Episode 1 – The Rachelle Waterman case

 

Rachelle Waterman was a 16 year old high school Junior in Craig, Alaska in November of 2004 when she conspired with two local 24 year old men to kill her mother Lauri Waterman.

This is the first episode of a new podcast series by local Alaskan paralegal Leo Helmar. Please visit murderalaska.com for more info and keep checking back for new episodes!

On November 14th, 2004, a hunter found a smoking minivan on a logging road in Craig, a small logging and fishing town in Southeast Alaska, and reported the find to local authorities. Also in the van was a badly burned corpse which would later be identified as Lauri Waterman.

Sgt. Randy McPherron, a renowned homicide investigator for the Alaska State Troopers, was dispatched to Craig and within three days Sgt. McPherron had all three principle conspirators in the murder of Lauri Waterman in custody. They were Rachelle, her 16 year old daughter who had been at a volleyball tournament up North in Anchorage, Alaska, and two 24 year old men with whom Rachelle had had sexual relationships with named Jason Arrant and Brian Radel. The ghoulish details of their crime would become clear in the subsequent murder trials.

This episode goes into further detail about how the crime went down and the fallout in the intervening years. Thanks for listening!

4 thoughts on “Episode 1 – The Rachelle Waterman case”

  1. Hi Leo,

    This was very interesting and I loved your commentary about life in small town Alaska. You really captured its essence.

    I know and have read a lot about this case. It was interesting to hear your analysis of the facts and assessment of Rachelle Waterman’s behavior and involvement. Interesting because I view the evidence in a completely different light. I wonder why. Is it a male/female thing? Old/young? Is it that I worked as a prosecutor for so long and have too technical a view of things? Is it just that different people see the same facts, but interpret them differently? Or what? I have no idea.

    Here’s how I see it: Rachelle had just started her junior year in high school when her mom died. The two men she was involved with had been out of school 6 years. Even in small-town Alaska, that age gap is not ok; most parents understand high school girls are too immature to be with men that much older. And the two men Rachelle picked were doozies. The judge who conducted the trial described one of the men as “a sociopath” and the other a “as a pathetic dolt.”

    Teen-aged Rachelle complained bitterly about her mother, said she wished her mother was dead, and talked about possible ways to kill her mom. When I was in high school I heard this type of thing often. Shocking perhaps, but there are many teenage girls who bitch longly and loudly about their hated and hateful mothers. I was one of them. I despised my mother; I thought she treated me badly and made my life a living hell. I dealt with it, as girls and women usually do with their problems, by discussing it with my friends. Luckily, I wasn’t expressing my complaints to an adult sociopath and an adult dolt with their own agendas, but to high-school friends who understood I was venting and would be devastated if something actually happened to my mom.

    Rachelle’s version of the facts wasn’t far off from exactly that. She wished her mother dead and fanticized about how to do it with her adult boyfriends. She said she never intended them to actually kill her mother, and when it sounded like they were serious, she told them not to kill her mother.

    Here’s the thing. Both the judge and the jury, the only people who heard and saw all the witnesses testify, believed Rachelle. She went to trial charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, kidnapping, burglary in the first degree, attempted murder in the first degree, and criminally negligent homicide. Rachelle was found not guilty of all the crimes that involved her intentionally killing her mom, and convicted only of negligent homicide.

    Judge Carey, the trial judge, described the meaning of the jury’s verdict during Rachelle’s sentencing: “[The jury’s] ultimate verdict in this case was that Miss Waterman did not intend the death of her mother,” Carey said. “That is reflected in the fact that she was acquitted on all the charges with the exception of the final count, criminally negligent homicide. It meant that Miss Waterman was negligent, not that she intended this crime, but that it was reasonably foreseeable that her acts would cause this crime.”

    The Court of Appeals described the verdict thusly: “[T]he jury concluded that the State failed to prove that Waterman was complicit in the murder and kidnapping plot. … The jurors found that Waterman acted with criminal negligence precisely because she did not appreciate the substantial and unjustifiable danger to her mother’s life.”

    Rachelle’s father took a similar approach at Rachelle’s sentencing: “I have seen Rachelle Waterman express extreme remorse for her choice of boyfriends, for telling exaggerated stories of abuse by her mother, and for failing to recognize that Jason Arrant was prepared to act upon his fantasies of removing her mother from her life so he could have unfettered access to Rachelle. There were points she was wishing harm upon herself for having been so naïve as to fail (to see) that real harm could come to her mother. … The only crime she is guilty of is failing to recognize that her boyfriend would actually commit murder.”

    The judge sentenced Rachelle to 3 years in jail for criminally negligent homicide. He pointed out that had she been charged with that crime initially, her case would have been tried in juvenile court.

    I’ve talked about this case with a variety of different lawyers, including many former prosecutors. Most thought Rachelle was overcharged from the beginning and that it would be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt she intended her mother’s death. Rachelle was ultimately convicted only of the crime that most of us thought from the beginning was the only crime anyone could ever prove she committed.

