Guilty Plea in 1980 murder of William Cooke

Dion Watkins

Guilty Plea in 1980 murder of William Cooke. Dion Watkins(51) plead guilty this morning to voluntary manslaughter charges in the 1980 murder of William Cooke. William Cooke(49) was found stabbed to dead at the Ramada Inn, a Lafayette motel, in July 1980. An ashtray with a cigarette butt was collected at the scene of the crime, but at the time of the original investigation DNA testing was unavailable.

The cigarette butt was found last year in the evidence room at the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s department by Lieutenant Steve Kohne in an unmarked box. The case had gone cold fast in 1980 and physical evidence was thought lost forever.

The cigarette butt was sent to the state police lab in May 2009. Its DNA matched with Texas inmate Dion Watkins. Watkins is in prison for battery of an elderly person.

William Cooke

Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington said Watkins plead guilty by the 1980 law that was in effect at the time of the crime. Indiana law states that a person is sentenced under the law that was in effect the day of the crime. “It’s a class B felony, which means the punishment is six to 20 years.” Harrington said even though the sentencing range is six to 20 years, 10 years is the set sentence. The judge then can increase or decrease the sentence based upon aggravating and mitigating circumstances the judge will hear at the sentencing hearing. Watkins was extradited from Texas where he is still serving a sentence for battery of an elderly person.

Watkins told police that he had just been released by the army and was hitchhiking back home. He received a ride from Cooke in Ohio and the two ended up in Lafayette for the evening. They started drinking heavily. An argument ensued after Cooke made sexual advances towards Watkins. Watkins then stabbed Cooke twice.

Harrington said that when Watkins was extradited to Indiana, he was eligible for parole in the fall. Watkins has been told by Texas it will just parole him so he can start his Indiana sentence in July. Watkins will stay in Tippecanoe County until his sentencing on July 22nd at 8:30 a.m.

Read more here.

UPDATE: Watkins sentenced to 18 years in prison