By Jim Haley / Herald Writer
A jury Monday convicted John Alan Whitaker of aggravated first-degree murder in the Sept. 23, 2002, shooting death of Rachel Burkheimer, 18, of Marysville.
He’s the last to be held accountable of the seven men and one boy involved in the murder.
The verdict means Whitaker, 23, of Everett will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. Whitaker was one of four men who drove Burkheimer to a remote area east of Gold Bar where they dug a grave, and one of them shot her multiple times.
Her former boyfriend, John Phillip “Diggy” Anderson, 22, of Everett, also was convicted of aggravated murder and was sentenced to life without release.
“To have this jury return this verdict was the right thing,” said Bill Burkheimer, the victim’s father. “This was justice for the community, not just Rachel.”
Rachel Burkheimer’s mother, Denise Webber, said she wasn’t surprised by the verdict, just relieved that the third trial since March also ended in conviction.
“It’s like this weight is lifted, that we don’t have to go through another trial,” she said. “It was like a marathon – back to back to back.”
A Snohomish County Superior Court jury heard 12 days of testimony and argument before retiring to deliberate Thursday afternoon. It spent about 13 hours over three days arriving at a guilty verdict on all items that deputy prosecutor Michael Downes sought.
The aggravating circumstances were kidnapping and robbery, the jury found. Whitaker also was found guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Downes and deputy prosecutor Julie Mohr have been involved in the case since the outset, taking guilty pleas from five defendants and presenting evidence to three juries.
“I’m very happy to be done with the entire set of trials,” Downes said. “We’re thrilled for the Burkheimer family that, with the exception of some sentencings, they don’t have to go through any more of this. Personally, after close to two years, I can’t say how happy I am to be finished with these cases.”
Defense attorney John Muenster of Seattle was disappointed by the outcome, and he intends to ask Judge Linda Krese to grant a new trial. A hearing on that is set for July 15, and Whitaker’s sentencing is scheduled for July 22.
Muenster said the prosecution accused Whitaker of premeditated murder, and Krese should not have let the jury consider that he was an accomplice to Anderson, who pulled the trigger. He also said there’s a question whether Whitaker intended to have Rachel Burkheimer killed.
Downes said he’s not concerned about Muenster’s new trial motion.
“Judge Krese made sound legal rulings through the course of the entire trial, and I’m not even remotely worried about a motion for a new trial,” Downes said.
Prosecutors produced evidence that Whitaker accompanied Anderson, helped dig a grave and destroyed evidence.
Matthew Andreas Durham, 19, and Maurice Carlos Rivas, 20, both of Lynnwood, have pleaded guilty to murder. Jeffrey Scott Barth, 23, and Tony Williams, 21, both of Everett, pleaded guilty to kidnapping. All four testified, but none has been sentenced.
Downes said he will try to have as many of the defendants as possible sentenced at the same time as Whitaker to reduce the number of hearings for Rachel Burkheimer’s family.
Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.