Former New Zealand politician found guilty of murder

Peter Beckett was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Kelowna jury in death of his wife.

It’s been seven years since Laura Letts-Beckett died in Upper Arrow Lake near Revelstoke, and her loved ones are finally getting closure.

After five days of deliberation, a jury found Peter Beckett guilty of first degree murder. It means the seven-men, five-women jury believed Crown counsel’s argument that Beckett pushed his wife from their boat while in a secluded bay and sat idly by as she struggled to stay afloat, and eventually succumbed to the water.

Justice Allison Beames sentenced Beckett to the mandatory minimum of life in prison, with no parole eligibility for 25 years. Beckett said nothing throughout the process.

Moved to tears, however, were Letts’s elderly parents, who made their way to final days of the trial.

“It gives us closure,” said her father, Park Letts, later adding this verdict wasn’t the end of their story with their daughter. His family’s Christian faith, he said, has given them something to hold on to.

“We are going to meet our daughter again and that’s a great hope we have,” he said.

The end of this trial is also a cap on a very lengthy legal process. Beckett’s first murder trial in Kamloops was nearly four months long. It ended in a mistrial when one juror held an alternate view on a verdict from their peers — it’s not clear what that was.

Crown counsels Iain Currie and Evan Goulet took the lead with the retrial, which was wrapped up in around a month.

Despite being privy to the exhaustive legal effort that entailed a mountain of evidence, Park Letts still had questions which he raised when asked what he would say to Peter Beckett, if given the opportunity.

“I would say that I’m very sorry that he had such a wonderful gal, who supported him, and he couldn’t enjoy that because it seemed like his only motive was dollars — and there was quite a few,” he said. “And I guess I wonder if he really loved the girl or if he loved what she had?”

He said that his daughter had a difficult life with Beckett, but she was a “gem of a gal and she wanted to make it work for the family.”

“All of us wanted to make it work, but it was impossible because of certain people,” he said.

“She was never a problem as a girl. She was very close to me, and … she was a great girl. But, she met an individual she thought was charming, not to me particularly, but to her. And she thought they were the same age and the could have a good life.”

He also said the RCMP and the Crown had been tremendously helpful and supportive throughout the process, never leaving a stone unturned in their pursuit of the truth.

ORIGINAL STORY 5 p.m.

Peter Beckett has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the mysterious 2010 drowning of his wife.

The seven men, five women Kelowna jury returned with the verdict Saturday after five days of deliberation.

He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Crown’s case against Beckett was largely circumstantial with only one piece of direct evidence before the jury — the statement the former New Zealand politician gave within a day of Aug. 18, 2010, when Laura Letts-Beckett drowned on Upper Arrow Lakes.

MOTIVE

Crown counsel Iain Currie told the jury of seven men and five women that the direct evidence available to them was enough to prove Beckett killed his wife for personal gain.

In that statement Beckett tells police that when his wife hit the water, she thrashed about and screamed. As she struggled to stay afloat, he relied on a “fisherman’s instinct” and reeled in the line to his fishing rod. As he did, his boat floated past his wife and by the time he turned around she had been submerged.

“We say Mr. Beckett murdered his wife, just to be clear,” said Currie. “We’re saying the fact he didn’t save her when that would have been easy — easy to try, instinctive to try, unavoidable to try, unless you don’t want to. The fact he didn’t save his wife is evidence that he pushed her out.”

PLANS WITH CONMAN

Currie told jurors that when Beckett said that he had a fisherman’s instinct and no instinct to save his wife, it’s because he’s lying.

“He’s lying because he pushed her in,” said Currie. “The evidence is that he wanted her dead and he pushed her in.”

Supporting that argument, he said, is evidence that the couple took out an accidental death policy two months before the drowning, Beckett had jail house conversations with a known conman about getting rid of witnesses who could make him look guilty of killing his wife and he was fixated on getting an inheritance from his wife’s wealthy parents.

Beckett’s lawyer told jurors that wasn’t enough to convict Beckett.

Marilyn Sandford argued the day before there was no incentive for murder and if her client was motivated by money at all, he’d be better off keeping his wife alive. As a longtime school teacher Letts-Beckett made a good wage that couldn’t be replaced by the pension she’d leave behind which, including CPP, amounted to around $2,600 a month.

He was, in short, a grieving husband who acted strangely in the days after he lost his wife in traumatic circumstances.

This wasn’t Beckett’s first trial.

His first trial took place in Kamloops over four months in 2016. In the end it was considered a mistrial, with jurors reaching an 11-1 impasse. It is not known what outcome was being sought by the majority.

In the end, a single B.C. juror stood in the way of whether Peter Beckett would walk free—or be declared a murderer—after the mysterious 2010 boating accident that left his wife Laura Letts-Beckett dead.

“No one testified, ‘I saw Mr. Beckett cause the death of his wife’ … there isn’t a smoking gun,” said closing statements by Beckett’s defense lawyer, according to reporting by Kamloops This Week.

That trial also hinged largely on circumstantial evidence.

 

Park Letts, father of murder victim Laura Letts.—Kathy Michaels/Capital News

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