They say time heals, but grief is a personal journey that keeps no schedule but its own.
It’s been 26 months and a day since the night Josh Watkins died and just over three months since the man his family holds responsible walked out of the Grady County Courthouse a free man.
And still not a day goes by that Gwen Doshier doesn’t mourn for the son she’s lost or for the two young children who will grow up without knowing their father.
“I want people to understand this was a good young man with a purpose in life. God takes the good ones because He doesn’t need the bad ones. Josh is still my first thought every morning and my last thought every night,” she said. “Because of the severity of the injury, I never got to see him anymore and say goodbye.
“It’s been very difficult for all of us.”
Doshier talked to a grief counselor who told her she would have a hard time dealing with Josh’s death.
“The love you have for your children is so strong it will take a long time to work through this,” the counselor said.
“If you can imagine a roaring lion living inside your body and it rips and devours all your being,” Doshier explained. “That’s the best description I have.”
Most days, Doshier visits Josh’s grave at Dibble Cemetery. She talks to him, kisses the photos on front and back of his tombstone and seeks what she’s come to call “Justice for Josh.”
And if Josh could respond?
“He would tell me ‘I’m alright,’” she said.
“I’m starting to do things,” she continued. “I speak to groups about the importance of not drinking and driving. I’m just being a voice for Josh. In my mind, at some point the evil done has to be righted; the wrong has to be righted.”
She doesn’t focus on the weeklong trial, but speaks of it when asked. You see, Justice for Josh is and isn’t about what happened in that courtroom back in August.
And so, she’s left with many questions and precious few answers: Why did it take so long to get the case before a jury? Why did the prosecution never object to or the judge deny any of the defense’s requests to delay the trial? Doesn’t the victim’s family have a right to a speedy trial too? Why was all the evidence not presented at trial? Was Josh’s case a casualty in the hard-fought election that saw Former District Attorney Bret Burns voted out of office?
Burns had filed the felony charge a year before leaving office in January. Then-Assistant District Attorney Leslie March also worked on the case.
“They had built a strong, solid case,” Doshier recalled. “They said when they left office ‘We could hand you the file on this case and you could walk in there and win this. That’s how strong it is.’”
To this day – and perhaps every day for the rest of her life – Doshier will wonder why District Attorney Jason Hicks and ADA James Walters didn’t present THAT case at trial.
“I don’t feel Josh received justice,” Doshier said. “Everyone out there (at the ranch) lawyered up and wouldn’t cooperate with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. For the family, there are no more answers today than two years ago. (But) more and more, we’re finding, it seems to be our version is true.”
At trial, the defense scenario was a group of “buddies” driving through pastures at the Hoffman Ranch northwest of Chickasha in a “rock crawler” all-terrain vehicle, enjoying the camaraderie, drinking beer and checking fences until, tragically, the vehicle overturns around 10:30 p.m. on the way back to the ranch headquarters, pinning Josh and killing him instantly.
“We’re pretty confident Josh was out there 2 to 2-1/2 hours before the 911 call was placed,” Doshier said. “As a family, we know the timeline has been all wrong. Josh would not have been out there that time of night.”
To understand why, you’d have to know Josh Watkins.
Yes, he was working later that day, catching up on wheat planting that wasn’t finished while he went to South Dakota for the national tractor pedal-push finals in which his daughter, Jacey Riley Watkins, competed.
“The most important thing in Josh’s life was his family,” Doshier said. “I don’t want people to think he was part of that bunch.”
Josh Watkins was a college graduate – he earned an associate degree in animal science from Murray State College and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University. Following graduation, he worked for a time at the Oklahoma Beef Institute testing station at Stillwater and later for Triple Heart Ranch near Wanette. In the fall of 2008, he became foreman of Hoffman Ranch.
He was active in the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association and was president of the McClain County Cattlemen’s Association. He was also a member of Oklahoma Farm Bureau and a lifetime sponsor of FFA. With his wife, Brandy, and their children, Jacey and Jory Bronc Watkins, he attended Midway Southern Baptist Church at Dibble.
He loved all phases of ranching – riding horses, working cattle, competing in ranch rodeos and living a cowboy’s life.
More than 700 mourners, many on horseback, attended his funeral at Dibble High School.
Josh was the youngest of Doshier’s four children. They loved and mentored him and he, in turn, mentored his nieces and nephews, as well as his own children. Family was always the most important thing in his life.
“Josh never wanted to leave; he always wanted to stay with me,” Doshier recalled. “When he was at college, he’d ask me to come up and stay with him – 19 or 20 years old and calling his mom to hang out. He loved all of us.
“He loved Brandy from the time he was 14. He knew what he wanted. His brother-in-law said of him (that) he was a level-headed young man with a purpose in life. Josh just had it all together.”
Knowing her son, Doshier believes Josh probably spent much of his time at the ranch “talking to God on his own terms.” Because there was definitely a spiritual side to this cowboy.
Not long before he died, Josh told his nephew, “Nathan, at some point in time every young man needs to find a personal relationship with God and you need to read the Bible.”
“That was Josh,” Doshier said, wiping a tear.
After nearly four days of testimony, the jury was out just 30 minutes before returning an innocent verdict. Family members were stunned, Doshier recalls.
“I expected them (jurors) to deliberate,” she said. “We all had our statements ready; we were all prepared to speak.”
But no one in that courtroom would ever hear what losing Josh had done to the fabric of this close-knit family.
“We were devastated when he (Burns) lost the office. Rightfully so … it turned out badly for us,” Doshier said. “The trial was very tough. I had never seen the pictures before and to hear in detail (about Josh’s injuries) was extremely painful.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was headed home and needed a ride and paid for it with his life.”