Murder accomplice’s bid for a new trial is denied

An Everett man was rebuffed Thursday in his bid to convince a Snohomish County judge that he should receive a new trial for his role in the Rachel Burkheimer murder.

John Alan Whitaker, 23, now moves to sentencing, scheduled for July 22. State law mandates just one outcome: life in prison without possibility of release.

Whitaker was convicted June 21 of aggravated murder for the part he played in Burkheimer’s death.

His attorney, John Muenster, on Thursday told Judge Linda Krese that the trial was flawed because jurors were given ambiguous instructions about how to legally interpret his client’s role.

Burkheimer, 18, of Marysville, was shot by John Anderson, of Everett. Anderson was her former boyfriend and a leader in a gang that called itself the Northwest Mafia.

Whitaker belonged to the gang, which came to perceive Burkheimer as 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.

Muenster said jurors reached a verdict that ignored the evidence and allowed prosecutors to inflate his client’s responsibility for the death. He conceded, however, that he’d made many of the same arguments during the trial, and that the judge had ruled against him.

“If you let this get by, you are letting them (prosecutors) get an aggravated murder conviction in a felony murder case,” he said.

Deputy prosecutor Julie Mohr characterized as “ridiculous” Muenster’s assertion that Whitaker could only be considered an accomplice to Burkheimer’s aggravated murder if he had simultaneously shot her, but not fired the fatal bullets.

Krese said she believed the evidence could support the jury’s verdict. Jurors heard testimony that Whitaker knew Anderson intended to kill Burkheimer, even if he didn’t necessarily share that plan. Further, Krese said, Whitaker participated in Burkheimer’s kidnapping and was present when she was stripped of her clothing and jewelry, an act designed to “further humiliate and control Ms. Burkheimer in the final moments of her life.”

Including Whitaker, five defendants in the Burkheimer case are scheduled for sentencing before the end of the month.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or north@heraldnet.com.

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