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New trial or­dered into 2010 drown­ing

- Crime · Discrimination · Sexual Abuse · Incidents · Courts · Justice · Human Rights · Society · Violence and Abuse · Law · Vancouver · British Columbia · White-collar Crime

VAN­COU­VER • A man con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der after his wife drowned while boat­ing has been granted a new trial.

Jus­tice Lauri Ann Fen­lon of the B.C. Court of Ap­peal says in a de­ci­sion re­leased Tues­day that the case against Peter Beck­ett was cir­cum­stan­tial and the trial judge made sev­eral errors in re­la­tion to the ad­mis­sion of ev­i­dence and in­struc­tions to the jury.

Court doc­u­ments show the cou­ple, who were liv­ing in Al­berta, were boat­ing on a lake near Revel­stoke in 2010 when Laura Letts-beck­ett, who could not swim and was not wear­ing a life-jacket, drowned.

Beck­ett, a for­mer city coun­cil­lor from New Zealand, was charged with first- de­gree mur­der a year later. His first trial ended in a hung jury and a mis­trial be­fore he was con­victed at a se­cond trial in 2017.

The three-jus­tice panel of the Ap­peal Court was unan­i­mous in over­turn­ing the con­vic­tion.

At the se­cond trial, Crown coun­sel al­leged that Beck­ett pushed his wife into the water, killing her so he could cash in on her life in­sur­ance pol­icy and pen­sion. The de­fence said Beck­ett’s wife ac­ci­den­tally fell in and Beck­ett tried to save her.

Fen­lon wrote the trial judge erred in in­struct­ing ju­rors they could use Beck­ett’s state­ment to po­lice after the drown­ing as ev­i­dence of fab­ri­ca­tion that would sup­port a guilty ver­dict in the ab­sence of in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence that he in­ten­tion­ally made up the story.

She says the judge also erred in ad­mit­ting ev­i­dence that “in­vited the jury to en­gage in im­proper spec­u­la­tion,” while she also wrote the Crown made im­proper sub­mis­sions to the jury that re­ferred to un­proven facts.

“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,” Fen­lon wrote.

“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 Crown.”

She added that although the ver­dict “raises con­cern and un­ease,” it could not be said that the jury’s ver­dict was un­rea­son­able and an ac­quit­tal was not war­ranted.

Dan Mclaugh­lin of B.C.’S prose­cu­tion ser­vice said the Crown will bring the mat­ter back be­fore the court to pro­ceed with the prose­cu­tion.

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