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Rachelle Waterman sentencing set for today in Craig

Weather permitting it will be first return to town of mother's murder

Posted: July 14, 2011 - 10:55pm

The former Craig High School student and Prince of Wales Island resident accused of conspiring to murder her mother in 2004 is scheduled to be sentenced for criminally negligent homicide in Craig court before Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey today.

It will be the first time Rachelle Waterman, now 23, has returned to Craig since her arrest.

“She has to be, by the rules,” attorney Stephen Wells said when asked if his client would be in Craig for the sentencing. “As far as she is or not, I think that has far more to do with weather in Southeast. Let me put it this way, I know she is going to wind up in Ketchikan but I am also looking at the weather, we have really low fog and I am scheduled to fly over. The question is whether I can make it or if I have to land in Hollis and go by van. She might run into the same thing. Aside from weather or plane issues I expect her here.”

An Anchorage jury found Waterman guilty of criminally negligent homicide on Feb. 17, but not guilty of more serious charges of murder and kidnapping stemming from the death of her mother in 2004. Waterman was found not guilty on six of the seven charges and Wells appealed the one conviction.

Waterman was 16 years old when she was arrested for colluding with two men to kill her mother, Lauri Waterman. Jason Arrant, of Klawock, and Brian Radel, of Thorne Bay, both 24 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty to murdering Lauri.

At Waterman’s first trial in February 2006 before Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins, both men had opposite views on Waterman’s role in the plan. Wells said Arrant implicated Waterman to negotiate a lighter sentence. Radel claimed he never talked to Waterman about the plot and said Arrant lied to him about Waterman’s involvement. Radel said Waterman was kept out of the plot so she couldn’t give details to police later.

Arrant and Radel had tried to make the murder look like a drunken-driving crash. They were unable to break Lauri’s neck to make it look like an accident and ultimately suffocated her along a logging road on Prince of Wales Island. They burned the body in the family minivan to cover up the beating.

Waterman’s first trial ended in a hung jury, 10-2 for the teenager’s acquittal. After the jury deadlocked, a mistrial was declared and the indictment against Waterman thrown out, as well as her statements to police, which were an important part of the state’s evidence.

The Alaska Court of Appeals restored parts of Waterman’s statements, and Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West obtained a second indictment, which resulted in a retrial being set for Jan. 18, in Ketchikan.

Wells stated he filed several motions leading up the sentencing and wasn’t sure what the government would do today in court.

“At this point there is not a deal to be offered,” Wells said. “It is going to be whatever the judge decides.”

According to Wells his client has essentially served two years incarceration. The presumptive sentencing range she faces is between one and four years, thought Wells said the law allows for a sentence of anywhere from zero to 10 years.

“The question is, should she get prison time?” Wells said. “Or is the time she spent sufficient? Should it stay in adult court, should it go back to juvenile court?”

Wells said since Waterman is being held responsible for the death of a member of her household, that aggravating circumstance could allow the judge to sentence her to more than the presumed four-year maximum.

Wells said two mitigating circumstances also surround Waterman’s act. One is that she played a minor role in the offense and the other was that Waterman was essentially affected by her age. Wells said the judge has yet to rule on what weight, if any, those mitigators will carry.

Wells stated their argument from the beginning has been that if Waterman were 20 at the time of the offense she would have been aware of that risk and the matter would have been handled profoundly differently.

“Our defense was that she really did not think these guys were going to kill her mom,” Wells said. “She didn’t want it to happen, she told them she didn’t want it to happen, she told then not to do it and she didn’t think it was going to happen. The police got out of her, ‘well I thought they might, but I didn’t want to, I told them not to.’ I think it is perfectly clear it was from improper police questioning. That is really the only evidence they have.”

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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