South Dakota man to plead guilty to lying to FBI, covering up nephew's killing

RAPID CITY, S.D. — An Allen man is expected to plead guilty Friday after being accused of lying and helping cover up the 2017 alleged murder of his nephew, who was found dead from an apparent ax attack in his burnt house.

Nathaniel Waters is scheduled to plead guilty at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at the federal courthouse in Rapid City to making a false statement to an FBI agent by saying he was sleeping in his Allen home when a fire broke out, court records show. In exchange, the U.S. Attorney's Office will drop his charge of being an accessory after the fact for helping the juvenile accused of killing Raymond (Ray) Waters Jr., his 24-year-old nephew, avoid punishment.

While the crime of making a false statement carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office has agreed to ask for time served, the plea deal said. Waters has been detained at the Pennington County Jail since Jan. 23, 2018, according to the jail's website.

After law enforcement officers responded to a fire around 6 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2017, Waters told them that he woke up to the smell of the smoke and jumped out his bedroom window, according to a factual basis document signed by Waters. He said he tried to wake up Ray by banging on the outside of the room he was sleeping in. Ray was later found "charred" inside the home.

An agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who investigated the fire found that the blaze wasn't an accident and began in the living room, where Ray was found, the document said. After conducting an autopsy, a forensic pathologist found Ray was dead before the fire and there was no soot inside his lungs.

The pathologist found Ray had skull fractures and cuts to his neck that were likely caused by an ax, the document says. A day after the fire, Waters called the owner of a stolen truck that crashed near his home and asked if he found and removed a green ax. The owner did find a bloody ax that his son had removed, and a test later revealed that the blood belonged to Ray.

In a November 2018 interview, the document says, Waters repeated his original story about waking up to the fire even when the agent said it's unlikely that he was home when the blaze broke out.

The next month, Waters admitted to the agent that his previous statements were untruthful, that he was with a friend and found his house on fire once he returned home. Waters said he felt guilty about his past lies.

Waters' indictment says a juvenile was accused of second-degree murder for killing Ray, but it's unclear whether the minor has been convicted or not, and whether they are the only suspect. Juvenile records are sealed from the public and the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office could not answer questions due to the partial government shutdown. It's also unclear whether the juvenile accused of murder is also suspected of starting the fire.