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Teen blogger murder trial

How could Rachelle Waterman's fantasies spiral into her mom's murder? John Larson reports.
Rachelle Waterman looks back during the opening of her trial at the Dimond Courthouse Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006, in Juneau, Alaska. Seanna O'sullivan / AP

John Larson, Dateline correspondent: If everything had gone perfectly, how would this story have played out? Let's say you had gotten away with it.Brian Radel: Gotten away with it? There would have been no way that could happen.

You're about to hear a story about a girl with a killer imagination.

A story about an Alaskan teenager who imagined and told stories of wild things - even murder.

Brian Radel: If she made it up, she made up a story but that's all she did.Larson: Hell of a story.

And the stories were so seductive, men would kill for them.

Brian Radel: Somebody ended up dead in this story.

It happened in this beautiful place of cold, deep water and endless spruce forest. Paradise to some, yet the beauty of the fishing village of Craig, Alaska on Prince of Wales Island is surpassed only by its isolation. You can get here only by ferry or tiny float plane.

Everyone knows everyone here. The locals will tell you there's no reason not to leave your keys in your car... no need to lock your doors at night. At least there wasn't, until one rainy night back in 2004.

What happened down this road took all the natural beauty and solitude of the place and overnight made it seem ominous. A murder so brutal, and different because it may have begun as the fantasy of a teenage girl. A story that included tales of abuse, prostitution, even witchcraft. But what was real... and what was imagined?

It was Saturday, November 13th. Lauri Waterman, a 48-year-old special education aide, wife and mother spent the evening volunteering at a Chamber of Commerce dinner.

Jann Martelli, Lauri Waterman’s sister-in-law: Lauri Martelli Waterman was the consummate mother. And a beautiful, lovely woman, very selfless and very giving.

After dinner, she returned to an empty house. Her husband "Doc" was out of town. Her daughter Rachelle — an honor student and athlete at the local high school — was 400 miles away in Anchorage, playing in a volleyball tournament. So Lauri climbed into bed sometime after eleven p.m. and went to sleep, alone.

The next morning, Lauri didn't show up for church. And when Doc and Rachelle returned home that afternoon they discovered Lauri and the family van were gone. No one had seen her and she'd left no explanations. Doc called his best friend and next door neighbor Don Pierce.

Don Pierce, friend of the Waterman family: He called about 3:00 in the afternoon to ask if Lauri was at our house.

She’d been expected, but never showed up. And inside the Waterman house,  Lauri's husband and daughter had found some strange things --  the bed unmade, odd fibers, the fingertip of a rubber glove on the bedroom floor... and on the kitchen counter, an empty wine bottle: odd because Lauri rarely drank.

Pierce: Lauri wasn't one to go around without people knowing that she was gonna go somewhere.

Doc searched the town and then called police. But the next morning, a Monday, there was still no sign of Lauri. Her daughter Rachelle, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, went to school... where she shared fears that her mother was dead -- perhaps even killed in a drunk driving accident.

And then Rachelle heard the rumors spreading like fire through the high school... rumors that a van was found in the woods... with human remains inside.

Pierce: I got a call asking me to take Rachelle home because she was losing it.

Don, the Watermans' closest friend, teaches at the high school.

Pierce: Rachelle was just totally in tears. She was rocking back and forth in the passenger seat of my truck, um, she was saying Hail Marys.

When Don and Rachelle arrived at the house, police did, too... and shared the devastating news: the van found smoldering in the woods some 40 miles away from their home -- was, in fact, Lauri's. The fire burned so hot, it stripped the paint off the van, melted the license plates. On the floorboard behind the front seat was a pile of ash and a human skull.

Larson: What was Rachelle's reaction when she found out there was a body in her mother's van?

Pierce: Tears. We weren't even sure it was Lauri and she was beside herself. Her world was crumbling down.

