Peter Beckett guilty of first-degree murder, will spend at least 25 years behind bars

It took two trials, but Peter Beckett has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, who drowned in a lake in B.C.'s Interior more than seven years ago.

Jurors in Kelowna returned with a guilty verdict just before 5 p.m. on Saturday, more than four full days after their deliberations began.

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Beckett, a 62-year-old former city councillor and business owner from New Zealand, will receive an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole for at least 25 years.

He stood trial in Kamloops last year, but it was declared a mistrial after jurors were unable to return with a unanimous verdict after more than a week of deliberations.

Beckett's wife, Laura Letts, drowned in Upper Arrow Lake near Revelstoke on Aug. 18, 2010.

Wendy Breitkreuz, a friend of Letts since childhood, sat through each day of Beckett's three-month trial in Kamloops last year and his three-week trial in Kelowna that began in late August.

She had returned home to Alberta before Saturday's verdict came down.

"I was relieved of the outcome, but I was also overwhelmingly sad for Laura," she told KTW.

"It confirmed that she was murdered. There was a little piece of me that was hoping she wasn't. It kind of haunts me that she was murdered in that way. She didn't like water. It haunts me."

Beckett moved from his home in New Zealand to Letts' hometown of Westlock, Alta., 10 years earlier.

The couple met in 1995 while Letts, a schoolteacher, was on vacation in New Zealand.

In August 2010, court heard, Beckett and Letts were on vacation at Shelter Bay at Upper Arrow Lake.

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

Through both trials, prosecutors contended Beckett killed Letts out of greed, hoping to cash in on life insurance payouts and her teachers' pension.

Beckett has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout, claiming Letts simply fell off the boat and drowned before he could save her.

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

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

Breitkreuz said she noticed a many differences between the two trials.

She said prosecutors stuck to events closer to Letts' death rather than calling witnesses to talk about something that happened years earlier.

Jurors also heard a lot less from people who were at Shelter Bay when Letts died, she said, with the Crown instead using Beckett's own words to police to tell the story.

"There weren't all the variations on the scene," she said. "I remember last time, I'm sure I heard the story about 16 times. This time they just used his [Beckett's] police statement as his story."

Hours before the Kelowna returned with its guilty verdict, Breitkruz said, they asked to revisit testimony from a Revelstoke resident who offered Beckett a place to stay after the murder.

Ron Hawkins told jurors Beckett asked him whether Google Earth showed live video or static images.

"The Crown mainly just tried to emphasize that the whole scenario wasn't plausible," Breitkruz said.

Beckett has been in custody since his arrest in August 2011.

Though he had counsel for both trials, Beckett was self-represented for much of his pre-trial court process.

He was a prolific filer of applications during pre-trial hearings, often submitting thick stacks of hand-written pages detailing allegations of collusion on the part of the judge, the Crown and police.

In one application, Beckett compared B.C. Supreme Court Justice Iain Meiklem to an Australian sponge cake. In many others, he claimed lineage back to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th Century, as proof of his innocence.

At one point, Beckett's court process was delayed after he smuggled a hard drive full of disclosure out of Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre.

It has never been discovered and Beckett has remained mum when asked by KTW about its whereabouts.

Before his trial in Kamloops, when Beckett was still self-represented, a justice official close to the case described him as "the ultimate test of the system."

Beckett's Kamloops trial was also marked with bizarre happenings. At one point, he performed a Maori war dance in the courtroom. On another day, his pants fell down when he stood up as the jury left the room.

He also offered an endorsement of Donald Trump, who was then seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency.

© Kamloops This Week


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