One of Lauri Waterman's acknowledged murderers denied in court Wednesday that he wrote a letter to her daughter before the killing pleading to resume a sexual relationship.
Rachelle Waterman's defense attorney used that denial in the face of contradictory police testimony to question prosecution witness Jason Arrant's credibility in her murder conspiracy trial.
Under cross-examination Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court, Arrant discussed his sexually graphic correspondence with the then-16-year-old Craig girl. But when the defense referred to Arrant's attempt to reunite with Rachelle Waterman before the Nov. 14, 2004, killing of her mother, Arrant denied its existence.
"I never wrote such a letter," Arrant, now 26, said. Tuesday he had testified that while he was romantically involved with Rachelle Waterman she told him she wanted her mother dead because she was abusive.
Defense attorney Steven Wells said the letter wasn't taken into evidence, but he recalled that one of the investigators, Alaska State Trooper Robert Claus, testified last week that he had seen it while searching the defendant's bedroom. Wells pointed to Arrant's denial of writing it and other inconsistencies between his testimony and the statements of others. He asked the witness why the jury should believe him.
"What you've been testifying to, has it been the truth?" prosecutor Stephen West asked after Wells completed his cross-examination
"Yes it has," Arrant answered.
Arrant, along with Brian Radel, also 24 in November 2004, last year pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killing along a remote forest road north of Craig on Prince of Wales Island, about 200 miles south of Juneau. Rachelle Waterman was in Anchorage that weekend representing Craig High School in the state volleyball tournament. Her father was in Juneau and her older brother was away at college.
Radel previously testified in detail about how he kidnapped the woman from her bed and killed her with his hands in Arrant's presence before setting her on fire in her family's minivan. Both men are awaiting sentencing.
Both Tuesday and Wednesday, Wells asked Arrant if he would have something to gain from his testimony because the maximum 50-year prison sentence he agreed to could get him out of prison in just 17 years. But West said Wednesday it would be 23 or 24 years before Arrant would be eligible for discretionary parole.
Although the third alleged conspirator, Rachelle Waterman, has a right not to testify, West planned to show jurors today about four hours of video recordings of the defendant's interviews with police, which West promised in his opening would implicate her in the crime.
Wednesday defense attorney Wells asked if Arrant's version of the conspiracy - with Radel breaking into a house without a floor plan - even made sense. "If she wanted her mother dead, don't you think it would have been easier if she gave you a key?"
"It would have been easier, yes," Arrant answered.
Wells also suggested the truth in Arrant's letters could be ambiguous. For example, reference to a "hunting trip" may have had nothing to do with guns, he said.
Arrant testified Tuesday that a canceled "hunting trip" mentioned in one letter was a reference to a previous murder attempt in which Radel had gone to Craig High School with a rifle to kill Lauri Waterman after she dropped off her daughter at volleyball practice. Arrant said Rachelle Waterman had called him to say she didn't like the plan because it might implicate her.
Wells asked if he used "hunting trip" as code for going to a cabin for smoking and drinking.
"It could have been," Arrant said.
Wells asked him what he meant by a section of a letter where he said he was afraid she might take matters into her own hands and she might move on to somebody else.
"So you are afraid Rachelle might leave you?" Wells asked.
Arrant said he wrote that he was afraid she might take matters into her own hands by killing her mother and that she would be arrested.
Wells asked what that had to do with finding someone else. "Those are substantially different ideas."
He asked Arrant to read highlighted portions of other letters he had written to the girl, including in October 2004 when he said meeting face-to-face was nearly impossible, and an occasion when he went to her house and sat outside her window at 2:30 a.m., comparing himself to "Rat Boy."
"Who's Rat Boy?" Wells asked.
Arrant said he didn't know who he was.
"He was a stalker of Rachelle, right?" Wells continued. "You said that's something a stalker would do. They don't take no for an answer."
After West objected to the relevance of the questioning, Wells asked Arrant about the sexual fantasies he described in the letters.
"She said she liked that," Arrant said. He talked about how he would drop letters off at her locker at Craig High School, where she would leave him responses.
"She didn't respond like that (with sexual fantasies)," Wells said.
"I suppose class time wouldn't have been a good time to respond like that," Arrant answered.
There were naked pictures of Rachelle Waterman on Arrant's computer. Collins denied West's motion at the start of the trial to show them to the jury and later to share edited versions with jurors. But Trooper Sgt. Christopher Thompson described the sexually suggestive poses. He said there also were four short videos. He said the pictures appeared to have been taken with a digital camera in July, when the girl was 15.
Collins advised jurors to consider the testimony only as it applies to the relationship between Arrant and Rachelle Waterman and not to judge the defendant's character.
Out of the presence of jurors, Collins denied a motion by West to introduce evidence of similar photographs found on Rachelle Waterman's computer after West said he could not show whether they were intended for Arrant or someone else.
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.