Mont. authorities seek extradition in kidnapping

January 18, 2012 - 7:15 PM
Missing Montana Teacher

Lester Vann Waters, 47, enters a Williams County courtroom Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 for a preliminary extradition hearing in Williston, N.D. He and 22-year-old Michael Keith Spell are charged in Montana with aggravated kidnapping, a felony charge that carries the death penalty in that state, in connection with the Jan. 7 disappearance of teacher Sherry Arnold of Sidney. (AP Photo/Williston Herald, Daniel Woods)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — With Sherry Arnold's body still missing and no indication of a possible motive in the case, authorities on Wednesday started extradition procedures against two men held in North Dakota in the kidnapping of the Montana teacher now presumed dead.

Richland County Attorney Mike Weber said he expects a hearing within the next 30 days on whether to extradite 47-year-old Lester Vann Waters Jr. and 22-year-old Michael Keith Spell. The two requested the hearing in an initial court appearance Tuesday in Williston, N.D.

They face aggravated kidnapping charges in Montana stemming from the Jan. 7 disappearance of Arnold, a 43-year-old Sidney High School algebra teacher who left her house for a morning run and never returned.

Eleven days later, authorities still have not revealed why Arnold is presumed dead or what led to the arrest of Waters and Spell. There has been speculation the two men were in the area to find work in the booming oil fields of western North Dakota and eastern Montana, but even that remains uncorroborated.

Underscoring the unresolved nature of the case, the Williams County, N.D., sheriff's office said Wednesday that property owners should continue looking for disturbed soil or matted grass as possible signs of where Arnold's body might be buried.

The request covered far northeastern Montana and the North Dakota counties of Williams, McKenzie, Mountrail and southern Divide.

Complaints against Spell and Waters filed in Sidney City Court allege that the two "restrained Sherry Arnold by either secreting or holding her in a place of isolation or by using or threatening to use physical force, with the purpose to inflict bodily injury or to terrorize her."

Court documents allege the kidnapping occurred in approximately the same place where one of Arnold's running shoes was found on the day she died, about 10 minutes after she left her house to go running.

The extradition is being prosecuted by the North Dakota state's attorney in Williston. Questions to the state's attorney office were referred to the FBI, which has been assisting in the investigation. The FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Weber said that if the extradition process drags on too long or is somehow derailed, authorities could ask Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to intervene and request the men's transfer through North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

No federal charges have been filed in the case. For that to happen, authorities first would have to determine Arnold was taken across state lines during the kidnapping.

Both suspects have been identified as residents of Parachute, Colo. — like Sidney, a town with major oil and gas development.

Waters is originally from Florida, where he worked in construction and had an extensive criminal record.

A former roommate and coworker of the suspect in Florida said Waters had worked in construction and roofing before leaving the state more than a year ago.

Kenneth Forbes of Sebastian, Fla., said Waters "worked hard and partied hard" — and had regular run-ins with local law enforcement. Forbes said he never knew Waters to be violent, but acknowledged it's been seven years since he last saw him in person.

"We made money and he partied real hard. That was his main goal — and girls," Forbes said. "I know that he was wild and I know that we partied a hell of a lot in our years. But there was never any violence in it. ... I'm not defending him or accusing him. I'm just saying that's how he was."

Waters was arrested more than a dozen times in Florida between 1986 and 2008, according to records obtained Wednesday from the Indian River County Sheriff's Office.

Charges against him included possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, sale of cocaine, petty theft, burglary, failure to pay child support, contempt of court, resisting an officer and multiple counts of driving with a suspended license.

Waters had several stints in jail in Indian River County and was incarcerated three times by the Florida Department of Corrections: from September 2002 to December 2003; August 2007 to March 2008; and March 2009 to August 2010.

In an application for a public defender filed in Williams County, N.D., Waters listed his home address as Parachute, Colo., where court records also show he had a driver's license. He listed two children, ages 5 and 15, and said he was not married.

Waters stated in his application he was prevented from hiring a private lawyer because he had "no money."

Spell has at least two prior arrests in Colorado from 2007, on charges of drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, sexual contact without consent and, in a separate case, careless driving and driving without a license. Both cases were later dropped, although it was unclear on what grounds.

Spell's application for a public defender suggests he is married with a 1-year-old son. He also stated he has no money.