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Press Release

Kalamazoo Man, Charged with Murder, Sentenced for Escaping Halfway House

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Michigan

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten today announced that Carlos Watts, 38, of Kalamazoo, was sentenced to 14 months’ incarceration for escaping from a halfway house, where he was living in accordance with a court order for a previous federal drug conviction.

          On January 10, 2024, Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Getting also charged Watts with the murder of Heather Kelley. Upon completion of his federal sentence, Watts will be transferred to state custody to face that charge.

          “Carlos Watts poses a tremendous threat to our community,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “While finishing his sentence at a halfway house for drug trafficking and possessing a firearm, Mr. Watts cut his tether, fled the facility, and has since been charged with the murder of his former girlfriend. My office will continue working with our law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe and hold criminals accountable.”

          In 2013, Watts was sentenced to 156 months in federal prison for distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. Near the end of his term, Watts was transferred to the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program (KPEP) halfway house.

          At his federal sentencing today and in filings with the court, prosecutors argued that Watts fled KPEP because he was involved in the murder of Heather Kelley. Kelley left her home on December 10, 2022, to pick up Watts from a restaurant where he worked. She was never seen again. Police went to KPEP and questioned Watts about her disappearance on December 11, 2022.

          In the early morning hours of December 12, 2022, Watts took a pair of scissors from a desk at KPEP and used them to cut off his ankle monitor.

Image of desk

          KPEP notified law enforcement of Watts’ escape. Two days later, police learned that Watts was at a house in Battle Creek and attempted to arrest him. Watts barricaded himself in the house for several hours before eventually surrendering to police. He has remained in custody.

          "The FBI remains committed to bringing justice for Heather Kelley and her family,” said Special Agent in Charge Cheyvoryea Gibson of the FBI in Michigan. “We thank all the dedicated prosecutorial and law enforcement teams for their relentless support throughout this case. We continue to request the help of the public by reporting any tips that may bring resolution to this case to the Silent Observer at (616) 774-2345 or, or to the FBI at 1-800-CALLFBI (1-800-225-5324) or”           

          This case was investigated by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department, Portage Police Department, Battle Creek Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Michigan State Police.  It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Erin Lane.

          As to the state murder charge filed on January 10, 2024, a criminal charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.


Updated January 12, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime