenced Today In Brutal Slaying Of Former Stockton Police Detective And Attempted Murder Of Two Others

Stockton - Today, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar announced that Rafael Eduardo Watts, Sr., age 63, was sentenced to 64 years to life in state prison and an additional 31 years to state prison to be served consecutively to one another for the brutal slaying of retired Stockton Police Detective Laurits "Pepe" Petersen on February 23, 2016, along with the attempted murders of Patrick Garcia and Bertha Gomez.

District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said, "A dangerous man has been taken off the streets and our community is safer for it."

According to court records, on February 23, 2016, at approximately 10:48 a.m., in the 8300 block of Tam O'Shanter in the city of Stockton, police officers arrived on scene to find emergency personnel attending to Laurits Petersen who appeared to be suffering from a gunshot wound. An independent witness was able to describe Mr. Watts assaulting the victim until he fell to the ground. A Good Samaritan, Mr. Patrick Garcia, who was driving in the area, jumped from his vehicle and ran to help Pepe. Mr. Garcia yelled to the assailant to calm down or he would call the police. Mr. Watts hurled expletives at him.

At that point, Mr. Watts and Mr. Garcia became embroiled in a physical altercation in which Mr. Garcia was stabbed. Mr. Watts then pointed a firearm at the Good Samaritan, as he pleaded for his life; however, the gun misfired. Mr. Watts approached Mr. Petersen, who was still on the ground from the earlier assault and shot him point-blank in the back of the head. Mr. Watts also fired upon vehicles in the vicinity until he ran out of ammunition almost hitting Bertha Gomez while she was sitting in her car. Police were able to locate the defendant immediately and he was apprehended without incident. These senseless acts of violence allegedly arose from a road rage incident.

The autopsy revealed that Mr. Petersen was stabbed 11 times and shot execution style in the back of the head, thereby causing his death. Laurits Petersen was survived by his children, his 26 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren. Mr. Watts was sentenced today before the Honorable Seth Hoyt who had presided over the jury trial in this case. The family of Pepe, and both attempted murder victims, Patrick Garcia and Bertha Gomez were in court this morning and gave poignant impact statements.

The resounding theme of their statements was how their Christian faith had given them patience during the court process and the ability to forgive this reprehensible crime. They would never forget the devastating impact this murder has had on their family as it was clear to see that Pop "Pepe" Petersen was the anchor of this close-knit family. They hoped that Mr. Watts might be able to seek forgiveness from God. Judge Hoyt commended the family's and the victims' commitment to attending the court process and wished for them to regain some sense of peace. In particular, he called Mr. Patrick Garcia, a hero for coming to the aid of Mr. Petersen when many others would not have had the courage to do so.

Deputy District Attorney Kevin Mayo had proceeded to trial against Mr. Watts, but in the midst of presenting his case to the jury, Mr. Watts decided to change his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, to guilty to the following charge:

  • Count 1: Penal Code §187, First Degree Murder
    • Penal Code §12022.53(d), Personal Discharge of a Firearm Causing Death
    • Penal Code §12022(b)(1), Personal use of a Knife
  • However, he pleaded guilty, but insane , as to the remaining counts:
  • Count 2 and 3: Penal Code §664/187, Attempted, Premeditated Murder
    • Penal Code §12022.53(c), Personal Discharge of a Firearm
    • Penal Code §12022(b)(1), Personal use of a Weapon
  • Count 4: Penal Code §246, Discharge of a Firearm at Inhabited Vehicle

Mr. Watts will be committed to a state hospital until he is restored to sanity, at that time he will be immediately sent to state prison to serve what remains of his 95 year to life sentence. Although, the conviction and sentence of Mr. Watts can in no way bring back Laurits Petersen, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar is grateful that the family can now focus on properly grieving and healing without the added burden of navigating through what can be a painfully slow judicial process. This successful prosecution is a result of the excellent work of the Stockton Police officers who responded, in particular, lead Detective Lisa Asklof, and the witnesses who were willing to come forward.