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Cold case suspect to be arraigned today

Arkansas man already convicted 30 years ago for obstruction

Steven Watts

DIXON – An Arkansas man charged in connection with the fatal beating of a Peoria man nearly 3 decades ago will be arraigned today.

Steven A. Watts, 56, of Berryville, Ark., was booked into Lee County Jail late Tuesday on a $5 million warrant for first-degree murder in the death of Gary D. Dawson, 30.

Dawson, a self-employed mechanic, was found dead Aug. 29, 1983, in a hog pen in rural Franklin Grove.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a criminal complaint had not been filed. A defendant must appear in court within 48 hours after being taken into custody.

Although Watts was arrested Monday by Arkansas authorities, the clock did not start running until he was taken into custody by Lee County Sheriff’s deputies Tuesday.

The Carroll County News (Ark.) reported this week that police said more arrests are possible.

No new details about the case were released Wednesday.

According to Sauk Valley Media archives:

Deputies found Dawson’s body naked, with tape around his wrists, mouth and nose, leaning against a wall in the hog pen.

Officials determined that he had been beaten by more than one person and an autopsy showed that he was beaten and suffocated.

They said that they thought the killing was drug-related and that the beating happened in Peoria County. They didn’t know where Dawson died.

Dawson had been reported missing by his family the day before.

Less than a month later, a $100,000 warrant for obstruction of justice was issued for Watts, who was 26 at the time and living in Peoria.

Then-Sheriff Raymond Nehring declined to say whether Watts was a murder suspect, but said he had “valuable information” related to the killing.

Watts pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in January 1987 and was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months of probation, according to archives.


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