Three days after her disappearance, it was confirmed: the remains were Lauri Waterman's. And when investigators examined the evidence -- the heat of the fire, the location of the remains, the trail of gasoline leading from the vehicle, it was clear that this was no accident.

Lauri Waterman had been murdered. But who would kill one of the most-loved people in town?

Pierce: I could upset more people in an hour than she could in a lifetime.

Even though there was evidence someone had broken in, it was clearly not a burglary, so police began doing what they routinely do -- looking first at those closest to Lauri... from Doc... to friends like Don Pierce. Soon, their focus turned to someone they knew had been a source of friction in the Waterman house -- Rachelle's 24-year-old boyfriend, Jason Arrant.

Pierce: I don't think that any of us really knew Jason. We knew who he was but we didn't really know him, what he was capable of.

Arrant was a janitor and a Marine Corps dropout. And it was no secret that Lauri Waterman had not approved of her 16-year-old daughter's relationship with the older man. And then there was Arrant's best friend, 24-year-old Brian Radel. He was a hulking man with wild red hair and a goatee who turned up in town a few days after the murder... with his head and face shaved.

Pierce: Brian Radel, he scares me. He has a look to his eye that kind of leads me to believe that he's not all there.

Radel had also dated Rachelle at one time. He was known around town as a pied-piper of sorts who gathered high schoolers to his computer shop where they played video games and dungeons and dragons. It didn't take police long to suspect that Radel... Arrant... or both men had something to do with the murder.

So the janitor, Jason Arrant, was brought here for questioning and the mystery quickly unraveled. He told police his best friend Brian Radel had killed Lauri Waterman. Police then asked him if he would wear a wire to help gather evidence on his friend and the plan worked. Brian Radel not only implicated himself, but Jason Arrant was clearly involved in the killing, too.

The two men soon confessed and poured out the horrific details of the murder. They had planned to make it look like a drunk driving accident. Radel shaved his entire body to avoid leaving evidence behind. He broke into the Waterman home and forced Lauri to drink a bottle of wine, then drove her in her own van to a remote forest service road, where he met Arrant. Neither man had ever done anything like this before, but the killing began.

Brian Radel, convicted of murdering Lauri Waterman: It's not like I’m a professional killer. I don't really know how to kill somebody. I didn't do any of it very well. Breaking her neck, I definitely wasn't successful at that. Didn't kill her right away when I hit her in the throat.

When that didn't work, Radel smothered her. They realized her death would not look like an accident as they had planned. So they drove to another location, doused the inside of the van with gasoline -- with Lauri's body inside -- and lit it. They burned other evidence as well. At one point before the fire, before she died, Lauri spoke.

Larson: What did she say to you?Radel: She said, “Can I ask a question?'” And she just kept repeating that, “Can I ask a question?” Jason asked me, “What do you think she wants to ask?” And I said, “I think she wants to know why in the world this is happening.”

It was the same thing her family and friends wanted to know: Why? The answer was almost impossible to believe.

Radel: I felt pressured that I needed to protect Rachelle.

Protect Rachelle? From her mother, known by everyone in town for her acts of kindness? It made no sense to anyone who knew Lauri Waterman.

Don Pierce, friend of the Waterman family: Something she said triggered such strong emotions in Jason that he felt that he had to save her.

People in the small Alaskan village of Craig were shocked by the brutal murder of Lauri Waterman and the arrest of two young locals who quickly confessed to the killing. But nothing could have prepared them for what came next -- the men claimed it was Lauri's teenage daughter who put them up to it.

Dina Keyt, Rachelle Waterman’s aunt: It's not possible.Larson: It’s like this family's suffering enough-- now you’ve got to drag somebody else into it.Dina Keyt: Yeah. Right.

What Rachelle's family heard didn't seem possible of the smart, athletic girl they knew and loved. Every summer, Rachelle and her mom would spend weeks with Lauri's family in Tacoma, Washington. Don Martelli is Rachelle's grandfather.

