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FBI: Sherry Arnold's remains found near Williston

Remains of a body believed to be that of Sherry Arnold, the teacher kidnapped Jan. 7 from a street in Sidney, Mont., were recovered Wednesday near Williston, N.D., according to the FBI.

Sherry Arnold

Remains of a body believed to be that of Sherry Arnold, the teacher kidnapped Jan. 7 from a street in Sidney, Mont., were recovered Wednesday near Williston, N.D., according to the FBI.

Agents, along with local and state law enforcement began the recovery work Tuesday and were done early the next morning. The FBI said in a news release that certain identification weren't complete, but it believes the remains to be Arnold's.

Because the kidnapping would've involved the crossing of a state line, federal charges could be filed against the two suspects now in custody, Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, and Michael Spell, 22, both of Parachute, Colo.

Mike Weber, the Richland County attorney in Sidney who is prosecuting the case, told the Herald Wednesday it's up to federal officials whether they bring charges. "It is my intention now to continue with the prosecution of Waters and Spell."

Weber last month charged each man with aggravated kidnapping, which carries a possible death penalty under Montana law.


He needs to decide by April 28 whether he will seek the death penalty against both or either of the men, he said.

The U.S. attorney in Montana declined comment Wednesday on whether he would bring federal charges against the two men.

When, where

Waters and Spell are in jail in Sidney under $2.5 million bond, awaiting a trial date scheduled for July; they have pleaded not guilty.

The two had just arrived in the Sidney area on Jan. 7, looking for jobs in the Oil Patch. Arnold, who once taught in Tioga, N.D., and Minot before returning home to Sidney, disappeared that day after going for an early morning run. Waters and Spell were arrested six days later, the former in Williston and the latter in Rapid City, S.D.

According to a court complaint, Spell told investigators that the two had driven from Colorado, high on drugs. In Sidney, he said, they'd grabbed Arnold off the street and Waters choked her to death in his SUV. Later that day, they drove to the Williston area and left her body at a rural farm site with a row of old or dead trees. They bought a shovel at WalMart in Williston, then returned to bury her body.

But searches for the location were fruitless and Spell himself, despite several attempts, was not able to lead investigators to it.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that authorities said the remains had been buried.


More charges?

If the remains prove to be Arnold's, more Montana charges may await Waters and Spell, Weber said.

Under Montana law, anyone guilty of "deliberate homicide" -- purposefully or knowingly causing someone's death -- or causing the death of a person while committing certain other crimes, including sexual assault or aggravated kidnapping, can be sentenced to death.

It's possible charges could be brought in North Dakota against the two men if Marlyce Wilder, the Williams County state's attorney in Williston, determines there is evidence of a crime committed in the burying of the body or of Arnold's death occurring in the state.

Kidnapping charges generally require that the victim was alive when the alleged crime began.

Going it alone

The decision on whether to bring federal charges in such a case often is a cooperative one made between local and federal officials, according to law enforcement sources. Local prosecutors often welcome federal officials taking jurisdiction of such a case because they typically have greater resources.

Weber, however, on Wednesday gave no indication he would pause in his prosecution.


He said he hired additional temporary employees to help him with the case, especially in "the production of discovery" materials, which can involve reams of information used to build a case. "There was enough money in my budget to do that."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com .

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