Accused killer's words questioned

Prosecutor: Waterman's statements, correspondence link her to murder plot

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rachelle Waterman's comments to state troopers and her correspondence implicate her in planning her mother's death, her prosecutor told jurors while opening his case Wednesday.

Snippets of recorded statements played for jurors Wednesday showed Waterman acknowledging she knew of a plot to kill her mother, according to the prosecution.

But Waterman's attorney questioned the context of what the 17-year-old Craig girl said and of her communications with one of the men who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2004 slaying of Lauri Waterman.

Defense attorney Steven Wells called the girl "the quintessential small-town teen" who "dreamt of bright lights and the big city" and "chafed at rules."

Craig, on Prince of Wales Island about 200 miles south of Juneau, has some 1,100 residents.

Carl "Doc" Waterman, the defendant's father and victim's husband, said he believed the two got along "quite well." The defendant's godmother, Lorraine Pierce, said their relationship seemed typical. Her godfather, Donald Pierce, testified that she seemed the average teen.

Carl Waterman said his wife worried because their daughter was seeing an older man - one of the men who eventually pleaded guilty in her death. He testified there was friction between his more conservative Catholic wife and his daughter, who claimed to be Wiccan. In recordings played for the jury, the defendant described Wicca as an earth-based religion.

Twice the Watermans caught their daughter coming home after sneaking out at night and grounded her. Once, the girl said she was at the home of a girlfriend, her father said.

"She was trying to put a good spell on the house because her friend was having problems," he said.

Her misfortune was to become involved with the wrong people, and express to them the typical teenage lament that "my life would be better if my mother were not around," Wells said.

Former boyfriend Jason Arrant, now 26, and Brian Radel, now 25, are awaiting sentencing after agreeing to plead guilty to first-degree murder in the 48-year-old mother's death on Nov. 14, 2004. Prosecutors dropped further charges and both agreed to testify against the younger Waterman.

She faces charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, first-degree vehicle theft and tampering with physical evidence. Five men and 10 women were selected Tuesday to sit on her jury. Twelve of them will deliberate, with alternates being selected at the end of the trial.

Waterman was in Anchorage representing Craig High School at the state volleyball tournament the night her mother was killed, but Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins told jurors she would be guilty of the crimes committed by Arrant and Radel if she assisted in the planning.

Waterman had sex with Radel and Arrant at different times in 2004, when she was 15, her attorney said. That constituted a crime that could have gotten the men 10 years in prison, he said.

Ketchikan prosecutor Stephen West said she lied to Arrant about her relationship with her mother, saying she had been physically abused and threatened.

West detailed how the last night of Lauri Waterman's life, with her husband and daughter out of town, will be described in testimony. After the mother returned home from a Chamber of Commerce dinner, Radel entered the Waterman garage through a window, unlocked the door to the house by reaching through a pet flap and waited for the woman to fall asleep. In the early hours of Nov. 14, 2004, Radel pounced on her, forced her to get dressed, bound her hands, made her drink wine to get drunk and drove her an hour north. There he and Arrant planned to break her neck before pushing the family minivan over an embankment to make it appear she had died in a drunken driving accident, West said.

They found they couldn't easily break her neck and that pounding her in the throat didn't kill her, West said. Eventually Radel suffocated her, he said. They drove to a Forest Service road and set the minivan on fire.

A man who saw human remains in the smoldering minivan testified that he came upon the scene while hunting and called his mother by cell phone to alert authorities.

Rachelle Waterman and her father returned home later that day, a Sunday. Carl Waterman, who testified he had been at a Girl Scouts council meeting in Juneau, reported his wife missing that evening.

West said the younger Waterman told her school counselor the next day that she believed her mother was killed in a drunken driving accident - jibing with what West called the original plot. He said there were other plots that were not carried out. In one, Lauri Waterman would have been dumped in a cement-filled tub in the ocean. In another, she would have been shot after dropping her daughter off at volleyball practice.

He showed jurors a letter from Arrant referring to the shooting plot, saying the "hunting trip" was off. He also showed a letter from the defendant that said she was angry with her mother and ready to go on a "hunting trip" of her own.

After the murder, authorities questioned Waterman three times, West said. He played jurors pieces of the recordings, which showed she at one point denied having had a sexual relationship with Arrant and denied she knew anything about the killing. Later on the recordings she said, "I didn't think they had the balls to do it" and that she knew plans to kill her mother "were out there."

During his opening, defense attorney Wells told jurors the statements played were small parts of long interrogations in which imposing officers demanded that she tell them what they wanted to hear.

Donald Pierce, a Craig High School teacher, said a school employee told him that "Rachelle lost it" at school the day after her mother was discovered missing. He said she had called Arrant, who came to the school to console her.

Wells described the relationship between the two as one-sided by the time Lauri Waterman was killed, with Arrant showing more feelings than Waterman did. Letters from Arrant that Wells described as being out of a Harlequin romance novel were found on his computer, but only a few were found in Waterman's possession, at the bottom of her locker with other trash.

Wells said she kept a letter from her mother in her nightstand next to her bed. Her mother wrote that she knew they had had some problems, but that things would get better.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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