Don Martelli, Sr., Rachelle’s grandfather: She would help me with the projects I had around the yard. And she's right there with me all the time. She would help her mother with the dishes and she would help cooking.

But as the investigators dug deeper, they discovered another side of Rachelle... one her family hadn't seen. A darker side - revealed in an Internet blog Rachelle called "My Crappy Life.”

"Don't you hate it when the little pieces of sh-- pile up to the point you're at the breaking point, and you want to scream and cry at the same time."

In it, Rachelle called home "Hell, Alaska." And while most entries could be brushed off as typical teenage posturing, others were more disturbing:  passages on the occult, a description of a pentagram Rachelle had burned into her skin with a heated paperclip.

And when it came to her mother, whom she called "the female parental unit,” Rachelle wrote that Lauri criticized her weight, read her mail, once went “psycho bitch” on her and threw her down the stairs.

The day after police confirmed Lauri Waterman had been murdered, Rachelle's blog ended with an emotionless entry:

11/18/04 blog entryJust to let everyone know, my mother was murdered. I won't have computer access until the weekend or so because the police took my computer to go through the hard drive.

But the most troubling information came from the confessed killers themselves --- Jason Arrant and Brian Radel. Brian told police he'd briefly had a sexual relationship with Rachelle when she was just 15 years old and when that ended, he set her up with his best friend Jason. Both men fell in love with Rachelle and over time, she shared stories about life in the Waterman home, a life, she said, far different from what it seemed.

Brian Radel, dated Rachelle Waterman: She would mention that her mom had hit her with a baseball bat, that her mom liked to hit her in the lower back.

Larson: Did you ever see the bruises?Radel: Yes, I did see bruises.Larson: Where were they?Radel: The ones that I saw were on her upper thighs.

Family and friends could not believe it -- Lauri Waterman was loved in town, always the first to volunteer and the last to leave when a job needed to be finished.

Geoffrey Waterman, Lauri Waterman’s son: She was loving. She just really wanted to bring out the best in people.

And, her family says, Lauri would never, ever hurt her daughter, that if Rachelle had bruises, they were not caused by Lauri.

Don Martelli, Lauri Waterman’s brother: She's making up stuff to get attention. And that's the part that bothered me the most. Because I know my sister, I know what she's done for her family. I know that she's a loving person.

But the killers, Arrant and Radel, told police that Rachelle had feared for her life... and that they felt compelled to act.

Radel: I said "I'd protect Rachelle. If I don't go through with this, I’m really not willing to protect Rachelle like I said I was."

So troopers brought Rachelle in to try to find out what was going on. She went willingly, without her father or a lawyer, and with a camera rolling, Rachelle tells them she had nothing to do with the murder... but does acknowledge that she had been fighting with her mom about her clothes, her interest in the occult, and her boyfriends.

Rachelle Waterman (interrogation footage): She was a bit shocked, I guess, that I was talking to this older guy...

And in another interview two days later, Rachelle shares the same awful story she had told Arrant and Radel: that her mother, publicly well-respected, was privately abusive.

Rachelle: People in public probably think my mom would never lose her temper. Probably think she never cusses or anything. But, you know, behind closed doors, other things happen.

Listening to Rachelle's stories, it's difficult for even these seasoned troopers to know whether she's exaggerating typical mother-daughter battles... or whether something Dangerous was going on. She tells them her mother tried to push her down the stairs, beat her with a baseball bat, even threatened to sell her into sexual slavery.

Rachelle: My mom was really mad at me and they were low on money and she was talking to me about selling me for prostitution as a punishment.

She was afraid, Rachelle says, that her mother would kill her.

Rachelle: She has raised a knife to me. She threatened me while going like this with a knife.

Rachelle says she knew that no one would believe her stories of abuse — no one but Brian Radel and Jason Arrant. And it was Jason, Rachelle says, who first suggested a deadly solution.

Rachelle: I just said, “Sometimes I just wish my mother wasn't here; she causes me so much pain.”Sergeant Randy McPherron: Okay.

