Daniel Watkins: cleared of all charges.

Back in May, around the time of the Johnathan Perkins craziness at UVA Law School, we wrote about stalking and assault charges leveled against another UVA law student (and friend of Perkins), Daniel Paul Watkins. An ex-girlfriend and female classmate claimed that Daniel Watkins assaulted and threatened her.

At the time, we quoted a friend of Watkins who counseled caution in reacting to the charges. This source stated that “there is another side to the story, which has yet to surface,” and that observers should “keep an open mind” and “not pass judgment too quickly.”

As it turns out, these words were prescient. A judge just dismissed all of the charges against Daniel P. Watkins….

Here’s a concise report on the proceedings from The Hook:

Third-year UVA law student Daniel Watkins walked out of Albemarle General District Court without the stalking and assault charges that had followed him since his May arrest. On August 30, Judge William Barkley granted a defense motion to strike the charges brought by a female law student whom Watkins had dated for about a year.

Barkley ruled that Watkins’ alleged threats to kill the girlfriend if she ever dated or had sex with another man were undermined by her courtroom testimony that she didn’t believe him when he supposedly made the statements in February.

Such statements, standing alone, aren’t necessarily threatening. Couples say such things to each other — “I’d kill you if you ever cheated on me!” — all the time, often jokingly. Much would depend upon the circumstances of the interaction. In this case, if the girlfriend didn’t believe the statements when allegedly uttered by Watkins, that would seem fatal to the case.

As for the stalking charge, the judge noted that the former paramour initiated contact when she texted Watkins twice after she’d gotten a letter of no contact from a dean, and that the two supposedly offending encounters — one in the Law School parking lot and the other at a Student Bar Association event at the Foxfield steeplechase races — were “nothing sinister” given that the two attended the same school.

An SBA event “at the Foxfield steeplechase races.” C’mon, UVA, do you really have to be such a self-caricature? On the count of three, let’s pop those collars.

In court, Watkins was accompanied by his law school friend, Johnathan Perkins, the man who admitted to a high-profile fabrication of a tale of police harassment in May, and also by his father, Anthony Watkins, who said after the charges were thrown out, “It’s been our prayers that this would happen.”

We wonder what Perkins is up to these days. Did he receive his degree from UVA Law, and did he find gainful employment? If you know, please feel free to email us, subject line “Johnathan Perkins,” or text us (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS).

Additional coverage of the Daniel Watkins case appears at Newsplex, which notes:

A University of Virginia law student accused of stalking and assaulting a female classmate has been cleared of any wrongdoing…. [A judge ruled] Watkins was not stalking her, but rather was simply in public places with [the ex-girlfriend]. The judge also ruled there was no evidence of a threat or harm in their encounters.

This was not the first time the second-year law student has ended up in the news. Watkins was at the center of national news reports in the fall of 2008 as an undergraduate student at Abilene Christian University in Texas. While he was student body president, Watkins, an African-American, reported finding a noose on his office chair. A police investigation ensued but no arrests were made.

Six months later, Watkins was ousted as student body president by the university’s student-government association. Twenty-five of 32 students who participated in the impeachment hearing voted in favor of the move.

But that’s all ancient history. Today’s news is that Watkins has been exonerated. According to Newsplex, Watkins declined comment as he left court yesterday, “but he was all smiles as he walked away a free man.”

A UVA tipster provided us with additional information about the case:

[Daniel and the ex-girlfriend] dated for about four months, not a year, and he then broke up with her. That should have been the end of the story, but unfortunately it was not.

Further, this whole situation (including having been arrested and booked in jail, having had his laptop and all other electronics confiscated by police during law school exams and still held by the police to this day, having had his name and mugshot plastered all over the news, etc.) has been extremely traumatizing for Daniel, who has never received so much as a speeding ticket prior to this point. Your story and others like it have also negatively affected his job opportunities. [FN1]

Aside from that, I think a judge rebuking a supposed victim in open court for her unfounded allegations prior to any of the defendant’s (compelling) defense should pretty much speak for itself.

There are few things worse than being falsely accused. Being cleared of all charges must come as a great relief. Congratulations to Daniel Watkins on his vindication.

P.S. Here at Above the Law, we are happy to run follow-up stories about people who are accused of offenses and later exonerated. Feel free to email us if you know of a situation that merits an update.

UVA Law

[FN1] I have the greatest respect for UVA Law. I have several friends on the UVA faculty. I especially admire the school’s track record on clerkships, including Supreme Court clerkships, and funny Law Revue videos.

Back in 2008, I gave a talk at UVA Law, where I experienced very gracious southern hospitality. Back in 2007, Above the Law named UVA the coolest law school in all the land.

So please allow me to vent a little. One frustrating aspect of covering anything having to do with UVA Law is how UVA folks are always so quick to blame the messenger. See, e.g., most of the 300+ comments on this post.

I responded to the Daniel Watkins defender, the one who blamed our coverage for “negatively affect[ing] his job opportunities,” as follows:

For the record, we didn’t break this story. It was broken by local press. Once it was broken by other outlets and we started getting a million emails about it, we really had no choice but to cover it. If there’s blame to be assigned here, it belongs to the ex-girlfriend or to the prosecutors who brought the case — not to journalists who are just doing our jobs.

If you go back and read our original story, you’ll see that it’s more than fair and presents both sides of the story. It features, among other things, lengthy quotation from a friend of Daniel’s who claims that there is another side of the story and that people shouldn’t rush to judgment. You didn’t see that kind of pro-Watkins statement in other outlets’ coverage of the case.

In short, this was a case that we couldn’t ignore, and when we covered it, we covered it fairly and presented both sides. That is all that one can really ask of the media.

Stalking, assault: Charges against UVA law student dismissed [The Hook]
UVa Law Student Cleared of Stalking, Assault Charges [Newsplex]

Earlier: More Drama From UVA Law School


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