Psychologist: Immaturity is key to teen's plot confession

Defense says girl's testimony was coerced by two police officers

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2005

KETCHIKAN - A teen's immaturity and low self-esteem were the levers police used to pry a confession from her in the plot to kill her mother, a psychologist told a judge Monday.

Marty Beyer said 16-year-old Rachelle Waterman was in shock from hearing the grisly details of her mother's murder. She also was worn down by repeatedly being called a liar by the two policemen who extracted the confession, Beyer said.

The end result: "She parroted back the words she had heard from the officers during the earlier two hours of questioning," Beyer said.

Beyer's testimony, said public defender Steven Wells, shows that the Nov. 19 statement to police about her involvement in her Lauri Waterman's death was coerced. He is attempting to get the confession thrown out before Rachelle Waterman's case goes to trial.

Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West said police did what they were supposed to do. The teen waived her rights, making the Nov. 19 confession voluntary, he said.

The officers acted appropriately, West said. He acknowledged that Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Randy McPherron and Craig police Sgt. Mark Habib accused her of lying - but only because she repeatedly lied to them.

"A defendant has a Fifth Amendment right to be silent, but doesn't have a right to lie," West said.

Monday's hearing was to decide whether to allow Waterman's confession at trial, scheduled for Jan. 17. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins heard the arguments and said she will rule in writing within a week.

Waterman, in shackles and dressed in an orange prison jump suit, appeared to be in good spirits as she laughed with her attorney and occasionally made faces at her father and brother in the audience. Her cuffs were removed about midway through the hearing when she complained the chain around her torso was hurting her back.

Waterman is accused of asking Jason Arrant and Brian Radel to kill her 48-year-old mother. Arrant and Radel, both 25, are former boyfriends who have already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges in the Nov. 14 killing.

The remains of Lauri Waterman, a teacher's aide and mother of two, were found that day by a hunter inside her still-burning minivan. She had been taken from her home the night before and driven to a remote part of Prince of Wales Island. She was beaten and suffocated to death, then set on fire.

Rachelle Waterman admitted in her statement to police that she had a good idea the killing would take place that weekend, when she and her father were out of town. But she did nothing to stop it from happening, she said.

Wells wants to keep those statements from a jury. He called Beyer, a licensed clinical psychologist in three states and the District of Columbia, to testify that the confession was involuntary. McPherron and Habib's techniques undermined her self-confidence and made her agree with what they wanted her to say, Beyer said. A teen's brain is not developed enough to handle police interrogation techniques, and what she said was in response to pressure from the investigators, Beyer said.

West pointed out that Waterman is a bright girl, making mostly As and Bs in school, and a member of the academic decathlon and honor choir. He also got Beyer to acknowledge that the courts have split on the validity of the research she bases her methods on.

McPherron, Habib and Alaska State Trooper Robert Claus also testified at Monday's hearing. McPherron, who was the main questioner in the Nov. 19 interrogation, said they brought Waterman in for the third and final interview when "we had clearly developed evidence that she was involved in the murder conspiracy."

She initially cried and was upset that the information about the killing had become known, McPherron said. She lied to him and Habib, and they pointed out her lies. They went back and forth, "trying to persuade her to tell the truth," he said.

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