Editor's note: This story was corrected on Sept. 18, 2017
Thomas Watts was there when a 30-year-old man was gunned down in Tacoma last month and also allowed the suspected shooter to stay in his hotel room later that night, police said.
He didn’t report the crime even after reading in the newspaper that Preston Stafford died after being shot Dec. 19.
Police recently identified Watts, 38, as the unnamed man in the backseat of the Volkswagen Jetta that stopped to give Stafford a ride. He was arrested Wednesday.
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Pierce County prosecutors charged Watts with first-degree rendering criminal assistance. He pleaded not guilty Thursday and was ordered jailed in lieu of $150,000 bail.
The alleged shooter, John Suppah, 34, and his girlfriend, Nadine Lezard, 40, have both entered not guilty pleas in Stafford’s death. They are charged with first-degree murder and second-degree murder, respectively.
Watts told detectives he didn’t know the couple but accepted a ride from them at a mutual friend’s suggestion because his Jeep had been stolen.
He said he got in the backseat of Lezard’s Jetta, put headphones on and fell asleep after hearing them argue about a message Lezard received on her cellphone.
Prosecutors contend the message was from Stafford, asking Lezard to pick him up near East T and East Morton streets about 1:15 a.m.
Suppah allegedly took his girlfriend’s phone and sent a message back to Stafford saying she was on her way.
After Stafford opened a door of the Jetta, Suppah pulled out a handgun and shot him, according to charging papers. Stafford told police before he died that he recalled someone saying something about owing money.
The Jetta sped away and witnesses called 911. Stafford was taken to Tacoma General Hospital, where he underwent surgery and spoke with detectives before dying the next morning.
After the shooting, Watts said the trio went to a casino before returning to his Kent hotel room, where all three stayed the night.
After switching hotel rooms the next day, Watts said “he made an attempt to call the police to report the shooting but that he couldn’t figure out how to call,” records show.
Lezard told police Suppah is very jealous and Stafford owed him $50, which police believe was the motive for the shooting.
Stafford was a father of three whose stepmother described him as a “teddy bear” with the “biggest heart.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653