But Rachelle says that Jason kept pressing the issue -- even ran through murder scenarios with Brian, but says she never really took them seriously.

Rachelle: I didn't think they had the balls to do it. I thought, I mean how can you stop people who are protective? I thought the worst they could ever do is talk to her.

And, about 20 minutes after the questioning began, police seem to turn up the pressure when they ask: why would she have told kids at school that her mother probably died in a drunk driving accident if she was not in on the plan?

Sgt. McPherron: You told your friends Monday before the body had been identified, that your mom probably died in a drunk driving accident.Rachelle: It's what I assumed.Sgt. McPherron: That's because that was what the plan was.Rachelle: No, it's what I assumed.Sgt. McPherron: That's what they told you the plan was going to be.Rachelle: It's what I assumed! I saw the booze in the garbage.

30 minutes into the interrogation, clearly shaken, the 16-year-old hides her face, as the trooper accuses her of doing nothing to stop her mother's murder.

Sgt. McPherron: You knew it was gonna happen, and you didn't do anything --Rachelle: I told them not to do it!Sgt. McPherron: And then after you knew what had happened --Rachelle: I told them not to do it!Sgt. McPherron: You didn't do anything.Rachelle: I was scared.Sgt. McPherron: You didn't tell anybody.Rachelle: I was scared.

And an hour into her questioning, Rachelle's story and her attitude began to change.

Sgt. McPherron: You didn't do a very good job of stopping them, did you?Rachelle: Well, maybe I should not ever be on a debate team.Sgt. McPherron: Well, you don't need to be a smart aleck with me.Rachelle: Well, you don't need to question everything I say then.

And then, in a classic good cop-bad cop act, the sergeant warns Rachelle the other investigator is losing his patience.

Sgt. Habib: I’m sitting over here shaking my head, watching you lie. And it's not helping you any. It's not helping you at all. He's pissed.

When the other sergeant re-enters the room, Rachelle's attitude changes again.

Sgt. McPherron: Okay.Rachelle: First of all, I'd like to apologize for being a smart ass.Sgt. McPherron: Okay.

And after an hour and a half of interrogation, she tells them a new story.

Rachelle: Murder wasn't the first thing we came to.

Rachelle tells the troopers she talked to the two men about seeking emancipation -- the legal equivalent of divorcing her parents. But they didn't think a judge would grant her request.

Rachelle: Then they - it was - that idea started being discussed, murder. And I said “I, you know, I just - I didn't do a lot of talking, I did a lot of listening, because I didn't know what to do. So, like I said, it was discussed and I said, "Well, yes, let's do it."

A confession. Rachelle approved of the murder of her mother... and admits that when she said she tried to call it off -- she was telling another lie.

Rachelle: My whole family's gonna hate me. I'll be like tossed out on my butt.

Rachelle is arrested, charged with conspiracy, murder and five other felony counts...

The same charges the two men who killed her mother faced. Rachelle's relatives were rocked by the news. her aunt Dina.

Dina Keyt, Rachelle’s aunt: I didn't understand. I was lost and I was confused. And I just started - shaking. I was crying so hard I was shaking.

Don Pierce was with Rachelle's father Doc when he heard the news.

Don Pierce, friend of the Waterman family: As painful as the loss of Lauri was, I think that the arrest of his daughter was even harder.

And it was about to get harder yet for Doc -- Rachelle was headed to court, where despite that confession, she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her. Now, a jury would have to decide whether she was an innocent victim... or as guilty of murder as the two men who had killed her mother.

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to settle something so ugly. Rachelle Waterman was charged with first degree murder, conspiracy and five other counts in the killing of her mother and could face up to 99 years in prison if convicted. Her trial opened this past January in Juneau, Alaska, several hundred miles from Rachelle's hometown of Craig.

Prosecutor Steven West would try to prove that she not only wanted her mother Lauri Waterman dead but with the cooperation of two former boyfriends -- helped plot the murder. Now, with her father standing by her, Rachelle would face the prosecutor and her mother's killers.

