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Mont. teacher's body likely found in North Dakota

Authorities believe body found in North Dakota is missing Montana school teacher By The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) ' Authorities said Wednesday they found a body outside Williston, N.D., believed to be that of a missing teacher allegedly snatched from a Sidney, Mont., during a morning run more than two months ago.

The body ' believed to be 43-year-old Sherry Arnold ' was being sent to the Montana state medical lab in Missoula for further identification, said Sidney Assistant Police Chief Robert Burnison.

Authorities told The Associated Press the body had been buried. That matches up with the alleged confession of one of two men charged in the case.

The recovery effort started Tuesday in western North Dakota about 50 miles from Sidney, and the body was removed early Wednesday morning, authorities said.

It's not clear what led authorities to that location.

The discovery of the remains across state lines from where the alleged kidnapping occurred means federal charges could be filed against the two suspects in the case

Michael Keith Spell, 22, and Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, both of Parachute, Colo., have been charged in state court and were being held on $2.5 million bail each.

Arnold was a popular veteran math teacher at Sidney High School, where her husband, Gary, also worked and her two children attended school. She grew up on a ranch outside Sidney, a city of 5,000 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers that's been drastically changed by a recent oil boom.

Arnold's father, Ron Whited, said he met with authorities Wednesday afternoon about the possible recovery of her body. "Whatever there is to say, the law enforcement and FBI have to say it," he said.

Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser said that if authorities confirm it's Arnold's body, it would provide "the closure that we needed" after the search for Arnold dragged on since her Jan. 7 disappearance. Hundreds of volunteers combed the city and surrounding areas when Arnold first went missing.

"It's been tough for the family and the community," Smelser said. "Hopefully the family will have some final closure and be able to put the body to rest."

FBI spokeswoman Deborah Bertram said no further details would be immediately released regarding where Arnold's body was found or whether any other evidence was present.

Spell and Waters pleaded not guilty last month to one count each of aggravated kidnapping during an arraignment in state district court in Sidney. The charge carries a potential death penalty in Montana if the victim is not released unharmed.

A similar federal charge could also carry a death penalty upon conviction.

U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter said Wednesday he could not comment on whether the case would change jurisdictions.

Court documents filed by the prosecutor in the case indicate Spell has confessed to his role in what an affidavit described as the crack-fueled abduction and killing of Arnold. Authorities have said Spell attempted to take FBI agents to the site but he could not find it.

Arnold was grabbed from along Sidney street ' apparently at random ' while she was jogging near her home. Spell told investigators he pulled her into a car and Waters choked her to death by before they buried her in a shallow grave on a farmstead near Williston.

Farmers and other property owners were alerted by the FBI to be on the lookout for stirred up plots of ground or grass that might conceal a grave. Authorities have said the alert drew multiple leads, but none panned out until this week.

Dennis Stomme, who raises crops and cattle 25 miles north of Williston, said he and his neighbors had been on the lookout for unusual ground disturbance.

"It's been traumatic," he said of Arnold's murder. "You don't think of that kind of thing happening around here, but it appears some people are changing their habits now."

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said the city had been asked by the FBI to scour the city landfill for Arnold's body or clothing remains. City employees spent several days sifting through the landfill, costing Williston about $10,000 on overtime, but nothing was found, he said.

Arnold's kidnapping has raised concerns among Sidney residents about the changes over-taking their community with the influx of thousands of oil field workers. Concealed weapons permit applications have been soaring, authorities say, and residents of the close-knit town say they are now more suspicious of strangers.

Still, community leaders ' and Arnold's parents ' have insisted the oil industry itself is not to blame for the killing.

Spell's father, Harry, has told the AP that his son had travelled with Waters to the booming Bakken oil fields of Montana and North Dakota after Waters guaranteed work paying up to $2,000 a week working. Harry Spell said his son was anxious to prove himself to his parents and girlfriend Angel Cruz, with whom he has a 1-year-old son.

Michael Spell had found past work in the oil fields near Parachute and on a fire damage cleanup crew but was unable to keep the jobs "because he didn't quite understand what to do," Harry Spell said. Harry Spell has said his son has an education less than a kindergartner.

Spell said in a court appearance that he was illiterate, and that his court-appointed attorneys had to read him the documents in which he was charged with kidnapping.

Waters is originally from Florida, where he has a lengthy criminal background and served time in state prison. Spell's relatives say the younger man fell under Waters' influence after the older man helped Spell and some of his associates get work as roofers.

Attorneys for Spell and Waters did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

State District Judge Katherine Irigoin set separate trial dates for the two men beginning in July. The case earlier this month was transferred to Dawson County Judge Richard Simonton at Irigoin's request.


Associated Press writers Matt Volz in Pablo, Mont., and James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this report.

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Related Keywords:Missing Montana Teacher,Kidnapping,Crime,Legal proceedings,Municipal governments,General news,Courts,Judiciary,Government and politics,State governments,Law and order,Local governments


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