Wednesday morning update: Jason Arrant refused to testify this morning in the murder retrial of Rachelle Waterman. He pleaded guilty to murdering Waterman's mother, Lauri, and testified at Waterman's first trial but said he was taking a stand now. A second man, Brian Radel, who also pleaded guilty in the murder, has agreed to testify and is doing so this morning.
On the Monday after her mother went missing, Rachelle Waterman told a teacher, a school counselor and a school administrator at Craig High School that she wondered if her mother had been drinking and had driven off a road, witnesses testified on Tuesday.
Lauri Waterman, 48, seldom drank more than a couple of sips of wine, maybe a bit more if a friend wanted to drink with her, according to testimony Tuesday from Carl "Doc" Waterman, Rachelle's father and a widower since his wife, Lauri, was murdered early on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004.
Rachelle Waterman, now 22, is on trial in Anchorage before a state Superior Court jury, accused of plotting with two men to kill her mother and then trying to make it look like a drunken driving crash. It's her second murder trial; the first one ended with a hung jury in Juneau. Prosecutors say both men had been her boyfriend. At the time of the murder, the men were 24 and Waterman was 16.
The men botched the staged drunken driving crash, Ketchikan District Attorney Stephen West has told jurors. One man ultimately suffocated Lauri Waterman, then they set her minivan on fire with her body in it on a remote logging road on Prince of Wales Island, where Craig is located, West said.
Scott McDonald, the hunter who found the smoldering van that Nov. 14, testified Tuesday that he could see bones inside it. The van wasn't identified as Lauri Waterman's until the next day.
TALKING AT SCHOOL
But at school that Monday morning, Waterman didn't know the details. She was in Anchorage at a volleyball tournament when her mother was murdered.
Before school began, all Craig school employees were told at a hastily called staff meeting that Lauri Waterman was missing, Shane Westfall told jurors Tuesday. She was a teacher's aide at the elementary school and well known in the community for her volunteer work. Doc Waterman was the school board president.
Waterman was the first kid in the gym that morning for Westfall's 8 a.m. lifetime sports class, he said.
"I went over to her and asked her if she was OK," Westfall testified under questioning by West.
"I'm fine," she told him. He asked if she was sure.
"She said, 'Yeah my mom probably got drunk and ran off the road someplace,' " Westfall told jurors.
How was her demeanor? West asked.
Normal, Westfall answered.
Doc Waterman has been in the courtroom every day, sitting behind his daughter and putting his arm around her when they walk out after the court day ends.
On Tuesday, he moved from the spectator benches to the witness box.
Wearing a green blazer and maroon tie and using a court headset to aid his hearing, Waterman talked about challenges raising Rachelle and about those hours when his wife was missing. He's a real estate broker, not a physician. He got the nickname "Doc" in high school and it stuck, he said.
He said Lauri was stricter on Rachelle than he was on some things but he never saw any evidence she hit their daughter and Rachelle never told him about anything like that. Neither of them used physical punishment, Waterman said under questioning by prosecutor Jean Seaton of Sitka.
Other witnesses have testified that Rachelle told them her mother tried to push her down the stairs, became angry if her grades slipped, and withheld food, telling her she was fat. Prosecutors say she told even more to Jason Arrant and Brian Radel, the men who carried out the killing.
Lauri Waterman was a strict Catholic and was upset when Waterman began experimenting with Wicca, a pagan religion and form of witchcraft, Doc Waterman said.
By late fall 2004, the parents found out Rachelle was seeing Arrant, and trying to keep it from them, Waterman testified. Arrant was so much older and worked as a janitor at the Klawock school, which concerned Lauri.
"There's nothing wrong with being a janitor but my wife had the impression that he had no desire to go any farther," Waterman testified.
A couple of times that fall, the parents caught Rachelle sneaking back into the house in the early morning. The second time, she was grounded for a month, Waterman said.
LAURI WASN'T HOME
The weekend his wife was killed, Doc Waterman was in Juneau for a meeting. When he and Rachelle got back to Craig around 3 or 3:30 that Sunday afternoon, Lauri and the minivan were gone.
He didn't think too much of it at first. His wife was always volunteering and helping friends. Her last weekend alive, she had helped set up the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet.
Eventually he went looking for her. Around 8 p.m., he called Craig police asking about car crashes and mentioned that Lauri and the van were missing.
On Monday afternoon, Craig Police Chief Jim See came to the house and told him they had found a burned out van, and confirmed it was the family's. There was a body in it.
"I told Chief See that we would have to assume that was Lauri's body," Doc Waterman said, speaking matter-of-factly.
Arrant and Radel are scheduled to testify Wednesday. Both pleaded guilty to the murder and are serving long prison sentences.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing