By Nancy Drury Duncan
A 49-year-old Chincoteague man will spend 10 years in prison for the April 2020 shooting of his father. Thomas Lee Watson Jr. was originally charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 70-year-old Thomas Lee “Big Tommy” Watson Sr., a commercial waterman. In July 2021, Watson Jr. pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a plea agreement with the commonwealth.
“There were only two people in the room,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan. At 8 a.m. April 30, 2020, Watson called 911 and said he accidentally shot his father at the School Street home where they both lived. He also called his mother and told her what he had done. “Me and him were just messing with a pistol and I shot him dead,” he told a 911 operator. “The body was found in a bedroom,” said Morgan. A 9 mm pistol with tissue and hair on the muzzle of the gun was found in the defendant’s bedroom. Watson had a high level of intoxication, Morgan said. Watson told police he had a drink after the shooting to “calm his nerves,” but a blood alcohol test taken nine and a half hours after the shooting showed a blood alcohol content of .12, still too high to legally operate a motor vehicle.
At Watson’s sentencing, Morgan said forensic evidence proved the pistol was pressed against the victim’s head by the defendant. He said Watson exhibited “callous behavior.” Morgan also said, “He had his firearm rights restored less than a year before this shooting.” According to Morgan, Watson said he cannot understand how the gun got loaded or how it was fired. “This was extremely careless and dangerous behavior,” Morgan said. “Watson has failed to fully understand his actions,” he told the court.
Defense attorney Thomas Northam noted that Watson was the one who called 911. “He called his mother. He stayed at the scene. He was devastated.” He said Watson had broken his back and could not work. “He was financially dependent on his father.” He said his client was previously arrested in 2001. “He was not a troublemaker for the last 20 years,” he said. Northam called the event “tragic” and one that his client “will have to deal with the rest of his life.”
Before hearing his sentence, Watson spoke at length. “Never in a million years would I have thought something like this would happen,” he said. “I’ve got to live with this forever. I am never going to be happy. It is tragic.” He spoke about a gun safety class he took with his son.
“You are correct, it is tragic,” said Judge W. Revell Lewis, III. “This was an intentional act you pled guilty to. It is undisputed that the muzzle of the gun was touching the back of your father’s head when it was discharged. This was about as egregious as it gets. I am going to sentence you to the maximum I can sentence you, 10 years.” He ordered Watson to be on supervised probation for three years when released and on good behavior for ten years. He ordered him to return to the custody of the sheriff to await transportation to the department of corrections to begin serving his sentence.