Man found guilty of killing wife has conviction overturned

Murder conviction tossed

UPDATE: 3:15 p.m.

The BC Prosecution Service is reviewing the BC Court of Appeal's overturning of Peter Beckett's first-degree murder conviction to decide if they will proceed with a third trial.

Tuesday, B.C.'s highest court ruled both the trial judge and Crown prosecutors made errors during Beckett's 2017 jury trial that required his conviction to be overturned. Beckett's first trial, in 2016, resulted in a hung jury. 

"The BC Prosecution Service will be reviewing the decision closely over the next few weeks to determine the next steps in these proceedings," said Dan McLaughlin, spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service.

"While we are mindful of the comments of the court in their reasons, the decision regarding a further prosecution will be made only after a complete and comprehensive review of the available evidence in accordance with the applicable law and BCPS policies."

In her decision, Appeals judge Lauri Ann Fenlon said the Crown's case against Beckett was "not strong," and questioned whether it was "in the interests of justice" to have a third trial. 

"While we hope to complete our review as expeditiously as possible we do not have a timeline for that process," McLaughlin said. "In the meantime we will be arranging to bring the matter back before the court in order to proceed with the prosecution."

There is no legislated time limit for when the Crown must decide to proceed with a new trial of not. 

ORIGINAL: 11:20 a.m.

A man convicted of drowning his wife on Upper Arrow Lake has had his first-degree murder conviction overturned on appeal.

After three weeks of trial and four days of deliberation, Peter Beckett was convicted in September 2017 by a 12-person jury of deliberately drowning his wife Laura Letts-Beckett on the evening of Aug. 18, 2010.

He was given a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. The 2017 trial was Beckett's second trial, after his first trial in 2016 ended in a hung jury.

On Tuesday, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial, due to mistakes made by Justice Alison Beames and by Crown prosecutors Iain Currie and Evan Goulet during the trial.

Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon of the BC Court of Appeal said in her ruling that Justice Beames erred in admitting certain evidence during the trial, including “inherently unreliable demeanour evidence" – how an accused acted during an event. Justice Fenlon said this “invited the jury to engage in improper speculation.”

Justice Fenlon also ruled Justice Beames incorrectly instructed the jury they could rely on evidence that Beckett had fabricated his story to police as evidence of his "after-the-fact consciousness of guilt," without independent evidence Beckett's story had been fabricated.

"Before the Crown can invite the jury to use their disbelief of the statement as evidence against the accused, it must show by way of a different body of evidence that the statement was intentionally concocted by the accused," Justice Fenlon said.

The Crown had told the jury that Beckett's statement to police was “the most important piece of evidence in the case.”

The Court of Appeal also found the Crown's closing submissions to the jury included “unproven facts.”

Justice Fenlon called the Crown's case against Beckett “not strong,” but added the jury's verdict was not unreasonable. Therefore, a new trial has been ordered by the Court of Appeal, rather than the full acquittal that was requested by Beckett.

Whether or not the new trial actually goes ahead is in the hands of the Crown though.

“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 admissibility of evidence, Crown submissions, and the inability of a jury to rely on fabrication as circumstantial evidence of guilt,” Justice Fenlon said.

“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.”

During the three-week trial three years ago, the Crown said Beckett was motivated to kill his wife by a $200,000 accidental death insurance policy the couple had previously bought, and Beckett's repeated interest in his wife's will before her death.

The Alberta couple had been vacationing on Upper Arrow Lake in August 2010, when Letts-Beckett drowned as the couple was boating one evening.

“The case against Mr. Beckett was entirely circumstantial; there was no forensic evidence that a crime had occurred,” Justice Fenlon said in her ruling. “The central issue was whether Ms. Letts Beckett’s death was the result of a tragic accident or murder.”

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