Jason Arrant, Rachelle’s boyfriend (in court): I loved her and I'd already told her I would do anything for her.

At the center of the prosecution's case was Jason Arrant, the man who said he loved Rachelle so much that he killed for her and he was now the prime witness against her.

Arrant: She said that she thought it would be better if her mother wasn't around anymore.Steven West, prosecutor: Did you ask her what she meant by that?Jason Arrant: Oh, yes.West: And what was her response?Arrant: That she thought it would be better if her mother was dead.

The prosecution introduced Jason's e-mails and letters to show he'd do anything to keep his relationship with Rachelle alive. The e-mails —addressed to “Narcissa,” Rachelle's e-mail name -— were sexually graphic. Some were pure fantasy, some talked of getting married. But other correspondence took a darker, conspiratorial tone.

West, reading e-mail:  “I’ll be so glad when this whole thing with your mother is over.” What was that a reference to?

Arrant: The whole thing with plotting to kill her.

And with a letter Rachelle wrote to Jason, the prosecutor tried to demonstrate how Rachelle, heartless and calculating,  fantasized how things might be after her mother's death.

West, reading e-mail:  “I wish I could be with you. It consumes most of my thoughts. I’m actually hoping my dad goes off his rocker and can have reason for emancipation.”

And when it came to the fatal night in question, Jason testified that Rachelle not only told him how to break into the house. But told him the weekend to do it.

Arrant: She mentioned that a good window of opportunity would be coming up, when she would be going up north for volleyball, and when her dad would also be gone from the home.

Jason testified about a call he received from Rachelle the night after her mother's murder.

Arrant: I said, “Well yeah, it's uh, we did it; it's done.” And she asked what happened to the minivan and I said it had been burned, it was completely destroyed. And she expressed disappointment that she wouldn't be inheriting it.

But the most dramatic testimony in the trial came when prosecutor west called to the stand the other killer -- Brian Radel.

Brian Radel: I opened the door and I rushed in. Lauri was laying face down on the bed...

This was the first time Rachelle had heard a description of her mother's death from the killer himself— the story of how he kidnapped her mother, took her to a remote logging road and then slowly killed her.

Radel: I had her kneel; I attempted to break her neck backwards.West: How'd you do that?Radel: By yanking up on the chin and forcing it back.

Rachelle, overwhelmed, bolted from the courtroom and according to witnesses, vomited in the restroom. When she returned, Radel continued...

Radel: She didn't die.West: How could you tell that?Radel: She was still breathing. She said, “Can I ask a question?” I said, “What is it?” and she kept repeating, “Can I ask a question?”

Then, Brian said, Jason spoke to Lauri Waterman.

Radel: I crouched down in front of her and said something along the lines of, “You won't ever f---ing hurt Rachelle again.”

And the prosecution played its trump card, Rachelle's taped interrogations, which they said proved she was involved in the plot.


And -- she knew it might happen that weekend... and did nothing to stop it.

Sgt. McPherron: So Jason says this would be a good weekend.Rachelle: Uh huh. And I was like, “Well, yeah, I suppose.” And I didn't know if it was for sure or not.

According to the prosecution, she had wrapped two young men around her little finger, manipulated them into murder...and then left them holding the bag. But the defense was about to begin... with a very different story.

Steve Wells, defense attorney: As you listen to this evidence, ask yourself: Is Rachelle Waterman an absolutely cold-blooded, psychotic monster? Or is Rachelle Waterman a teenage girl?

From the start, public defender Steve Wells set out to prove Jason Arrant was the one with motive to kill Lauri Waterman... that the man eight years Rachelle's senior took advantage of the vulnerable teen, twisting her dramatic stories of abuse for his own gain.

Wells: There's only really one difference between Rachelle Waterman and every other teenage girl—  Rachelle Waterman had the misfortune to repeat her comments to Jason Arrant.

