Two years ago my life was quite different. Compared to today it is dramatically different. Back then, I was serving my ninth year in the Tennessee legislature and my third as a State Senator. I chaired of one of the Senate’s most powerful committees, was a husband and father and held a bright political future. All that came crashing down as a result of a series of unfortunate circumstances, brought on by many poor decisions that began with me.
The political life I coveted began unraveling when a guy, Joel Watts, attempted to extort $10,000 from me saying that he was the boyfriend of McKensie Morrison and he had a disk with pictures of McKensie and me. McKensie was one of my interns, the one I was having an extramarital affair with. Watts threatened to turn the disk over to the press if I didn’t give “them” money. There were no pictures of Morrison and I and I knew it – just a handful of pictures of McKensie she had asked me to take of her. One of many regrettable decisions I made.
Within hours of their initial demands, I contacted the state’s top law enforcement agency and agreed to wear a wire in a sting operation to obtain information from Watts and Morrison. It was an intense thirty-three hours of text messages, phone calls and recorded conversations. It ended with the exchange of the disk and marked money from the TBI, with Watts being thrown to the ground by a dozen TBI Agents, guns pointed at this head, and arrested in the finale.
TBI agents had been watching Morrison all day, too. At the time of Watts’ arrest, she was smoking a cigarette behind the legislative cafeteria, cell-phone in hand, waiting to hear from him. That call never came, and it was her last day as an intern.
I drove to my home in Germantown later that afternoon, fully realizing what had transpired; the danger I had been in and the damage I had caused. The next day, Good Friday of 2009, I sat down with my wife and told her everything. The story would not become public until three and a half months later when Watts’ was brought before the judge for a preliminary hearing on July 20. Neither Watts nor Morrison expected me to show up and testify; it wasn’t the first time they had underestimated my actions nor would it be the last.
Joel Watts was indicted by a grand jury in the winter of 2010 and charged with Extortion, a Class D felony under Tennessee law. Yesterday, he pled guilty to “Facilitation of Extortion”, a Class E felony. He received a sentence of one-year probation. I did not attend the hearing; I trusted the Assistant District Attorney to handle the matter as he and his office best saw fit. Yet the story doesn’t end there.
- In a statement read before the court, Joel Watts admitted acting under the direction of McKensie Morrison. I had no idea the statement would be included in the court record. In my heart, I had known this was the case from the moment I received the first text message from Watts on the morning of April 8, 2009.
- Watts and Morrison are apparently still together. I’ve been told he is living in a structure behind her house, getting his electricity from an extension cord. If true, I find that both odd and sad. I hope he can successfully move on with his life.
- It is my understanding from others intimately connected to the case, that Morrison and Watts indicated they did not act alone. Was there someone within or connected to the state legislature that was financially encouraging and strategically helping Morrison and Watts develop their plan? That is difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I certainly hope not and if true, I would prefer not to know.
People ask me lots of questions about the issue, one of the most common being, “Do you believe you were set up?” Even my former spouse feels she knows the answer to this question. We talked about it as recently as last weekend. Until now I have only discussed the issue with close friends and family. In one sense it does not matter because the outcome is still the same. However, in McKensie Morrison’s first interview after the Watts’ arrest, she denied having any knowledge of the extortion attempt; contradicting Watts’ initial statement to investigators after the arrest and the statement read in court. http://www.wsmv.com/video/20243095/index.html
There are only a few who have seen the series of text messages and heard the phone calls; TBI investigators, attorney’s in the DA’s office and of course, Watts, Morrison and me.
Will McKensie Morrison be charged and indicted? I don’t know. That is a decision the District Attorney will have to make. Where is she now? From what I understand, she is Mary Kay sales representative and resides in Middle Tennessee.
Since December 2009, I’ve been writing a book of this story. I was waiting until the conclusion to the Watts case to complete the manuscript. But the story still isn’t finished yet.
I’ll follow up with more details on the book in a later post – but is has a lot to do with forgiveness; received and denied.