Waterman retrial to begin jury selection Wednesday

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rachelle Waterman seemed distracted during the November 2004 Alaska High School State Volleyball Championships against the Monroe Rams. The then-16-year-old’s spikes were going wide, her serves were short and she didn’t celebrate with her Craig Panther teammates after points.

“I felt tired today,” Waterman told a reporter in 2004 after the Panthers’ defeat. “I feel like I have the flu.” It could have been that, or nerves due to playing on a small-school team for the title before fans in the West High gym in Anchorage.

Authorities, however, believe that the teenager who kept a blog detailing alleged abuse by her mother knew her mom was fighting for her life that night more than 700 miles away. Two of Rachelle’s former boyfriends were convicted of abducting and killing the woman. Now Waterman, today a 22-year-old woman, is facing a second trial to determine what role, if any, she played in her mother’s death. Waterman’s first trial, before Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins in early 2006, ended in a hung jury that favored acquittal.

Rachelle Waterman has not been back to Craig since her initial arrest. She posted 10 percent of a $50,000 bail in March 2006 and is not in custody.

A judge scheduled to hear the case moved the proceedings to Anchorage, stating that a fair trial was unlikely in Ketchikan. Jury selection will begin Wednesday. Waterman is accused of conspiring with Jason Arrant and Brian Radel, both 24 at the time, to kill her 48-year-old mother, Lauri Waterman, while Rachelle was at the volleyball championship and her father, Carl “Doc” Waterman, was in Juneau on business.

Superior Court Judge William Carey granted a motion by defense attorney Steven Wells to move the trial to Anchorage after a survey of potential jurors in Ketchikan showed about half the respondents believed Waterman was “some shade of guilty.”

“I believe there is a likelihood that a fair trial by an impartial jury couldn’t occur here,” Carey said. “I was more than a little surprised by the survey results.”

Radel, of Thorne Bay, and Arrant, of Klawock, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder days after a hunter found a burning van containing Lauri Waterman’s remains on a logging road on Prince of Wales Island.

According to investigators and court papers, Arrant drove Radel to Klawock to buy duct tape and gloves on Nov. 13, and near midnight Arrant drove Radel to the Waterman home.

Radel entered through a ground-floor window and at 6 feet, 5 inches and 250 pounds he quickly controlled the 130-pound sleeping woman. Radel bound and gagged her and put her on the floor in the back of the 1998 Plymouth Voyager and drove to meet Arrant.

Radel forced Lauri to drink wine at the house, as the men planned to stage a crash of the Waterman’s family van. Instead, Lauri was killed by suffocation after Radel was unable to break her neck. The murder took place on a bridge over Yatuk Creek near a logging camp 30 miles north of Craig. The van was driven back south to a logging road east of Craig and the van and body doused in gasoline and ignited. That was around 3 a.m. on Nov. 14, and a hunter would discover the scene around noon.

Rachelle Waterman was interrogated, accused, and arrested for allegedly conspiring in the act.

The two men, who initially said Rachelle Waterman had no part in the crime, testified against her during the first trial, accusing Rachelle of orchestrating the crime because of being physically and mentally abused by her mother. The men said the crime had been planned for three months.

Sgt. Randy McPherron, of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, said Rachelle “made initial solicitation for the murder to Arrant sometime in the summer, and Arrant enlisted the aid of Radel.”

After the jury hung with 10 votes in favor of acquittal and two in favor of a guilty verdict, Collins threw out parts of the indictment against Waterman, saying her statement to police was coerced.

Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West appealed the decision, and parts of Waterman’s statement were reinstated. The state then obtained a second indictment against Waterman for conspiracy to commit first and second-degree murder, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, attempted first-degree murder and criminally negligent homicide.

Collins reassigned the case to Carey.

The case first received international notice because of the blog Rachelle Waterman kept titled “My Crappy Life.” In it, she wrote about living in “the hell town of Craig.” Investigators were interested in blog posts from Nov. 18, 2004, in which Rachelle wrote, “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered.” The following day she wrote, “I get to talk to the troopers today. Whee!”

Other blog entries of that year describe a daughter called fat and allegedly grounded without food, abused and thrown down stairs by her mother.

The town of Craig was stunned by the crime. Lauri was a special education aide and had spent the evening of her abduction volunteering at a Chamber of Commerce dinner. Her husband, “Doc,” was a local real estate professional with friends throughout the town and school system.

“I think it is probably safe to say that no case in the last 20 years has attracted so much national and international media attention,” Wells said from Anchorage. Wells mentioned the trial of Mechele Linehan, an Anchorage stripper convicted of murder in 2007 and whose conviction was overturned by an appeals court, and the corruption trial of the late Sen. Ted Stevens as cases with as much interest.

“I don’t know what it is about these cases that attract so much attention on the state and federal level as well, but we have blocked out four weeks for the trial here.”

Wells said trying the case in Anchorage, where his office is, makes it easier as that is where all his stuff is, but more difficult in that other matters of legal defense will be coming in as well.

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

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