The defense cast Arrant, the prosecution's key witness, as a deranged child predator who plied Rachelle with alcohol, cigarettes and sex... and then twisted her words, using them as an excuse to get her disapproving mother out of the way.

Wells: Rachelle says "I would be so much better off without my mom." And Jason says, “Well, I can take care of that.”

Defense attorney Wells said Arrant would do anything, including commit murder, to keep his teenage girlfriend. But now seemed willing to do anything to get his ex-lover convicted.

Jason Arrant: She gave us the way to get into the house.Wells: Which was?Jason Arrant: It was through a basement window.

Rachelle's attorney cross-examined Jason Arrant and immediately began attacking his credibility -- beginning with his claim that Rachelle helped plan the killing, that she told him Brian could sneak into the house through a window that she used to sneak out of.

In the end, Brian used a different window than the one Rachelle used to sneak out of the house. The defense argued that the Watermans kept a key outside by the back door. If Rachelle had been in on the plot, wouldn't she have just told Brian about that key?

The key, the defense argued, would have easily opened any door in the house.

Wells: If she wanted her mom dead, wouldn't it have been easier if she gave you a key?Arrant: It would have been easier, yes.

And the defense questioned Jason's motive for implicating Rachelle, saying he'd gotten a "sweet deal," a plea agreement that would cut his prison time in half in exchange for testifying against Rachelle.

Wells: This deal actually salvages your life, doesn't it?Arrant: Yes, it does.

Defense attorney Wells claimed Arrant duped his best friend Brian Radel, convinced him Rachelle wanted her mother dead. Radel said all the talk of murder was coming only from Arrant.

Wells: Did Rachelle Waterman ever ask you to kill her mother?Radel: No.Wells: Did Rachelle Waterman ever tell you, “I want my mom dead?”Radel: No.Wells: Did she ever come to you and say, “Let's figure out plans to get rid of my mom?”Radel: No.

The defense then tried to explain Rachelle's seeming lack of concern as the plot to kill her mother grew.

Dr. Marty Beyer, clinical psychologist: She thought that crying on Jason's shoulder about her mother was nothing more than venting.

Wells called clinical psychologist Marty Beyer to the stand. She explained how Rachelle may not have fully appreciated the consequences of her actions -- her venting her problems about her mother to her boyfriend -- because teenagers use a different part of the brain than adults for decision-making, judgment and impulse control.

Dr. Beyer: They can't think like an adult because they don't have an adult brain.

And, the defense took on what looked like the most damning evidence:  Rachelle's taped confession. The defense had already tried to suppress her confession, saying it had been coerced. But the judge allowed the confession to be admitted as evidence.

So defense attorney Wells attacked the officers' methods, challenging sergeant Randy McPherron, one of the Alaska state troopers who interrogated Rachelle.

Wells: You have in mind what you want her to say. Sgt. Randy McPherron: No -- I want her to --Wells: A certain set of facts.Sgt. McPherron: I want her to tell me the truth. Wells: You want her to say a certain set of facts, don't you?Sgt. McPherron: No, I’m not pre-arranging anything; all I want her is to tell me the truth.

Defense attorney Wells asked, “If all they wanted was the truth, why did they ignore Rachelle when she said in the interrogation 19 times she told the killers she didn't want the murder to happen?”

Rachelle (tape): I told them not to do it!

But the officers just kept pressing and wells claimed, in the end, Rachelle -- exhausted and  alone -- outwitted by older trained interrogators -- gave a false confession.

Rachelle: Does it look like I’m gonna go to jail?Wells: The only way that she could see to get that door to open was to tell them what they wanted to hear.

In closing, the defense said Rachelle never wanted her mother to die and it read from a letter written to Rachelle by her mother: a letter Rachelle kept in her nightstand:

"I want us to be close and you be able to tell us things or just talk about nothing or anything. I wish you understood how much you're loved..."

