Before Lauri Waterman died violently on a dark, wet November morning in a remote area of Prince of Wales Island, a man who had been smuggling letters to her 16-year-old daughter had one final thing to say to her, a Juneau jury heard Friday.
"He said something along the lines of, 'You won't ever eff-ing hurt Rachelle again,'" Brian Radel calmly said of his "blood brother," Jason Arrant. Both men, who were 24 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder in the death of Lauri Waterman in the early hours of Nov. 24, 2004, and are awaiting sentencing.
Witnesses testified Friday that Rachelle Waterman said her mother was abusive.
Rachelle Waterman, now 17, is standing trial in Superior Court on murder and other charges for allegedly plotting with the killers. On Friday she wiped tears as Radel pointed to the floor plan of her home in Craig, a community of about 1,100, to show how he kidnapped Lauri Waterman from her bedroom. Later, when the witness methodically described how he tried to break the woman's neck, the girl's attorney, Steven Wells, interrupted, asking for an immediate recess.
Rachelle Waterman ran out of the courtroom, her face flushed, holding her mouth, before Judge Patricia Collins told jurors to take a 20-minute break.
Carl "Doc" Waterman, father of the defendant and husband of the victim, sat stoically throughout in the front row as the 6-foot-5, 277-pound boyish-looking man talked about why and how he killed Lauri Waterman, how he had sex with the girl when she was 15, and how he facilitated her sexual relationship with Arrant.
He also said he hadn't talked to Rachelle Waterman, his alleged co-conspirator, since before Arrant said she wanted her mother killed, saying she was being abused by her mother. "(Arrant) said he asked her, and she said yes."
Prosecutor Stephen West said he probably will call Arrant as a witness Tuesday. While the state contends the girl was involved in the plot to kill her mother, the defense has argued that Arrant directed Radel to commit the murder after she broke off their sexual relationship.
"You trusted Jason?" Wells asked Radel on cross-examination.
"I just trust people," he answered. "It's what I do."
He said he would do anything for Arrant, whom he has called his blood brother since age 16. They had met at Echo Ranch, a Bible camp north of Juneau. Radel described his home-schooled upbringing as "very religious with lots of discipline." That discipline, he said, included being hit with cedar branches, lumber, wood and eventually metal spoons and rubber hoses.
"I have a major problem with people who are abusive to children," Radel said. "He asked me to kill Lauri, and I ended up saying yes."
Radel said he didn't agree to the killing right away. He suggested alternatives, he said. He couldn't find any evidence of abuse to take to authorities. He talked about getting a lawyer, but Arrant said he couldn't afford it.
He said Rachelle Waterman had said that if they waited until she was 18 to be together, it would be easier on her family. But Arrant said he was afraid she wouldn't want him anymore, according to Radel.
Radel also said Arrant wanted him to kill a boy Rachelle Waterman had dated. "He wanted Ian dead. He had a dream where (the boy) forced the girl to commit ritual suicide. I told him I wasn't going to kill somebody over a dream."
But it was enough to kill Lauri Waterman when Arrant told him Rachelle's life was in danger, he said. They came up with different plans that never went anywhere, such as injecting her with bleach or shooting her. Arrant said he once came close to shooting her but didn't know if he would have gone through with it.
"I guess I killed a woman, but I'm very protective of women and children. I thought (Arrant) was the same way."
He said he had a sexual relationship with Rachelle Waterman in early 2004, and that the girl broke it off in late June around the same time he opened a computer shop where he employed her part time. She continued working there, he said, because he didn't think it would be fair to fire her.
After Rachelle Waterman told him that she was interested in Arrant, he helped get them together, he said. Later Arrant and Rachelle Waterman would have sex on Radel's boat, he added. "He said they did."
Earlier Friday, John Willburn, a Craig High School junior, testified that he hand-delivered letters eight to 10 times from Arrant to Rachelle Waterman, usually at school, and carried the girl's replies back to Arrant. "I assume it was because they trusted me," he said.
Radel said Arrant paid Willburn in pornography.
Willburn said she heard Rachelle Waterman say she wished her mother would die, "but I assumed it was normal teenage angst." He said she said her mother beat her and called her fat.
The weekend of Nov. 24, 2004, Rachelle Waterman was representing Craig High at the state volleyball tournament in Anchorage, and her father was in Juneau at a Girl Scouts council meeting. Doc Waterman reported upon his return that evening that both his wife and the family minivan were missing. Later he would learn that a burning van containing human remains was found by a hunter that morning on a remote part of the island.
Willburn testified that in school the next day, Rachelle Waterman "was crying. She asked me to tell the police about her relationship with Jason and that she thought her mother had died in a drunk driving accident."
Radel said he and Arrant planned to make it look like Lauri Waterman broke her neck in an accident while driving drunk. He described details of the preparation that day, how he and Arrant had shaved all of his body hair so he wouldn't leave any at the crime scene, how they bought supplies such as latex gloves, duct tape and towels. He said he brought along old rope he had found. He also brought tools to break into the house.
"I asked for a schematic, but I never got one," he said.
When he found the master bedroom, he thought Lauri Waterman had heard him and would call the police, he said. He waited about an hour and a half, contemplating leaving. He went into the room and placed a rag over her head to gag her, waking her up.
"I placed my elbow in the middle of her back," he said, speaking at the same calm pace. "She started to cry."
He said she didn't struggle, and that she cooperated in getting dressed, going downstairs and drinking two-thirds of a bottle of wine that he found in the refrigerator. He bound her with towels, duct tape and rope and put her in the minivan, Radel said.
Radel said he found Arrant on a road outside of town. Arrant asked if Radel had her. They drove in separate vehicles to the spot they had chosen to kill her. He had her on her knees outside when he tried to break her neck, Radel said, but that didn't work.
"Jason held her down, and I tried hitting her throat with the bottom part of my left hand a couple of times," he continued. "I wasn't sure how you're supposed to do that to kill a person that way." She was still breathing after he hit her in the throat with a flashlight and after he covered her mouth and nose with his hand, he said.
She was back in the minivan when the wheezing eventually stopped, Radel said. Because the victim no longer would look like she had died in an accident, they drove to another remote location on a Forest Service road and set the minivan afire using gasoline, he said.
After burning evidence with Arrant, he went to the friend's home and fell asleep.
Wells asked Radel if he regrets trusting Arrant about Rachelle Waterman's wanting her mother killed and not going to the girl himself to talk about it.
"I regret most of it," he said. "I regret getting Jason with her in the first place."
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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