State vs. John Whitaker

Here is what occurred Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court in the trial of John Alan Whitaker, 23, the final person facing murder charges in the death of Rachel Burkheimer.

Action: The prosecution and defense made their closing arguments. The jury started deliberating for about an hour. They are scheduled to resume this morning.

Prosecution: Whitaker didn’t fire the gun that killed Burkheimer, but he’s guilty of aggravated murder and conspiracy because he admits playing a role in her abduction and helping to dig her grave, deputy prosecutor Michael Downes said.

Whitaker was both an accomplice and participant in the killing, in spite of his testimony that he acted out of fear and didn’t know the fate awaiting Burkheimer, the prosecutor said.

Under state law, fear that you will be harmed is not a defense to a murder charge, Downes told jurors. He also questioned the logic of Whitaker’s claim that he didn’t know a murder was planned when the victim was tied up nearby and he was developing blisters on his hands digging a grave-sized hole.

“What reasonable person would not have known?” Downes asked. “And if he knew and if he helped, he is guilty.”

Defense: Whitaker didn’t kill Burkheimer, and there is no credible evidence her death was part of a conspiracy involving the Everett man, defense attorney John Muenster told jurors. Muenster said prosecutors were attempting to convict Whitaker of a murder that occurred in his client’s presence and over his objections.

“Call him weak. Call him cowardly. Call him a number of things. But one thing that he is not is a murderer,” Muenster said.

Muenster urged jurors to pay careful attention to the court’s instructions for legally determining when someone has premeditated a murder. He also argued that a careful interpretation of the law would require jurors to find Whitaker innocent of Burkheimer’s murder simply because he participated in her abduction and helped dig her grave.

“He wasn’t carrying a gun. He didn’t have criminal intent. And he wasn’t an accomplice,” Muenster said.

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