Prosecutors to seek death penalty for 2 men allegedly involved in killing Montana teacher Sherry Arnold
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Prosecutors filed murder charges Friday and said they intend to seek the death penalty against two men accused of kidnapping a Montana teacher whose body was buried in a shallow grave discovered after two months of searching.
Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, are accused of grabbing Sherry Arnold off a street in Sidney, Mont., as she was on a morning run Jan. 7.
Waters and Spell, two men from Parachute, Colo., who had arrived looking for work in oil fields, were arrested about a week after Arnold's disappearance and originally charged with aggravated kidnapping. An amended complaint filed by Richland County prosecutor Mike Weber on Friday charges each with one count of deliberate homicide and one count of attempted kidnapping.
An affidavit filed in the case includes an alleged jailhouse confession by Spell that he choked Arnold and then held her face underwater to make sure she was dead.
Prosecutors allege that Spell told another inmate he and Waters were high on drugs at the time and suggested the kidnapping came about because "Waters wanted to have sex."
Previous court documents included claims by Spell that Waters had choked the victim.
Arnold's body was not found until late March. Court documents filed Friday indicate it was Waters who led them to her gravesite.
Arnold was a popular veteran math teacher at Sidney High School, where her husband, Gary, also worked and her two children attended school. She grew up on a ranch outside Sidney, a city of 5,000 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers that's been drastically changed by a recent oil boom.
Arnold's kidnapping has raised concerns among Sidney residents about the changes overtaking their community with the influx of thousands of oil field workers. Concealed weapons permit applications have been soaring, authorities say, and residents of the close-knit town say they are now more suspicious of strangers.
Still, community leaders -- and Arnold's parents -- have insisted the oil industry itself is not to blame for the killing.
Spell's father, Harry, has told The Associated Press that his son had travelled with Waters to the booming Bakken oil fields of Montana and North Dakota after Waters guaranteed work paying up to $2,000 a week working. Harry Spell said his son was anxious to prove himself to his parents and girlfriend Angel Cruz, with whom he has a 1-year-old son.
Michael Spell had found past work in the oil fields near Parachute and on a fire damage cleanup crew but was unable to keep the jobs "because he didn't quite understand what to do," Harry Spell said. Harry Spell has said his son has an education less than a kindergartner.
Spell said in a February court appearance that he was illiterate and that his court-appointed attorneys had to read him the documents in which he was charged with kidnapping.
Waters is originally from Florida, where he has a lengthy criminal background and served time in state prison. Spell's relatives say the younger man fell under Waters' influence after the older man helped Spell and some of his associates get work as roofers.