SANTA ANA -- A Superior Court judge will decide today whether to
dismiss the Eric Bechler murder case.
In a surprise move Wednesday afternoon, Bechler's defense attorney,
John Barnett, submitted a brief asking the court to throw out the case
based on the argument that the prosecution had not provided any evidence
to prove the crime was committed in California.
Prosecutors have charged Bechler with killing his 38-year-old wife,
Pegye, by hitting her on the head and dumping her body in the Pacific
Ocean during a boating trip off the coast of Newport Beach in 1997.
Bechler has pleaded not guilty, saying his wife fell off the boat when
it was hit by a giant wave. She was driving their rented speedboat while
towing him on a bodyboard, he said.
The 15-page brief, submitted by Barnett after the prosecution rested,
cites several cases that Barnett said demonstrate a crime must be
committed, or at least an attempt must have been made to commit that
crime, within a state's jurisdiction for that state to have authority to
"Preparation is not an attempt," he argued. "A crime doesn't start by
someone renting a boat or driving a boat. Those acts constitute
preparation, as opposed to an attempt."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Mulgrew said all the acts the prosecution said
Bechler performed -- renting the boat, picking up a bodyboard, buying
trash bags in which to stuff his wife's body, packing dumbbells to weigh
her down -- were in themselves an attempt to kill.
Mulgrew said the prosecution had established through evidence and
testimony that Bechler had conspired to murder his wife, he had been
"lying in wait" and had launched a "surprise attack."
Barnett said he timed the submission of the brief so the court would
receive it after the prosecution rested its case. The prosecution
finished presenting its last witness before the court took its lunch
recess. Barnett submitted the motion soon after the recess and after
confirming that the prosecution had rested.
"If I had presented it pretrial, the court would have denied it, not
having heard the evidence," he said.