The two young Colorado girls who, along with their mother, were killed this past week may have been strangled before their bodies were dumped in an oil well, according to a court document.

A motion filed Friday by attorneys defending Christopher Watts, who investigators believe killed his pregnant wife and daughters, asks that DNA samples be taken from the children’s necks. The document cites an expert who argued that DNA would still be present on the bodies – even though they had been submerged in crude oil for four days – but that evidence would be lost once the autopsies were performed.

A Weld County judge, however, denied the request, the Denver Post reported. And authorities said Friday that they had finished the autopsies, though they did not say how the victims died.

The document offers the first glimpse into what may have happened to Shanann Watts, 34, and her two daughters when they disappeared Monday. The following day, Christopher Watts stood in front of a parade of news cameras and told reporters that his children were his life. His family had just vanished, he told Denver 7 ABC. “I’m living in a nightmare, and I can’t get out of it,” he told NBC affiliate KUSA.

But the media interviews were over on Wednesday, when police vehicles showed up at the Watts house. Reporters photographed officers removing bags of evidence and towing away a pickup. The Frederick Police Department arrested Christopher Watts, 33, that night on suspicion of first-degree murder and evidence tampering – three counts each.

By Thursday, authorities said that they had found the bodies of 4-year-old Belle, 3-year-old Celeste and their mother, all “in close proximity” to each other.

Christopher Watts’ attorneys sought to preserve DNA evidence they said would still be present on the bodies, saying that once autopsies are finished, the evidence will be “lost forever,” according to the motion.

The attorneys said they consulted with DNA expert Richard Eikelenboom, who said in court records that he has experience taking samples from dead bodies and “getting good results after strangulation.”

“This DNA can be retrieved with a double swab technique. DNA scientists are familiar with this technique and an experienced person should take this sample. In my opinion the presence of oil will not destroy the DNA,” Eikelenboom said.

Eikelenboom added that the hands of the children, as well as the hands and nails of their mother should all be sampled as well. He and defense attorneys did not seek swabs from the mother’s neck.

The district attorney has until Monday to bring formal charges, at which point the arrest affidavit may be unsealed, revealing how Watts became a suspect.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.