Rachelle Waterman faced up to 99 years in prison if convicted in her mother's murder. 

After a two week trial, Rachelle's fate would be determined by the jury's answer to the question: was she a calculating killer who orchestrated her own mother's death... or a naive teen who never wanted her mother to die -- but was manipulated by her older lover.

Mike Schwab, juror: Too many pieces fit together like, you know, a jigsaw puzzle here and there.  You can start to see what the picture looks like even though there's a piece missin' here, a piece missin' there, a piece missin' there.

So jurors picked apart each piece, each tale that was told, beginning with who they thought was most responsible for the murder -- Rachelle or her one-time boyfriends Jason Arrant and Brian Radel. On this, they seemed to agree.

Kelly Demars, juror: Jason.Dan Reierson, juror: Jason.Andrea Jones, juror: Jason.Larson: Jason? Almost everybody?Schwab: All equally. They didn't just pick Lauri Waterman out of the phonebook. I mean, come on.Larson: And Jason's motive was?Kelly Demars, juror: Rachelle. Get mom out of the way so he could be with Rachelle.

And when it came to Jason, who testified that Rachelle sought his protection from an allegedly abusive mother, jurors agreed on one thing: the confessed killer would say anything to get Rachelle's mother out of the way.

Larson: Did you wind up thinking he's the great manipulator here?Demars: Yes.Larson: He's the liar.Demars: Oh, yeah.Larson: And he's pulling strings both ways, both with Brian and with Rachelle.Demars: Yes.

A for Brian, who says he went along with Jason's plan without even asking Rachelle if - in fact - she wanted her mother murdered...

Larson: So Brian, you believe, really was just being played. He's like the biggest sucker of all time.Demars: Totally.

And what about those stories, Rachelle's dramatic descriptions of abuse?

Larson: Did you guys believe at all that Lauri Waterman was hitting her with baseball bats and--

Mike Schwab: No.Larson: Attempting to kill her and maybe sell her into prostitution?Kelly Demars: No.Mike Schwab: Absolutely not.Larson: So are we to believe that Rachelle is like, some sort of compulsive liar?Kelly Demars: Oh yeah. I would believe that.

The jurors struggled over the significance of the interrogation video, sorting through all those conflicting stories Rachelle told. Some felt it was the strongest piece of evidence against her.

Curtis Blackwell, juror: Well, it was the most damning evidence they had. Up until then, I was like, “Man, where are we going with this?” “Cuz I wasn't seeing anything until then.”

Larson: Guys in the back? What'd you think about the confession?Schwab: Clinched it for me. (Laughter) What can I say? She admitted it.

But several jurors bought the defense argument that Rachelle's confession was coerced, that she was broken down by seasoned officers.

Demars: They didn't give her any room to talk.Jones: For a 15-year-old who's scared out of her mind, they're professionals. They know how to get people to talk.  And I mean if she said, “Yes, I did it.” I don't even know if I would put a lot of weight on it just because through the whole thing she stuck with "no."

The jury all agreed Rachelle had been involved, but to what degree? They would struggle with that very question for five days. And then, they would hand the judge a message no one wanted to hear.

The jury had deadlocked -- 10 votes in favor of acquittal, two in favor of a guilty verdict.

Larson: So you guys were the two guys holding out on guilty.Mark Kasberg, juror: Yeah. I think there's people saying "guilty," but they had the reasonable doubt in their minds.Larson: Yeah.Kasberg: I think a lot of people were there. The word “innocent” didn't come up very often.Schwab: No.

Most of the jury was convinced Rachelle's tales of abuse had triggered the killing, and that she even knew her two friends were plotting murder, but weren't sure there was anything more to it than that. The foreman voted not guilty. And yet...

Dan Reierson: I felt she was definitely involved.Larson: Involved how?Reierson: Involved in the fact that she probably at one point did say, “I want my mom dead.” But you know, “I’ve heard my own sister say, “I want my mom dead.”

