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Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of Beckett ruling

Ruling means Peter Beckett, who has stood trial twice for murdering his wife, is now a free man
Peter Beckett is a free man as the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an appeal from B.C. prosecutors who were seeking to have the B.C. Court of Appeal’s Sept. 29, 2020 dismissal of Beckett’s 2017 first-degree murder conviction overturned.

WESTLOCK – Peter Ernest Edward Beckett, the man who’s been tried twice and convicted once of murdering his wife, Dapp-native Laura Letts-Beckett in 2010, is now a free man.

On April 29 the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an appeal from B.C. prosecutors who were seeking to have the B.C. Court of Appeal’s Sept. 29, 2020 dismissal of Beckett’s 2017 first-degree murder conviction overturned. The case was officially closed by the Supreme Court May 4.

Beckett, who’s now 64 and has been free on bail since Dec. 18, 2020, is, according to a published report, believed to be living in a hotel in the Lower Mainland. While on bail, Beckett was barred from having any contact with Crown witnesses from either of his trials and also banned from travelling anywhere outside of B.C. or Alberta.

In a Dec. 18, 2020 interview with Kamloops This Week Crown prosecutor Neil Wiberg said they will not try Beckett a third time — the Westlock News reached out to Wiberg for comment May 18 but has not received a response.

Beckett’s conviction was overturned by the court of appeal last fall on a number of grounds including that the trial judge erred in instructing jurors and that prosecutors made improper submissions to the jury — the three-judge panel called the Crown’s case weak and suggested that prosecutors avoid a third trial, although they did say the jury’s decision to convict was not “unreasonable” and acquittal was not warranted.

No physical evidence of Beckett’s involvement in his wife’s death was presented at either trial while the court of appeal called the case against him “circumstantial.”

"The case against Mr. Beckett was entirely circumstantial; there was no forensic evidence that a crime had occurred. The central issue was whether Ms. Letts-Beckett's death was the result of a tragic accident or murder," the justices wrote.

And while convictions based solely on circumstantial evidence are allowable, the errors made by the judge and Crown were serious enough to warrant the quashing, the appeal court justices ruled.

“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,” B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Laurie Ann Fenlon wrote on behalf of the panel. “That decision, however, ultimately lies with the Crown.”

In a story published by the Vancouver Sun at the end of November, Beckett’s defence lawyer Marilyn Sanford said she was “surprised” to hear the Crown was seeking leave to appeal as twice during Beckett’s second trial she had sought a mistrial.

Case background

Beckett, who hails from New Zealand, stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of Letts-Beckett, who drowned Aug. 18, 2010, in Upper Arrow Lake, B.C.

He was arrested and charged with murder in August 2011 and was in jail until the December 2020 bail hearing.

The first trial in Kamloops in 2016 ended with a hung jury after jurors remained deadlocked following more than a week of deliberation.

The second trial in Kelowna, which ran from August to September 2017, resulted in a first-degree murder conviction by a B.C. Supreme Court jury and he was sentenced to 25 years behind bars without a chance of parole.

Beckett, who had previously served as a Napier city councillor for three years, met Letts-Beckett, a teacher at Dapp School, on a guided tour of New Zealand in 1995. He moved to Westlock around 2001 and the couple were eventually married.

On the evening of her death, she and Beckett were riding in their Zodiac raft on Upper Arrow Lake. Letts-Beckett, who was not a strong swimmer, drowned in the lake and no one witnessed the incident.

Through both trials, prosecutors said Beckett killed his wife out of greed, hoping to cash in on life-insurance payouts and her pension.

Beckett has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout, claiming Letts-Beckett fell, or jumped off the boat and drowned.

During the first trial in Kamloops where he represented himself, jurors were shown a video in which Beckett, an exceptionally large man, told police he was too buoyant to rescue his wife.

Beckett also took the stand in his own defence during that trial, becoming involved in heated verbal confrontations with then-Crown prosecutor Joel Gold. In Kelowna, Beckett did not testify.

George Blais,

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