Naval Academy professor, 65, charged with abusing 2 girls

March 19, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

A civilian Naval Academy professor was charged yesterday in the alleged molestation of a former girlfriend's daughter and granddaughter.

Jerry W. Watts, a professor in the academy's weapons and systems engineering department for 22 years, turned himself in yesterday at Anne Arundel's Southern District police station. He was charged with eight counts of child abuse, sex offense and battery.

If convicted on all counts, Watts could be sentenced to life in prison.

A bail hearing was to take place this morning.

Watts, 65, allegedly abused the daughter and granddaughter of a former girlfriend for eight years ending in November 1995.

According to charging documents, the former girlfriend and the alleged victims, now ages 11 and 16, spent weekends with Watts when he lived in Crownsville. The couple lived together for 2 1/2 years.

Watts denies any sexual contact with the girls, according to a report by Anne Arundel police Detective Shelly L. Madison, who investigated the case.

Academy colleagues said yesterday that they were stunned by the allegations against Watts, a tenured professor who arrived in August 1975 straight from graduate school at the University of California at Irvine.

A specialist in system controls, Watts is part of a department that for 14 years has been named the best of its kind in the country by college-ranking publications.

"He is a super, super colleague," said Kenneth A. Knowles Jr., a professor in the department who started at the academy the same year Watts did. "You get egos in this business. But Jerry doesn't compete on that level."

Watts, whose dry wit prompted students to collect "Jerry's Sayings" in a book, was planning to retire at the end of the academic year and move to New Mexico.

Friends say he is twice divorced and has grown children.

He studied chemical engineering at Louisiana State University and planned to join the professional golf tour after graduation. A ruptured appendix stopped him. Still a scratch golfer, he has won the Naval Academy tournament in while his 40s, 50s and 60s.

Ethics and honor are a cornerstone of the academy's curriculum, a policy pushed hardest by the superintendent, Adm. Charles R. Larson. The renewed focus on character training was prompted by several years of problems among midshipmen, beginning with the electrical engineering cheating scandal in December 1992.

Last fall, a mandatory ethics class started for all third-year midshipmen, and in January the institution's first "ethics chair" was filled.

"Every aspect of the curriculum has an ethics component," Col. David A. Vetter, the academy's character development officer, said in a recent interview.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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