Jury convicts Wattles of child sex crimes
By Ken Childers
After deliberating for about three hours Tuesday evening, an Okfuskee County jury found Mark Wattles guilty on four of the five counts of child sexual abuse pinned on him by the state of Oklahoma. The jury recommended sentences of life in prison on two counts and 25 years years each on the other two.
Wattles, 63, was charged in 2017 with two felony counts of child sexual abuse following allegations made by two young Texas girls who had spent that summer at his Okemah home. Mary Wattles, the defendant’s wife, was charged with two counts of enabling child sexual abuse and will be tried separately from her husband.
The initial investigation began in Abilene, Texas, when the girls, who were 12 and 14 years old at the time, returned home and confided in a family member about the alleged incidents. The family member then notified the girls’ mother.
The father of the alleged victims took the stand last Thursday morning and testified the girls “crumbled” when he talked to them about the allegations.
“This has been the toughest two years of my life,” the father said. “My daughter has been hospitalized, my kids are so much different, my wife and I nearly separated over this and I’ve changed careers,” he said.
The father was an employee of the Texas Department of Corrections but left his job – which involved reading “gruesome details” of crimes – because he felt he could no longer “look at things objectively.”
When asked if he had gained anything from the experience, the girls’ father replied with “pain and heartache.” He was also asked why he came back to testify at the trial. “It’s the right thing to do, and we need closure,” he answered.
The witness further testified that the younger of the two girls has been hospitalized three times for suicide attempts since 2017 and the older daughter had become “reclusive” and often wears sweaters, even in hot weather, to stay covered up. Both girls are still receiving counseling to treat sexual abuse-related trauma, according to their father.
The girl’s mother, who also took the stand, said her oldest daughter is “broken” by the alleged abuse and stays her in her room most of the time. The younger of the two girls has “lots of breakdowns” and is very “up and down” with her emotions. “The girls are getting better, but not completely,” she said.
On Friday, jurors were shown video of forensic interviews conducted on both girls by Brandon Gurganus, Victims Services Specialist with the Abilene Police Department. The videos were played without objection from Wattles’ attorneys.
During the interviews, conducted in 2017, the oldest of the two girls seemed reluctant to discuss the alleged abuse, stating only that “bad things” had happened. She later wrote more details down on paper for Gargunus. The younger girl appeared to be more forthcoming and described several events, including one in which Wattles allegedly exposed himself to her. “I don’t get why he did it to me,” she said in the interview. “I don’t understand.”
Mark and Mary Wattles were taken into custody in September 2017 and were scheduled to stand trial in October 2018, but it was rescheduled due to family health issues with the couple’s lawyer. The trial was rescheduled for May 13, 2019 but was continued twice, first to May 20 then to last week.