Man pleads guilty to killing homeless man, gets life in prison

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Derrick Watson enters Forsyth Superior Court in Winston-Salem, NC, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, to enter a guilty plea in the stabbing death of Paul Bowlin, a homeless man. Watson was sentenced to life in prison without parole. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A Winston-Salem man avoided the death penalty today and will spend the rest of his life in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges that he fatally stabbed a homeless man in 2011.

Derrick Bernard Watson, 43, of 1443 W. Fourth St., pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in connection with the death of Paul Anthony Bowlin, 46, who was homeless. Watson also pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and breaking and entering of a motor vehicle.

 Judge A. Moses Massey of Forsyth Superior Court sentenced Watson to life in prison without the possibility of parole on the murder charge. That was the only available sentence for first-degree murder once the death penalty was taken off the table under the plea arrangement.

Massey also sentenced Watson to nine months to 11 months in prison on the breaking and entering charge. Wat-son received a sentence of nine years and three months to 11 years and 11 months in prison for the armed robbery charge.

In the early morning hours of June 6, 2011, Watson broke into a car in the parking lot of Philly’s Night Club along Peters Creek Parkway and stole a butterfly knife, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Weede said in court.

Then, around 5 a.m., Watson stabbed Bowlin twice, including a fatal wound in the chest, then dragged his body from in front of Copier Connections on Peters Creek Parkway to the side of the building, Weede said. Watson took Bowlin’s bag, which contained his personal belongings.

Surveillance cameras caught Watson breaking into the car and approaching Bowlin with a knife, Weede said.

Winston-Salem police investigators later found the knife, Watson’s bloody clothes and other items at Faith Temple Church. Watson’s fingerprint was found in the car he is alleged to have broken into, Weede said. Watson was arrested June 9, 2011 in High Point and he gave a statement admitting that he robbed and killed Bowlin, Weede said.

Richard Ramsey, one of Watson’s attorneys, said that Watson had suffered from an addiction to crack cocaine. Watson has a previous criminal record and had a tendency to commit violent crimes when he was either high or trying to get high off crack cocaine, Ramsey said in court.

Ramsey said Watson has been and continues to be remorseful for what he has done.

Watson was scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder the week of Oct. 28. Forsyth County District Attor-ney Jim O’Neill said in court that Ramsey and Jason Crump, Watson’s other attorney, came to him and other pros-ecutors with a signed plea transcript. O’Neill said he had an obligation to take the plea agreement to Bowlin’s fam-ily, who said they preferred that Watson get life in prison rather than go through a lengthy trial. He said in court that he respects the family’s decision.

By Michael Hewlett/Winston-Salem Journal

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