By Scott North Herald Writer
EVERETT — One of the men serving a life sentence for the 2002 murder of Rachel Burkheimer has convinced the state Court of Appeals he should receive a new trial.
The courtroom in John Alan Whitaker’s aggravated murder trial was temporarily closed to spectators while six prospective jurors were individually questioned about their fitness to hear evidence in the case. In keeping with case law decided since Whitaker’s 2004 conviction, he is entitled to a new trial, appellate justices ruled on Monday.
Whitaker, now 30, is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe.
He’s going nowhere, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Kathy Webber said.
Prosecutors intend to appeal Monday’s decision to the state Supreme Court. If unsuccessful, they will move to retry Whitaker.
Burkheimer was 18 when she was lured to an Everett home on Sept. 23, 2002. She was bound, beaten and brutalized for hours, then hauled in a hockey bag to the Cascade Range foothills. Once there, she was fatally shot and buried.
Whitaker was one of eight people charged and convicted in connection with Burkheimer’s death. Jurors convicted him of aggravated first-degree murder, a crime that carries a life sentence, and conspiracy to commit murder.
Evidence in the case showed Burkheimer was killed after intense jealousy by an ex-boyfriend morphed into a paranoid fantasy that she somehow posed a threat to a budding street gang that called itself the Northwest Mafia.
Burkheimer was shot by John Phillip Anderson, her former boyfriend, and a leader of the group. He also got a life prison term. Yusef “Kevin” Jihad of Everett got a 37-year term.
Whitaker testified that he participated in Burkheimer’s abduction and assisted in digging her grave. In 2006, he mounted an unsuccessful appeal, arguing that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Snohomish County due to pretrial news coverage. His new appeal came after the state Supreme Court ruled in a separate murder case that a new trial was necessary in a case where some prospective jurors were questioned behind closed doors.
The evidence against Whitaker remains unchanged, Webber said. The case against him hinged on his being an accomplice to Anderson and others.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org.