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Trial begins for woman accused in death of her mother

Lisa Demer

As the retrial of a young woman accused of plotting with two men to kill her mother began in an Anchorage courtroom Monday, the prosecutor laid out grisly details of the killing and told jurors the case was about "Rachelle Waterman and her two boyfriends."

But the defense lawyer put a different twist on the crime, and said the central issue is what was in Waterman's mind before the murder, when she was just 16.

The lawyers made their opening statements Monday afternoon. A dozen jurors and three alternates were seated Monday morning after 3 1/2 days of jury selection. The first witnesses will be called today.

Waterman is charged with murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and other charges related to the death of her mother in 2004 near their small Southeast town of Craig on Prince of Wales Island. At the time, Waterman was an honor student and athlete at Craig High School. Now she is 22, going to college and working out of state. Lauri Waterman was 48, a community volunteer.

The first trial, in Juneau, ended with a hung jury. The retrial was moved to Anchorage after concerns about whether an impartial jury could be seated in Ketchikan.

THE BOYFRIENDS

Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West talked to jurors for an hour and 40 minutes, read portions of love letters, and played excerpts from recorded law enforcement interviews with Waterman.

He told them Waterman complained to a boyfriend, Jason Arrant, and former boyfriend, Brian Radel, that her mother hit her, tried to throw her down the stairs, threatened her with a knife and withheld food because she weighed too much, the prosecutor said. They wanted her to go to police but she said no one would believe her.

She then asked Arrant for help in killing her mother, West said. Arrant arranged for his friend, Radel, to carry out the murder, West said.

"Brian Radel agreed. He would do anything for Mr. Arrant and Ms. Waterman. The two of them had broken up by this time, and she was with Mr. Arrant, but he still cared about her," West said. Radel never talked about the plot directly with Waterman; Arrant was the go-between, the prosecutor told jurors.

Waterman is responsible because she solicited the murder, knew about the plot, and didn't stop it, the prosecutor said. She gave troopers a false alibi for Arrant and initially lied about her relationship with her mother, saying they had no conflict, West told jurors.

Both men pleaded guilty to the killing and both testified at Waterman's first trial. Arrant received a 50-year sentence and Radel got 99 years.

WHAT DID SHE KNOW?

In his opening statement, defense lawyer Steven Wells said Arrant only implicated Waterman to take the pressure off himself.

When troopers first interviewed Arrant, he told them "Rachelle really didn't have anything to do with it. She was a teenage girl. She was venting. We kind of took this on our own, " Wells recounted to jurors.

The last thing Radel heard from Arrant was that Waterman didn't want her mother killed anymore, but Arrant still thought they needed to protect her, Wells said. Arrant was possessive and wanted various people killed who he thought were hurting Rachelle or who stood in the way of their relationship, the defense lawyer said.

As to her involvement with the men -- both were 24 at the time of the murder, eight years older than she was -- Waterman had broken up with Arrant, and was more like a sister to Radel, whom she had dated only briefly months earlier, Wells said. The two men had known each other 15 plus years and were blood brothers, he said.

Only after Craig police Sgt. Mark Habib told Arrant he was letting Waterman get away with it and that wasn't fair to Arrant or his mother, a Craig police dispatcher, did Arrant say that she knew what was planned, Wells said.

The men had discussed several plots but settled finally on staging a drunken driving crash, West told jurors. They decided to pour alcohol down Lauri Waterman's throat, break her neck, put her in the family minivan and wreck it.

The weekend of the killing, Rachelle Waterman was at a state volleyball tournament in Anchorage and her father, Carl "Doc" Waterman, also was out of town.

THE SUFFOCATION

Early on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004, Radel kidnapped Lauri Waterman from her third-floor bedroom, poured wine down her throat, bound her with duct tape, and drove her in the family minivan to a spot north of Craig, West told jurors. But he was unable to break her neck, the prosecutor said. He beat her with a flashlight, but that didn't kill her either. So he suffocated her, West said. Then, because her body was too damaged for the drunken driving scenario to work, the men burned the minivan with Waterman's body in it, the prosecutor said.

That night, Arrant told Waterman her mother was dead, but not the details.

The next day at school in Craig, Rachelle Waterman told adults that she thought her mother was driving drunk and crashed -- a story similar to the botched murder plot, West told jurors.

Testimony is expected to take at least two weeks.

Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com
Contact Lisa Demer at LDemer@adn.com or on