This is one of those cases in which I am unsure after researching how I feel about it. We have all been a teenager and obviously some of us have been teenage girls. We said stupid things; we did stupid things. We have all, teenager or not, said things that we did not mean. I would even gander to say that at least some of us have fantasized or even stated out loud we would like to see someone we do not like dead. We may have even “planned” it all without intention of ever following through. But, what happens when you share these feelings with the wrong people and they put your words into actions? That was the question for two juries to answer in Alaska.
On November 13, 2004 forty-eight year old Lauri Waterman was taken from her home in Craig Alaska by the boyfriend, and ex-boyfriend, of her sixteen year old daughter, Rachelle. She was tied up, force fed alcohol, beaten and suffocated. She was then placed in the back of her van and taken to a location far from her home. The two perpetrators had planned to make it look like a drunk driving accident but they realized there was evidence from the beating and suffocation that would not mesh with an auto accident. So instead they decided to set the van on fire. Her body would be found early the next afternoon.
By November 20th authorities had arrested two twenty-four year old men, Jason Arrant and Brian Radel as well as Lauri's daughter Rachelle. They were all charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors would allege that while Arrant and Radel were friends, they had both been intimately involved with Rachelle. Neither of Rachelle's parents were thrilled or liked the fact that Rachelle was involved with older men and it does not seem that they, especially Lauri were scared to voice their opinion. Rachelle would allege to the men that her mother was abusive to her. Most indicate that the abuse Rachelle alleged was exaggerated or twisted in a way to make Lauri look bad as opposed to a mother attempting to control her out of control daughter.
It appears that both Arrant and Radel quickly confessed to their role in the murder and alleged Rachelle was the instigator. Both men would take a plea deal. Radel, who apparently admitted to being the main perpetrator received a sentence of “up to 99” years, while Arrant, who everyone seemed to later allege as the actual perpetrator received a sentence that had a “cap” of 50 years. The deal included that both men had to testify against Rachelle who was alleging she was not guilty of the crime. It was proven that she was not directly involved in the crime as she was out of town at a volleyball tournament for her school but that did not mean she had not planned it, egged it on, or knew it was going to happen. In fact, prosecutors allege that she did know it was going to happen on that night and encouraged that it did since she would be gone out of town. As far as intelligence the prosecutors would claim that despite being eight years older than her, Rachelle was much smarter than either of the two men, who had shady and difficult backgrounds.
Rachelle first went to trial in 2006. She admitted discussing the idea with Arrant but not directly with Radel and she did admit knowing that there was a plan but she alleged that she did not think they would follow through with things. Her trial ended in a hung jury and later an Alaskan Appeals Court through out some of the evidence and the indictment. The state appealed that verdict and some of the evidence was restored and she was retried in 2011. By this time she had moved to Florida and was working and attending college.
At the second trial it seems that Arrant had refused to testify against her and despite his agreement it seems there was little prosecutors could do. Radel testified again but it seems he may have helped Rachelle's defense rather than hurt it. According to Radel, Rachelle was correct in the fact that he had never directly discussed the murder plan with her and that while he had heard of the abuse allegations from her, the murder plan came to him through Arrant. He stated Arrant had told him that this was what Rachelle wanted done and considering what he thought he did know about the abuse allegations he believed Arrant. He would later claim that after the murder he questioned whether Rachelle had in fact agreed to the plan because Arrant was telling him of plans to kill others, including Rachelle's father, and he did not believe Arrant when he again said Rachelle wanted this done.
The defense not only argued that Arrant was the driving force behind the murder and that Rachelle was not involved, they also argued that because of her age, sixteen at the time, that Rachelle's crime fell under juvenile laws. The state argued that by charging her with first degree murder as well as the conspiracy to commit murder charge it was automatically elevated to an adult crime and to be held in adult courts. Had those charges not been filed the state would have not been able to do anything once Rachelle was twenty years old. However, the fact that she was twenty-two in 2011 and those charges applied they moved forward with the re-trial.
In the end the second jury acquitted Rachelle on charges of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder but they did find her guilty on a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. At her sentencing in July of 2011 her father was asking that she received a sentence of time served considering that she had served over a year in jail when she had been awaiting her first trial. The state asked that the judge imposed a five year sentence. Instead the judge decided to give her three years which meant she served a few more months and was then released. The prosecutor did not seem too overly upset at the verdict or the sentence and it seems that the prosecution of Rachelle was meant more to send a message to other teenagers. The prosecutor stated the verdict indicated that while she may not have truly wanted her mother dead, and maybe her rantings were simply those of a defiant teenager, Rachelle should have reasonable known that Arrant and Radel “posed a substantial risk to her mother.”
So often we see cases in which a teenage girl, along with their boyfriend plot the murder of one, or sometimes both, of her parents but in most of those cases the girl participates in the murder so there is no question as to their role. This case was a bit different in the fact that Rachelle did not participate so it leaves the question of whether she truly intended for her mother to die. She very well may have wanted just that but she could have just as easily been ranting about the “unfair” treatment she was receiving from a mother who did not agree with the choices she was making and was still, at least in a legal sense, able to stop her and responsible for her. Only Rachelle will ever know the truth and have to live with her actions.