Former New Zealand politician may face third murder trial for death of wife | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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Former New Zealand politician may face third murder trial for death of wife

Peter Beckett, born 1961, in an old photo from his days as a city councilor in New Zealand.
Image Credit: New Zealand Herald (with permission)
September 29, 2020 - 1:12 PM

A former New Zealand politician convicted of the first degree murder of his wife won an appeal and the case could go back before a jury for a third time.

Peter Beckett was accused of killing his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett, for financial gain, during a 2010 boating trip to Arrow Lake in Revelstoke — a spot where the Alberta-based couple had vacationed many times before.

The first trial for Beckett was held in Kamloops and ended in a hung jury. The next trial was 2017 in Kelowna and that time a jury found him guilty. 

In his appeal of the latter verdict and application for an acquittal, Beckett argued, among other things, that the evidence admitted shouldn’t have been used and the verdict was not supported by the evidence presented.

On some fronts, the Honourable Madam Justice Lauri Fenlon agreed.

In a decision posted online today, Sept. 29, Fenlon said B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames erred in instructing the jury that they could use Beckett’s statement to police as evidence of fabrication and evidence he intentionally concocted a story in order to mislead.

She also ruled Beames erred in admitting certain evidence about Beckett’s demeanour, as seen by witnesses. Evidence about Beckett behaving unusually, she ruled, invited the jury to engage in improper speculation.

The decision also focused attention to Crown counsel’s submissions to the jury, saying they were improper because counsel alluded to unproven facts and gave evidence.

While the conviction was dismissed, Beckett didn’t get an acquittal, as requested.

“Although the Crown’s case was not strong, it could not be said that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable,” Fenlon said.

At the six-day Kelowna trial, the Crown's case relied on evidence that Beckett had behaved implausibly in the moments after his wife fell into the water, reeling in his fishing line after hearing a splash and before trying to help her.

Crown said Beckett's descriptions of how he tried to save his drowning wife were implausible.

Beckett’s later behaviour was also scrutinized. In particular, he inquired to a friend whether Google Earth imagery was based on a live satellite feed that was continuously recorded.

As Fenlon put it: “The case against Mr. Beckett was entirely circumstantial; there was no forensic evidence that a crime had occurred.”

“The central issue was whether Letts-Beckett’s death was the result of a tragic accident or murder,” she said. “Having thoroughly reviewed the evidence, I am of the view that the Crown’s case was not a strong one, and is likely to be less so on retrial given the conclusions I have reached on the admissibility of evidence, Crown submissions, and the inability of a jury to rely on fabrication as circumstantial evidence of guilt. In these circumstances, a very real question arises as to whether it is in the interests of justice to proceed with yet a third trial."

That decision, however, ultimately lies with the B.C. Prosecution Service. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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