Metro Weekly

Pennsylvania Man Charged with Dismembering Trans 14-Year-Old

DeShawn Watkins faces charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the slaying of transgender teen Pauly Likens.

DaShawn Watkins (Mercer County Mugshot), Pauly Likens Jr. (Family Photo), Shenango River Lake (WPXI-TV screenshot)

DeShawn Watkins, of Sharon, Pa., faces several criminal charges, including first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse, in relation to the death of 14-year-old Pauly Likens, a Western Pennsylvania transgender youth. Watkins is currently being held in the Mercer County Jail without bail.

Pennsylvania State Police said that dismembered human remains were found partially in the water of Shenango Lake on June 25. More dismembered remains were found in Shenango Lake and “various” remote locations over the following week. The Mercer County Coroner determined they all belonged to the same person, who was eventually identified as Likens.

The coroner determined the cause of death was “sharp force trauma to the head,” and that the dismembering was done by some type of “cutting instrument.” The death was ruled a homicide.

Likens was last seen on the evening of June 22, when she was at a friend’s house. Likens left the friend’s house between 9 and 9:30 p.m., later messaging the friend around 2:30 a.m. 

Looking at phone records, social media activity, and surveillance video, police discovered that Likens walked to Budd Street Public Park and Canoe Launch around 3 a.m. on June 23.

Surveillance video appears to show her on the phone, waiting to meet someone, between 3 and 3:40 a.m., when Likens’ cell phone last communicated with cell towers in the area before its service was cut. The phone has yet to be recovered.

Video from local businesses shows a car traveling to and from the area near the park around the time when Likens’ cell phone went dark. The car eventually returned to the Riverwalk Apartments complex in Sharon, where Watkins lives. Police identified the suspect in question as Watkins.

Video from the apartment complex on the day of the murder, as well as the following day, show Watkins carrying large duffel and garbage bags in and out of his apartment. 

According to the criminal complaint, police investigated and found traces of blood in multiple locations inside Watkins’ apartment, including the bathroom. Watkins allegedly bought a cutting saw on the day Likens disappeared, but when police recovered it at his apartment, one of the exchangeable blades was missing. 

Investigators questioned Watkins, who told them he had connected with an individual he met through the gay dating app Grindr on the morning of Likens’ disappearance.

He told police he had sexual contact with that individual — whose description matched Likens’ appearance — but that the individual did not accompany him back to his apartment.

When asked about the large bags he transported in and out of his apartments, Watkins allegedly told investigators that the bags were luggage from a vacation he took last month but had never removed from his car.

Pamela Ladner, head of the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, told NBC News she had spoken with Likens’ relatives and was able to confirm that Likens identified as a transgender girl.

Ladner said Likens’ mother is “in complete and utter shock” at her daughter’s murder, and is pressuring local authorities to charge Watkins with a hate crime.

“Just the sheer severity of how Pauly was murdered and then cut up into pieces and put into bags and thrown into the river and various places,” Ladner said. “That alone exudes a large amount of hate to be able to do something like that.”

Local authorities, however, are hesitant to pursue bias-motivated charges. 

Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker said that while authorities do not suspect that Likens’ murder was motivated by anti-transgender animus, that could change as the investigations proceeds. He called the homicide “one of the most heinous crimes I’ve seen in 46 years of being a lawyer.”

“I have pieces of a body of a 14-year-old murder victim, dismembered, brutally killed, sharp trauma to the head. I want justice,” Acker said. “People can say what they want, they can advocate whatever position they want, but, frankly, the first thing we have to do is get this individual convicted of the fundamental crimes.”

Watkins is scheduled to appear in court on July 17 for a preliminary hearing before Sharon District Judge Travis Martwinski.

Ladner told the Erie Times-News that a vigil for Likens is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, at the alliance’s headquarters in Sharon. She added that Likens’ death “has impacted our entire community.”

“I think it hit the panic alarm,” she said, noting that it underscored the lack of community support and sense of belonging for LGBTQ individuals in Western Pennsylvania, one of the reasons the alliance was formed three years ago.

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