A former Cuyahoga Falls police officer sentenced to prison for sexually assaulting a woman he met in a bar expressed remorse in a recent letter to a Summit County judge.
"My actions were selfish, malicious and hurtful," Lewis Watson wrote in his letter that requested an early prison release. "I will never forgive myself."
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones had a hearing via a videoconference Monday about whether he should be released after serving about seven months of a two-year prison sentence.
After hearing from the attorneys, the judge permitted Watson to advance to the second required phase for an early release in which she will hear from Watson. This may also be done via video because the prison system isn’t currently permitting inmates to be transported because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors say Watson assaulted a 23-year-old woman, whom he met through a friend while they were at a bar, on June 21, 2018, at Watson's East Hunter Lake Drive apartment.
The Summit County Sheriff's Office investigated.
Watson was immediately placed on administrative leave. He worked for the department from Feb. 20 until June 27 of that year, when he resigned. Before that, he worked for the New Franklin Police Department.
Watson, 28, of Cleveland pleaded guilty in August to sexual battery, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Prosecutors dismissed a more serious rape charge.
Jones sentenced Watson to two years in prison Oct. 7. He was eligible to request an early release after serving six months.
Jeff Laybourne, Watson’s attorney, made this request in mid-April. Laybourne noted that Watson has no violations when he was on bond and appeared for all his court appearances. He said Watson has the support of his family and would live with his parents in Cuyahoga County if he is released early.
"Mr. Watson’s time in prison has opened his eyes to the consequences of his actions and how he intends to live his life moving forward," Laybourne said.
Laybourne said Watson took advantage of many prison programs before most activities were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said Watson is incarcerated at Toledo Correctional Institution, where inmates are being kept in their cells for all but one hour per day.
"I believe with community supervision we can accomplish the same goals as incarceration – to punish him – while ensuring his health during the pandemic," Laybourne said, noting that his client would be willing to serve the remainder of his time under house arrest if that is Jones’ wish.
Assistant Prosecutor Seema Misra, however, urged Jones during the hearing to deny Watson’s request. Quoting from Watson’s letter to Jones, she said Watson understood a two-year prison sentence was "necessary for justice."
"I think that absolutely is true," Misra said.
The woman assaulted by Watson was on the videoconference and agreed with the prosecutor.
Jones noted that Watson has had no infractions while in prison. She said she will set a hearing by videoconference to hear from Watson as soon as this can be arranged with the prison.
In Watson’s letter, he said he’s been doing a lot of reading in prison and quoted from an author who said, "Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done."
"It is my wish, with this quote in mind, to return to society focused on making a positive impact on my community," he said.
Watson said he’s been exploring new potential careers, possibly as a home inspector or in construction. He also said he’d like to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
"I’ve changed," he said. "I will not reoffend. I will devote my life to my family, my God and my future career."
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-996-3705, and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.