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APNewsBreak: Court documents say Montana kidnapping victim choked to death, buried
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) ' An affidavit filed Friday in the kidnapping of a Montana school teacher says she was choked to death and authorities believe she is buried on a North Dakota farmstead.
Lester Waters, 47, and Michael Spell, 22, are scheduled to appear in Montana district court Feb. 28 on charges of aggravated kidnapping. They are being held on $2.5 million bail each.
Few details in the case had been revealed prior to the filing Friday, except that Sherry Arnold was last seen leaving home for a run at about 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 7. She is presumed dead although her body has not been found.
The alleged kidnapping took place just blocks from Arnold's house, at a spot where investigators later recovered one of her running shoes.
The FBI has been heavily involved in the investigation but no federal charges have been filed. For that to happen, authorities would have to prove Spell and Waters crossed state lines during the alleged crime ' a difficult task given that Arnold's body has not been found.
Property owners in parts of rural eastern Montana and western North Dakota have been asked to look for disturbed soil or other indications of a makeshift gravesite in agricultural areas.
Williams County, N.D. Sheriff Scott Busching said Friday that multiple leads have come in as a result of that request, but with so far none have panned out.
"We've checked a lot of spots but we haven't found anything yet," Busching said.
Aggravated kidnapping carries a potential death penalty in Montana unless the victim is released unharmed. The minimum sentence is two years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Spell and Waters are being represented by the state Public Defender's Office.
They most recently lived in Parachute, Colo., and it's unclear what brought the pair to Montana. Like the Parachute area, the landscape around Sidney has seen extensive oil and gas drilling in recent years, drawing thousands of workers to eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Waters has an extensive criminal background in Florida, where he lived before leaving sometime after his most recent release from prison in August, 2010.
Beginning in the late 1980s, he had several stints in jail in Indian River County, Fla., and served three state prison sentences between 2002 and 2010. 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.
Spell has prior arrests in Colorado on charges of drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, sexual contact without consent, careless driving and driving without a license. Charges filed against Spell in a pair of 2007 arrests were later dropped, although it was unclear on what grounds.
The most recent charges came in 2009 after Colorado authorities said Spell asked a middle-school student to text other students and ask them if they wanted to buy marijuana.
He was scheduled to be arraigned in that case in January. But Spell was given permission by a judge to leave Colorado two days before Arnold disappeared, after claiming his brother had been in a car accident in Texas