ANCHORAGE — Witnesses at Rachelle Waterman’s second murder trial said Tuesday she told them after her slain mother went missing that the woman probably got drunk and crashed her vehicle somewhere.
Waterman, 22, is being retried on charges that she conspired at age 16 with two former boyfriends to kill her mother, Lauri Waterman. The 48-year-old mother’s body was found inside her burned minivan on Prince of Wales Island in November 2004. She had been suffocated after an attempt to break her neck failed, according to prosecutors.
The killing occurred when Rachelle Waterman was out of town with her father. While in Anchorage, she attended a weekend volleyball tournament.
Rachelle Waterman’s first trial ended with a deadlocked jury, and the indictment against her was later dropped over statements she made to authorities. The state decided to retry her after the Alaska Court of Appeals restored some of the statements.
Jason Arrant and Brian Radel, expected to testify this week, have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and are serving long prison sentences. The two, who were 24 at the time of the death, were accused of abducting the girl’s mother and burning the minivan with her body inside, then trying to cover it up as a drunken driving accident, prosecutors said. Arrant and Radel also testified against Waterman at her first trial.
John Westfall, a teacher at Craig High School, testified Tuesday that Waterman was in his physical education class the morning after her mother was reported missing. Westfall said he asked Waterman if she was OK and she said she was fine. Westfall said the girl then told him her mother probably got drunk and “ran off the road” somewhere.
Asked by prosecutor Stephen West what Waterman’s demeanor was, Westfall said, “Life goes on. It’s just a normal day.”
Others said Waterman seemed upset and was sometimes crying.
Waterman’s attorney, Steven Wells, closely questioned Westfall for waiting until this month to come forward, pointing out the teacher’s contention that he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t disclose the information.
“So you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t bring it forward, but you could live with yourself to not talk to the police before the initial grand jury,” he said.
Joan Kuntz, a school secretary, testified that Waterman also told her she found an empty wine bottle and thought her mother had been drinking and driving.
“I said: ‘Knock it off Rachelle. Your mother wouldn’t do that,’” Kuntz said.
Some witnesses said Waterman often spoke of her strained relationship with her mother, saying the teen complained that the mother called her fat and withheld food from her.
Prosecutors say Waterman asked her two former boyfriends to kill her mother because she said she was being physically and mentally abused.