Some of the jurors cried as the deadlock was announced, frustrated they weren't able to reach a verdict.

Jones: I still feel that she did not intend for her mother to die. And I didn't feel complete. I didn't feel like we finished it.Larson: Hadn't finished your job.Jones: Yeah.Demars: I felt a little bit like I let Rachelle down. We let Rachelle down.Blackwell: You know, I felt defeated. I don't think any of us would have felt good about totally letting her go.

It would likely mean there would be a re-trial. In the meantime, Rachelle was sent back to prison— but not for long.

17-year-old Rachelle Waterman had learned a jury could not agree on her guilt or innocence in the murder of her mother... and had been sitting in prison wondering what would happen next.

Judge Patricia Collins: I have concluded that that testimony, should this case proceed yet again to trial, is inadmissible.

In a blow to the prosecution, the same judge who allowed Rachelle's videotaped confession to be used in court  threw it out, saying she now believed the confession had been coerced.

Judge Patricia Collins: The indictment must also be dismissed.

The judge then threw out the indictment as well, which meant there were no longer any charges pending against Rachelle. Rachelle and her father were overwhelmed.

And so Rachelle was released from jail to her father's open arms. But even the Watermans' best friends say they doubt Rachelle will ever be welcome back in Craig, Alaska, the small village where so many loved her mother.

Don Pierce, friend of the Waterman family: Even if she had been acquitted in the trial, just outright, homes where she'd been allowed to go in and parents would have welcomed her, she wouldn't be allowed in to.

And Rachelle would find the same to be true in her own family.

Don Martelli, Sr.: If she'd own up to it, say, “I’m very, very sorry this happened, should never have happened,” I’d feel a lot better about it.

Rachelle's family found some comfort in one part of Rachelle's interrogation, played at trial, in which the teenager, without emotion, finally admitted she had exaggerated her stories of abuse -- those horrible stories that had set the murder in motion.

Sgt. Randy McPherron (interrogation video): A little exaggeration there and a little overacting there - here, can have some dire consequences, right?(Rachelle nods)

But with no verdict, the family's wounds remain open... and their questions remain about Rachelle's involvement.

Dina Keyt, Rachelle’s aunt: I wanna think the best because I love her and she's my niece and she's still dear to me.

Rachelle's grandfather and uncle are not as forgiving.

Don Martelli, Sr.: Far as she's concerned, it's gone and forgotten.  But it's not gone and forgotten with us.Don Martelli, Jr.: I’m pretty bitter about it and I don't know if I can forgive her.

Rachelle's brother Geoffrey still has questions, but has never discussed their mother's murder with Rachelle.

Larson: Do you feel like Rachelle loved your mom?Geoffrey Waterman, Rachelle’s brother: That is a tough question. I don't think I can answer that.Larson: What do you think your mom would want you to do with regards to your sister?Geoffrey Waterman: Love her. Always.Jason Arrant: What I did was a horrible thing, and I won't dispute that by pretending to be innocent.

Jason Arrant pled guilty to first degree murder; all other charges against him were dropped. He was sentenced to 50 years in that plea deal to testify against Rachelle.

As for Brian Radel, he has a lot of time to think. Although the other charges against him were dropped, he plead guilty to first degree murder and is now sitting in a prison in Alaska, serving a 99-year sentence for Lauri Waterman's murder.

Larson: Have you ever really sat and thought on how terrified she must have been that night?Brian Radel: I think about it every night.Larson: To this day, do you think Rachelle was in danger for her life?Radel: No, I don't think so.Larson: Did you still love Rachelle?Radel: I still do.Larson: You still do?Radel: Yeah, I personally think she's a good person. I don’t think she wanted her mom killed.Larson: That was a hell of a mistake.Radel: Yeah.

The prosecution has appealed the judge's decision to throw out Rachelle Waterman's confession, and the indictment. If the decision is overturned, a grand jury will have to determine whether new charges should be handed down.