Felon pleads guilty to 1995 rape, murder of California nurse killed while jogging

REDDING, Calif. — A violent Texas inmate linked by DNA to the 1995 rape and murder of a California nurse pleaded guilty on Monday and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

James Earl Watkins, 43, is expected to be sentenced to three life sentences without parole next month in Shasta County Superior Court. According to prosecutors, Watkins pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with three special allegations: kidnapping, robbery and lying in wait.

Watkins was 17 years old on June 24, 1995, when the body of Christine Susan Munro, 37, was found along the Sacramento River Trail in Redding, a popular destination for runners and cyclists. Munro, a jogger, favored the trail, according to police and her family.

The mother of four was found slain 30 feet from the trail and about 5 feet from the river’s edge, the Sacramento Bee reported at the time. She’d been stabbed multiple times, with the cause of her death described as a deep stab wound to the neck.

Munro’s murder remained unsolved for 25 years as her devastated children grew up without her. Her brutal death would not be the only act of violence to touch her family.

In 2016, Munro’s son, Timothy Donald Baker, 38, fatally shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.

Shasta County Sheriff’s Office investigators reported that deputies were called just before 10 p.m. to the couple’s Redding home, where a “domestic violence incident” was in progress. A family member of Rosanna Baker, 36, had relayed information from Rosanna Baker, who said her husband had a rifle and was threatening to kill her.

>> Related story: DNA evidence links Texas inmate to 25-year-old California cold case rape, murder of jogger

When deputies arrived at the home, they could not make contact with anyone inside. While on the scene, however, they could faintly hear a child crying somewhere in the house.

“Based upon the reported circumstances and the belief an emergency existed, deputies made entry into the residence through the unlocked front door,” a news release said.

The deputies found the couple’s 2-year-old son safe behind a baby gate in one of the bedrooms. In the master bedroom, they found both Timothy and Rosanna Baker dead of gunshot wounds to the head.

The Redding Record Searchlight reported that Timothy Baker, who was a teen when his mother was murdered, had served as a pallbearer at her funeral.

Learn about the Sacramento River Trail below.

A now-retired Redding police detective who reopened the Munro case in late 2019 resubmitted scrapings from underneath her fingernails for more advanced DNA analysis, authorities said.

Last June, the DNA profile was entered into the Department of Justice’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. The system delivered a match to Watkins, who was serving time in Texas for charges including the sexual assault of a child, burglary, escape and bank robbery.

The Mercury News reported that Watkins had about two years left to serve on those charges when he was linked to Munro’s murder.

Redding police Chief Bill Schueller, who announced Watkins’ arrest in November, said cold case detectives began reconstructing his background.

“They learned that Watkins moved to Redding from Texas in early 1995, at the age of 17, to live with his aunt and uncle,” Schueller said last fall. “During his short time in Redding, he was contacted by Redding Police eight times over the two-year period.”

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Watkins’ interactions with law enforcement included a shoplifting arrest, an arrest on an undisclosed warrant and a citation for unlawful camping, the chief said. In the fall of 1997, Watkins returned to Texas, where he continued racking up criminal charges.

“He has spent a significant portion of his life in prison,” Schueller said.

Now, prosecutors said, Watkins will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

“Christine Munro has three surviving children. They were all consulted and are pleased with the resolution of the case,” reads a statement from the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office. “Special thanks to the Redding Police Department for their exceptional work in this cold case, and for helping to bring long-overdue justice to the Baker family.”