Auburn, AL

Kelly Watford: She and husband will face grand jury for drowning death of malnourished son

Lavinia Thompson

Mark Watford found out his son was dead while driving home from work after picking up dinner when a doctor called him, a half hour after his wife - who had said nothing about the incident, according to Opelika-Auburn Now.

Now, he and his wife are facing charges in relation to six-year-old Sulivan Watford’s death, according to a statement from the Auburn Police Department (APD), posted to their website on June 15, 2023. Mark has been charged with aggravated child abuse, while Kelly stares down a felony murder charge.

On July 19, 2023, a judge decided that there is enough evidence for Mark and Kelly to face a grand jury, OA Now states.

The police, fire department, and EMS personnel responded to a home in Auburn, Alabama on June 14, 2023 after a report that a young boy was not breathing and unresponsive, says the APD statement. Despite life-saving measures, Sulivan Watford died after arriving at East Alabama Health (EAH).

Kelly claimed she’d used a vapor rub on her son to treat his cough, OA Now says. Her brother and mother, and even Mark, a nurse, said that his death must have been related to an allergic reaction to VapoRub.

However, the autopsy revealed fluid in Sulivan’s lungs and at the top of his nasal cavities, findings consistent with drowning, WRBL previously reported. Kelly told police that Sulivan became unresponsive while in the bath, but she had never left him unsupervised in that time. A medical examiner also found that Sulivan only weighed 21 pounds at the time of his death.

The prosecution read statements given to police by both parents, who waived their Miranda rights during interviews with detectives, OA Now says.
Kelly WatfordPhoto byAuburn Police Department

Kelly said earlier that day, she’d given Sulivan, who she called a picky eater, some fruit and yogurt, OA Now reports. She went to Walmart to purchase medication and VapoRub for Sulivan. At about 2 p.m., she gave Sulivan a bath and some Vaporub. She added that the bath tub only had enough water to cover his legs. After, she said she took him to his room, put a onesie on him, and rocked him. When Sulivan stopped breathing, she claimed she called 911.

In his statement, Mark described the family a bit more while defending his wife, OA Now says.

“Kelly would not have drowned my son,” he said, backing up Kelly’s claims that Sulivan died of an allergic reaction to VapoRub.

Mark explained that Sulivan was the youngest of his and Kelly’s seven kids, aged six to 18, according to OA Now. A WRBL report lists the kids’ ages as 19, 17, 15, 13, 12, and six.

Sulivan was slow to develop, Mark acknowledged, and said his son still wore pull ups, had speech and vocabulary issues, and mostly crawled, OA Now says. He told the court he knew his son was underdeveloped. Kelly was the primary caregiver for Sulivan since Mark worked.

Mark also confirmed that he and Kelly don’t believe in vaccinations and didn’t use birth control, OA Now says. Kelly never seemed excited to find out she was pregnant again, Mark told the court. He added that Kelly fed the kids organic, non-GMO foods without dyes, and would never intentionally harm them. Mark also admitted that the week before, he noticed Sulivan’s hip bones were showing, and that on June 13, he’d noticed Sulivan’s cough. His statement confirmed that was the same day he last saw his son alive.

In describing his activity on June 14, Mark said he stopped by Rocco’s Chicken Joint on his way home from work to pick up some dinner, OA Now says. At 5:52 p.m., Kelly called him to ask if he was almost home. A doctor called Mark at 6:27 p.m. to inform him that Sulivan was dead.

Despite Mark defending Kelly, one of the Watford kids testified that Kelly left the bathroom door closed on purpose while Sulivan was in the bath tub, OA Now says. Kelly allegedly told the other kids to “give us a minute.” The child said that about 15 minutes later, Kelly was on the phone with 911.

WRBL previously reported that Sulivan’s weight and physical appearance lead investigators to believe that Sullivan couldn’t sit or stand up on his own.

Janet Dean, Kelly’s mother, also said an allergic reaction caused Sulivan’s death, attributing the child’s cough to carpet that was recently pulled up, OA Now says.

Photos from Kelly’s phone, prosecutors allege, prove otherwise, OA Now continues, including one from six months before Sulivan’s death. Prosecutors showed a Jan. 24 photo which showed Vic’s Vapopads on a chair in Sulivan’s room. Other photos showed carpet had been pulled up even before that in May 2022.
Mark WatfordPhoto byAuburn Police Department

The detective’s testimony

Responding to the home that night with the APD was Detective Terry White, who testified in court about the grim scene they walked into, OA Now says. He also heard Kelly’s 911 call, he said, and listened while operators instructed Kelly to perform CPR on her son. White claimed he heard Kelly count chest compressions over the phone.

When White viewed Sulivan’s body at the hospital, he said Sulivan was naked and “very frail,” OA Now says. Water remained in the boy’s mouth, and he appeared to be very malnourished. White said when health care staff withdrew blood from Sulivan, it appeared to be light red, watery, and “fluidy.”

Kelly’s defense attorney, Algert Agricola, protested this testimony by asking White if he had any training that would validate his opinion on Sulivan’s blood, to which White replied he did not, OA Now says.

White said he didn’t know where the bruise on Sulivan’s clavicle came from when prosecutor Garrett Saucer showed it to him, OA Now continues. The detective also claimed that Kelly seemed unfazed and calm when she found her son dead.

Agricola argued that Kelly was a professional counselor and would have been trained to stay calm in such a situation, OA Now says.

White further testified about Kelly’s first call after being imprisoned, which was with her mother, Janet Dean, OA Now says. In this call, White said Kelly’s main concerns seemed to be paying bills, putting financial business in order, and cleaning the house before a visit from the Department of Human Resources.

“Don’t worry baby. I’ll cover for you,” Dean allegedly told her daughter.

Agricola pointed out that Kelly had cooperated fully with police, yet despite this, accused White of using coercive tactics while interviewing the mother, OA Now says. The defense attorney said White told Kelly it “looked like we would have to charge you with murder.” White, however, retorted that he wouldn’t have said it without supporting evidence.

Kelly Watford remains in prison without bond, OA Now reports, while Mark has been released on a $30,000 bond. The parents have lost custody of their other six children.

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Long time true crime lover and blogger who has spent years reading and studying criminal psychology. I also write mystery fiction books, and have a diploma in journalism.


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