Chris Watts, the man accused of killing his two children and pregnant wife last week, will not be charged in the death of his unborn child due to the definition of murder under state law, a legal expert tells PEOPLE.
“It says quite clearly in the murder statute, in order for a person to be guilty of murder, the victim has to be a person who is both alive and born,” Ian Farrell, assistant professor at The University of Denver Sturm College of Law, tells PEOPLE.
Watts was charged with five counts of first-degree murder. On top of murder charges for his wife and two daughters, two additional charges were added because the children were less than 12 years old.
Shanann, 34, was 15 weeks pregnant when she and her two daughters — Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3 — went missing on Monday, Aug. 13, from the Colorado home she shared with her husband Chris.
Three days later, according to court documents filed by the prosecutor, police discovered Shanann’s body in a “shallow grave” while her daughters were concealed nearby “inside oil tanks” in a field where Chris reportedly worked as an operator until being fired the day before, which was the same day he was arrested.
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In addition to the first-degree murder charges, Chris was charged with three counts of tampering with a deceased body and one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
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The laws are specific when it comes to how Chris can be charged in the death of his unborn child — who according to Shanann’s family was a boy that had already been named Niko.
“A homicide conviction would not be available,” Farrell says about Shanann’s pregnancy.
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Chris remains in custody without bond. During a court appearance Tuesday, he did not enter a plea. He is scheduled to return to court on Nov. 19.
His attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
An affidavit for Chris’