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Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2006, 12:01 a.m.

Panel rejects new trial for murder defendant

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A man who participated in the kidnapping and shooting death of Rachel Burkheimer in 2002 will not get a new trial, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.


John Alan Whitaker, who was 23 when he was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison without the possibility of release, failed to convince a three-judge panel that his Snohomish County Superior Court trial had been tainted.


One of his main arguments was that he should have been tried in another county because of heavy publicity surrounding the death of the 18-year-old Marysville woman.


"Whitaker had a fair trial, and we affirm his conviction and sentence," Judge Mary Kay Becker wrote.


Judges Ann Schindler and Marlin Appelwick concurred.


Whitaker also challenged his conviction on grounds that he was not properly advised of his rights before he gave an incriminating statement to police, and that the trial court improperly let the jury hear an incriminating out-of-court statement by a co-defendant.


Whitaker was one of eight people charged and convicted of a series of crimes in connection with Burkheimer's death. He was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, a crime that carries a life sentence, and conspiracy to commit murder.


John Phillip Anderson, 22, of Everett also got a life prison term. Yusef "Kevin" Jihad of Everett got a 37-year term.


Whitaker argued that it would have been impossible to seat an impartial jury in Snohomish County because of inflammatory news coverage before the trial. Among other things, he accused prosecutors and police of releasing information designed to arouse passions.


The appeals court panel, however, said Whitaker "has not shown that any such statements or interviews were inflammatory rather than informational."


It also found that the bulk of the news stories and editorials about the case were informational and not inflammatory.


Burkheimer was shot by Anderson, her former boyfriend and a leader in a gang that called itself the Northwest Mafia.


Whitaker belonged to the gang, which came to believe that Burkheimer was a threat. He testified that he participated in her Sept. 23, 2002, abduction and assisted in digging her grave.


The case against Whitaker hinged on his being an accomplice to Anderson and others in the gang.


Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or haley@heraldnet.com.

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