Waterman trial begins today

Prosecutor: Snowy weather may keep him from getting witnesses to court

Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jurors selected Tuesday to decide the fate of 17-year-old Rachelle Waterman won't see naked pictures she allegedly sent to one of the men who pleaded guilty to killing her mother, a Juneau judge ruled after sending the panel home for the night.

Waterman, indicted at age 16 on adult charges including murder and conspiracy, was representing Craig High School at a volleyball tournament in Anchorage when 48-year-old Lauri Waterman was killed near Craig. Her body was found on Nov. 14, 2004, in the family's burning minivan on a U.S. Forest Service road. Authorities determined she had been beaten.

Both Jason Arrant, 26, and Brian Radel, 25, agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder charges in the woman's death. Both also agreed to testify against Rachelle Waterman, who is accused of conspiring with them.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins scheduled opening statements for this morning. Prosecutor Stephen West said the snowy weather may prevent him from getting witnesses to court as he starts presenting his case.

West argued that pictures Rachelle Waterman allegedly sent to Arrant during the summer before the killing, and that she kept on her computer, are useful because they showed what kind of relationship she had with him.

"There was no evidence she asked to have them returned or destroyed," West said. "I don't see the photos being unduly prejudicial."

Defense attorney Steven Wells said the sexually suggestive poses would only serve "to titillate (others) and embarrass Miss Waterman. I don't think they are needed at all."

He said he would concede the points they make about the relationship between his client and the original co-defendants.

Collins said she also had a problem with showing jurors what amounted to child pornography.

"I've never seen the photographs," she said, adding that she would allow West to raise the issue later with the possibility of editing the photos.

Jurors were sworn in early in the afternoon after answering questions from attorneys. West asked potential jurors about whether they had ever visited Prince of Wales Island, where Craig is located, and what experiences they had with crime and the justice system. Wells' questioning at times took the form of a civics discussion.

He asked how many people had heard of people being released from jail because scientific evidence later cleared them. He also asked about their willingness to accept that defendants can implicate themselves with statements to police that later turn out not to be true.

Several potential jurors said they would never admit to things that weren't true. Questioned further by Wells, though, others said they could see how a teenager under pressure might.

He noted that there was no physical evidence against Waterman. "There are only statements."

Collins said she saw no reason to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial. She has learned from her experience in Juneau that jurors are committed to following instructions not to discuss cases and to avoid media reports. But she gave the 15 people selected for the panel what she termed her "hide-under-the-bed instruction" to avoid publicity, not just from the local media but from national media drawn to the second floor of Dimond Courthouse for the case.

She questioned potential jurors in chambers Monday about their exposure to news of the case. Attorneys selected the panel Tuesday afternoon.

Of the 15 chosen, only 12 will deliberate on the case. Alternates will be selected at random at the end of the trial.

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