Alaska News

Waterman's father, others defend her at murder retrial

Rachelle Waterman was sobbing and hysterical at school the morning after her mother went missing, a defense witness testified Thursday, the most vivid description presented so far that the teenager was distraught over what was happening.

But some of his testimony contradicts that of other witnesses.

Waterman, 22, is being retried in Anchorage on a charge of murder in her mother's death. She was 16 in November 2004 when two older men with whom she had had relationships carried out the killing to protect her from a mother she claimed was abusive. But she had an idea of what they planned and didn't warn her mother or call police, she acknowledged under pressure from investigators in 2004.

The defense began presenting its witnesses Thursday. Testimony is expected to wrap up Friday.

The Watermans' next-door neighbors, Don and Lorraine Pierce, both testified. The families were especially close. The children grew up together. Lorraine Pierce said Lauri Waterman was her best friend. The Pierces were godparents to the Waterman children.

The Pierces told jurors they knew there was tension between Rachelle and her mother, but figured it was normal teen rebellion, something she would grow out of.

The morning of Nov. 15, 2004, Don Pierce, a special education teacher at Craig High School, was asked to take Waterman home from school early, he testified under questioning by defense lawyer Steven Wells. Lauri Waterman, 48, was murdered the day before but at that point was considered missing; so was the family minivan.

"I received a call from the high school secretary saying that Rachelle was in the office, that she was crying, hysterical and that the school had decided that it wasn't in her best interest to be at the school," Pierce told jurors.

He went into the school counselor's office to comfort Waterman, he said.

Then Jason Arrant showed up.

"He somehow got past me, the corner of the desk, and gave Rachelle a hug. He was telling her it was going to be all right. I was kind of at a loss, so I stepped out of the office for a second," Pierce testified.

The teachers and school staff didn't know it at the time, but Arrant had helped Brian Radel kill Lauri Waterman, according to their testimony and admissions. Both pleaded guilty and are in prison.

Pierce said he left Waterman alone with Arrant for maybe 30 seconds, then told him he needed to get Waterman home. Arrant kept insisting that he be the one to comfort her, to nurture her, to care for her, Pierce told jurors. But Pierce said he didn't allow it.

Other witnesses testified that Waterman and Arrant were alone in the counselor's office for several minutes before Pierce arrived. Arrant refused to testify in this trial, but his testimony from the first trial was played for jurors. He said they were alone in the office and that Waterman quickly switched off her crying, reminding him she was a good actress.

Pierce said Waterman never stopped sobbing. When he drove her home, she curled herself into a fetal position, he told jurors.

Waterman's father, a real estate broker who already was called by the prosecution, is supporting his daughter and Thursday he testified for the defense.

Carl "Doc" Waterman told jurors that soon after his daughter was arrested in 2004, he searched her room for anything that would give him insight into what was going on. He found an undated letter Lauri wrote to Rachelle.

"It was in a drawer in her nightstand, on top of everything else that was in there," Doc Waterman said.

In the letter, Lauri tells her daughter she loves her.

Prosecutors fought hard to keep the letter out of the trial. But state Superior Court Judge William Carey allowed it, as evidence of Lauri's feelings at the time.

Jurors also heard from Elizabeth Cauffman, a psychology professor at the University of California-Irvine and an expert in adolescent behavior.

She explained that adolescent brains are not fully developed in the areas that control impulse control, risk taking, planning and decision making. Those areas take until around age 25 to become complete, she said.

She said people talk about if kids are so smart, why do they do such stupid things.

"A lot of times it's the disconnect between what they know and their ability to emotionally control that," Cauffman told jurors.

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

By LISA DEMER

ldemer@adn.com

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.

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