Murder trial ends in hung jury

Jurors vote 10-2 for teenager's acquittal because arguments left 'reasonable doubt'

Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Seventeen-year-old Rachelle Waterman left court in handcuffs Tuesday morning, still facing murder charges after jurors deadlocked on charges alleging she conspired in her mother's 2004 murder.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins declared a mistrial after juror Daniel Reierson told her on the fifth day of deliberations that the prospect of reaching a unanimous verdict was "hopeless at this point." The other jurors nodded at that assessment.

The mistrial means that the Craig girl could stand trial again if the prosecution persists, or that the judge could end the case by deciding on her own to acquit her in Lauri Waterman's killing.

Juror Mark Kasberg said after leaving court that the jury was split 10-2 in favor of acquittal because there was some "reasonable doubt." But he said there was no question "people were dug in" and weren't going to change their minds.

"Everyone (agreed) Rachelle was involved," he said. The big question, he added, was whether she intended for her mother to die.

Two of Rachelle Waterman's former boyfriends, Brian Radel and Jason Arrant, agreed last year to plead guilty to first-degree murder in 48-year-old Lauri Waterman's slaying on Nov. 14, 2004, north of the family's home on Prince of Wales Island.

Both were 24 at the time of the killing and testified for the prosecution during the trial. Both were scheduled to be sentenced after the resolution of Rachelle Waterman's case.

The defendant, who has been held at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center since shortly after her arrest nearly 15 months ago, dabbed her eyes with a tissue after reading the note from jurors saying they were deadlocked.

Her father, Carl "Doc" Waterman, who sat through a trial that included graphic descriptions of his wife's killing, told reporters he didn't want to talk.

"I'm not feeling too good right now," he said, after officers took Rachelle Waterman back to jail.

Prosecutor Stephen West, participating in the Juneau proceeding by telephone from his Ketchikan office, said "reluctantly" that he wouldn't object to a mistrial.

Leaving the courtroom, defense attorney Steven Wells whispered to Doc Waterman, "She's not guilty - you know she's not guilty." Minutes later he told reporters he was disappointed that the jury failed to acquit his client. "But I'm happy she was not convicted," he added.

"In December 2004, they were ready to hang her," Wells said. The trial showed "there was not nearly the evidence the state believed," he added.

Collins scheduled a March 7 hearing to discuss the status of the case. She could have more to say than West does about whether the state holds a second trial.

After dismissing the jury, Collins noted that she had not ruled on a motion to acquit Rachelle Waterman, which Wells made after West rested his case. She asked for Wells to state his case in writing by Feb. 24. She also gave West until March 3 to respond.

Wells said the unusual request gave him reason to be optimistic that Collins could find his client not guilty.

Rachelle Waterman was in Anchorage at the state volleyball tournament when her mother was killed. Her father was in Juneau. Her older brother, Geoffrey, was away at college.

West argued at trial that the defendant told Arrant her mother would be home alone and that the weekend would be a good time to kill her. He said she told Arrant how Radel could get into the house.

Arrant testified that Rachelle Waterman had said earlier that she wanted her mother dead because the girl alleged she was abusing her. In September 2004, he had sent Radel to shoot Lauri Waterman after the woman dropped her daughter off at volleyball practice. He said the shooting didn't take place because Radel had forgotten a piece from his rifle. He said letters presented by West referred to the shooting plot as "a hunting trip."

Radel testified to the same event, but said he never talked to the defendant about killing her mother. He said he only knew that Arrant told him the woman had to die to protect Rachelle Waterman's life.

Wells told jurors that Arrant got Radel to kill Lauri Waterman, who was a perceived obstacle to his courtship with her daughter.

The prosecution finished its case with Rachelle Waterman's videotaped statements to investigators, which had led to her arrest five days after her mother's death. She told Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Randy McPherron and Craig Police Sgt. Mark Habib that she had an idea her mother was going to be killed when she was away and had done nothing about it.

Before leaving court Tuesday, Wells said he believes the video, which showed the pressure that officers applied during the investigation, showed more than incriminating statements.

"She was a victim and the jury saw it," he said.

Juror Kim Mix said the jury watched the questioning again during deliberations. "We definitely took in both sides of the videotape." She said the jury watched how investigators questioned her and how she changed her answers under pressure.

In addition to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, Rachelle Waterman was charged with second-degree murder and as an accomplice to kidnapping, burglary, vehicle theft and tampering with physical evidence.

The maximum sentence on the charges would total more than 300 years in prison. Radel agreed to a sentence up to the maximum 99 years for first-degree murder. Arrant agreed to plead guilty with a cap of 50 years.

Mix said she found Radel more believable than Arrant, but Radel said little about Rachelle Waterman's involvement in the case.

Kasberg said jurors had questions about which witnesses they should believe. Jurors talked about all the counts, but "if you couldn't get past the conspiracy charge, you couldn't get to the other charges." All of the charges require a finding of intent, he said.

News of the jury's failure to reach a verdict spread around Craig Tuesday, though some people said they didn't wish to comment.

"The few people I've talked to would have liked to have seen it decided, one way or the other," said John Moots, vice president of the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce. "Now it's unresolved."

Craig resident Mike Bush, whose wife testified at the trial, said he knows friends of the Watermans who were disappointed there wasn't a conviction. "People were flabbergasted" at a report of 10 jurors favoring acquittal, he said.

Mix said it was a difficult, emotional case. As jurors, "I think we had a tough job," she said. "It tore apart our lives for awhile."

Doc Waterman spent the previous days of deliberation with his daughter awaiting a verdict. She was outside of jail for the first time in more than a year, he said after leaving the Dimond Courthouse.

"That was the best part," he said, with a faint smile.

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