    Overcharging is a bad prosecutorial practice and rarely pays off when a defendant insists on going to trial (as you know, it does work to coerce defendants into pleading guilty to lesser offenses). I consider overcharging, no matter the reason, to be unethical and an abuse of prosecutorial power. People should only be charged with what the state has adequate evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

    So that’s my interpretation of what happened in the Waterman case. Obviously, your view is different. And I’m sure there are others who would disagree with both of us and advance their own opinions. In the end, however, the only opinions that actually matter are those of the judge and jury.

    Most of the above quotes are from this Juneau Empire article: http://juneauempire.com/local/2011-07-16/rachelle-waterman-sentenced-three-years-prison-role-mothers-murder .
    One is from the court of appeals decision following her conviction: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ak-court-of-appeals/1691664.html

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Finally, a suggestion for a case that might interest you. It involves two deaths, many years apart. Basic story: during a nasty divorce and child custody fight, a wife (Muriel Pfeil) was murdered by a car bomb in 1976. That case was never solved, although the wife’s family always believed the husband (Neil McKay) did it. After Muriel died, the Pfeil family continued her custody fight with McKay (a rich, powerful, and connected attorney). The Pfeils lost custody, but eventually Robert, Muriel’s brother and her estate administrator, filed a new case against McKay. After lengthy litigation, Robert won in the Ninth Circuit and McKay was ordered to pay the estate $140K+.

    Robert was killed in a drive-by shooting a little more than a month later. McKay was charged with hiring the killers but acquitted (after a second trial – his first trial ended in a mistrial caused by a weird mystery). Meanwhile the men who said they’d been hired by McKay to kill Pfeil were all convicted and sent to jail.

    This was a complicated, interesting case with many remaining questions. If you’re interested, here’s a couple stories to get you started:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/30/us/alaskan-murder-enigma-within-an-enigma.html
    http://simoneleclere.blogspot.com/2009/02/alaskan-murder-wrapped-in-enigma.html
    Sheila Toomey at the Anchorage Daily News also wrote a lot about this case and covered the trials of all involved. Those articles should be still available, even if only in a library.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    One final comment: I agree the Investor case is a very interesting story. If you do it (and I hope you do), I’ll be interested to hear who you think committed the crime. I have no idea.

    So, interesting podcast and interesting topic. Good job and I know how hard it is to do a podcast. I can’t wait to listen to more. Thank you for doing this, Laurie

    1. Laurie,

      Thanks much for the great comment. I was trying to present the case in a fairly neutral way but I obviously come equipped with my own biases and baggage. I think you are correct in that there is something wrong about a 16-year-old hanging with two 24-year-olds but to me it is at the borders of taste and her parents were apparently aware that she was involved with these men so I tried to not judge that. I am learning a lot as I go here so I think I should’ve presented more of an analysis of the case because the legal wrangling is really interesting to me but I just thought it might be too inside baseball. Judge Collins’ sua sponte ruling at the end of (I think) the 1st trial is a good example of the curve-balls this case presented from a legal standpoint.

      I do agree also about overcharging and I think the conviction of criminally negligent homicide was in the right ballpark. I think if the facts had been slightly different I would react to the case much more along the lines that you seem to but the stuff about Rachelle calling back to Craig from Anchorage the weekend of the murder and also the episodes where Rachelle manufactured injuries and stories to go along with them to give Arrant and Radel the impression that mom was seriously physically injuring her as well as the previous murder plots that almost went down (which I didn’t do a good job of explicating in this episode) all sort of make her more culpable than if she had just vented many times about how awful her mom was. I do think that Radel and Arrant are far more guilty of the murder than Rachelle and who knows what transpired between them. I really enjoyed reading your perspective, though, and find myself questioning what I had previously thought about the case.

      I tried to just present a capsule of what happened where someone could go from knowing nothing about the case to having a pretty good understanding of what happened in 45 or so minutes. There really were no other podcasts about this case online.

      Thanks very much also for the Mackay / Pfeil info. This is exactly the stuff I am looking for. What was going on the 1980’s in Alaska, Laurie? Car bombs? Murder-for-hire plots? It just seems like there is craziness everywhere. Recently I have been going back through newspaper archives from the early 80s and as best as I can tell it was some combination of the following:

      1) cocaine, alcohol, and drugs in general
      2) Vietnam had just ended a handful of years before; lots of vets home with issues from PTSD
      3) Reaganomics and the hollowing-out of welfare and aid programs

      Thanks again,

      Leo

  2. I enjoyed that Blog Leo and thought you did a good job. I did see some areas that I would of liked you to address but I do not want to be your critic because overall it was interesting. One thing I wish there was more on the trial and the opinions of the court testimony. It would of been good if you did show more of the motive. That wasn’t clear at all. In that I don’t believe that these guys had much reason to commit the crime needs to be fleshed out more I think. Would of liked a clear reason of why this case was of interest in the introduction but that is an editorial point. Liked your delivery I saw in it how you were trying to be non prejudicial yet got to the possible underlying reasons that might of been in these people minds through your observation of life in a town in Alaska. Overall this is good stuff. My Brother Paul would be so in love with what you and Patrice are doing with your life and the creativeness you both display. I’ll watch for some more and I see some in the index. Thank You West Coast Leo YOU DO GOOD STUFF. EAST COAST LEO….love you guys.

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