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Bechler described murder, ex-girlfriend testifies

Deepa Bharath

SANTA ANA -- In her second day of testimony, the ex-girlfriend of

Newport Beach resident Eric Bechler, told jurors in the sensational

murder trial Tuesday how he described tying up his wife and tossing her

weighted body into the Pacific Ocean.

The day in court was also dominated by a taped conversation between

Bechler and ex-girlfriend Tina New -- important evidence that reveals

chilling facts, prosecutors say, about the death of Bechler’s wife, who

disappeared during a boating trip three years ago.

Bechler, 33, is accused of murdering his 38-year-old wife, Pegye, by

bludgeoning her with a dumbbell during a boating trip on July 6, 1997,

and dumping her in the ocean. Her body has not been found.

Bechler has pleaded not guilty, saying that a giant wave knocked his

wife off the speedboat she was driving while towing him on a bodyboard.

During her testimony, New recalled the first time Bechler told her

about the incident in great detail. That day, they had both had drinks,

taken the drug Ecstasy and visited a couple of nightclubs, she said.

They started talking about Pegye after they got back to Bechler’s

house, New said.

“We were laying on Eric’s bed, and I suddenly asked him out of the

blue, ‘You hit her, didn’t you?”’ she said. “He was surprised and asked

‘How did you know?’ and that’s how it started.”

Then, she said, Bechler went into great depth in describing how he had

planned the surprise trip.

New said Bechler told her that on the day of the trip they drove away

from the Newport Beach coast and picked up a bag, bodyboard and rope

because the boat rental company would not let them take those things on

the water.

“They had sex twice,” New recalled Bechler telling her. “Then he said

she laid out on the boat, and he hit her on the head . . .. hit her so

hard she didn’t feel a thing.”

Bechler then said that he placed Pegye in a folded position, tied her

up with a rope, covered her with weighted trash bags and dumped her in

the ocean, New said.

“He said the blood was all over the boat, and he washed off the

blood,” said New, who added that Bechler said the boat was 10 or 12 miles

out to sea.

When she asked him how he was sure Pegye’s body wouldn’t surface, New

said Bechler replied that his wife was a triathlete and had very low body

fat and that such people tend to sink easily. He also told her that he

used 70 pounds of weights to make sure she went down.

“In the beginning, when he talked about it, he was almost proud that

he hit her so quickly and she didn’t feel a thing,” New said.

The secretly recorded conversation prosecutors played Tuesday took

place in a noisy Mexican restaurant days before his arrest in October

1999. New had agreed to wear a recording device at the request of

investigators.

In the tapes, New -- who began testifying for the prosecution Monday

-- is heard trying to pump Bechler for information about his wife’s

disappearance.

“So what, what was it about her that made you want to go to that

extreme?’ New is heard to ask.

When she asks if he did it for the money, Bechler replied on the tapes

that he did it only partially for the money but mainly because he wanted

to keep their three children.

“I felt like I was backed in a corner, like she was going to steal the

kids away, and I’d never see them again,” he is heard to say on a tape,

sounding agitated. “I mean, she was just super-controlling of the

children.”

As he heard the tapes in the courtroom, Bechler wrote incessantly on a

large, yellow note pad, occasionally rubbing his forehead and shaking his

head.

Bechler also talks on the tapes about his fear of going to jail and,

at one point, says that once the police arrest him for a minor violation

they may gather evidence to nail him down for murder.

“No, I’m saying once I’m in the system, I’m at their mercy,” he can be

heard to say. “That means once I’m in jail, they’re going to [expletive]

with me for years. It’s not going to be just six months.

“All they have to do is convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and

I go to jail for life. So I’m not even going to give them the

opportunity.”

On the tapes, Bechler tries to convince New they should go away to Las

Vegas and “start over.”

“I love you,” he said to New on a tape. “I want you to be my wife. ...

We could come back weekends to visit the kids.”

Bechler and New are also heard arguing on the tapes about what story

New would give police if they ever asked her about the incident.

“Give me a structured story, one story, and I’ll keep that one in my

head,” New is heard to promise Bechler.

Bechler told New later in their taped conversation that he is not a

person who would hurt somebody.

“All I know is that I would never, ever do anything to harm anybody

ever again,” he said.

Prosecutors will finish playing the tapes Wednesday morning, after

which New will continue with her testimony.


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