"Salon Bandit" Joe Watson Faces 25 Years to Life, Trial Date Set for December 14

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Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susan Brnovich has set a "firm trial" date of December 14 in the case of alleged "Salon Bandit" and former New Times scribe Joe Watson. Brnovich ordered all subpoenaed witnesses to appear in court on that date.

Watson, who has been incarcerated in county jails for over two years now, faces a possible 25 years to life in prison if convicted of three of the nine counts of armed robbery and attempted armed robbery stacked against him. This, according to Watson's court-appointed attorney Christopher Winchell. Winchell says the Maricopa County Attorney's office is seeking the sentence under what is essentially Arizona's version of a three-strikes law.

The former journalist was popped in March of 2007 for a allegedly sticking up a string of Valley tanning salons and assorted businesses, such as a Blimpie's, a UPS outlet and a Hollywood Video store.The irony is that Watson apparently didn't use a gun, just suggested he had one, with his hand in a paper bag or in his pants pocket.

Unfortunately for him, Arizona's law for armed robbery makes no distinction between an actual deadly weapon or a "simulated" one.

An admitted gambling addict, Watson was arrested at the card tables of Casino Arizona, after his girlfriend Ashlea Deahl, the editor of Phoenix Magazine, recognized Watson in a surveillance video broadcast on the local evening news. She then contacted the Scottsdale Police Department to I.D. her boyfriend.

At one point, the pair had planned to marry, but those plans had cooled prior to Watson being collared.

Watson left New Times more than a year before his arrest after bailing on a cover story deadline. He went on to freelance for different publications, and briefly headed up Scottsdale's 944 magazine as its editor. Even while at New Times, he freelanced -- unbeknownst to editors here -- for Phoenix Magazine under the pseudonym of "Zachary Best."

Armed robbery is listed as a class two felony under Arizona Revised Statutes, and can draw a first time offender anywhere from probation up to 12.5 years. Repetitive offenders on their third conviction can draw more time, incrementally, from 10.5 years to 35 years, depending on the circumstances.

But under A.R.S. 13-706, an adult convicted his or her third serious offense committed on a separate occasion "shall be sentenced to life imprisonment," and is not eligible for parole "until the person has served at least twenty-five years."

Winchell said Watson's been offered one written plea deal by the prosecutor, which would have had him serving 20 in the pen. The offer was rejected. Winchell stated that he believed the trial will go forward, and that a plea deal will not be reached.

"I don't see it," said Winchell. "We've been over and over and over this [with the prosecution]. We've put in several counter offers. They've come down off [the number of years] some, but not by much."

Watson's currently being held in maximum security in the MCSO's 4th Avenue Jail. Winchell says he rarely receives visitors. Last year, Watson was briefly declared incompetent to stand trial by a judge, and ordered to receive treatment. In February of this year, the court deemed him competent, instructing Watson to adhere to the medication regimen prescribed by his doctors.

On November 6, the County Attorney's office filed a supplemental notice of disclosure, listing some of those who might be called as witnesses for the prosecution. At the top of the list is Watson's former girlfriend, and onetime fiancee, Ashlea Deahl.

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