Bechler gets life in prison
SANTA ANA -- Seconds after Eric Bechler told a packed courtroom that
he loved his wife and did not kill her, a Superior Court judge on Friday
sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Judge Frank F. Fasel said he agreed with a 12-member jury, which on
Feb. 1 found the 33-year-old man from Newport Heights guilty of
first-degree murder for bludgeoning his 38-year-old wife, Pegye Bechler,
on a boat and then dumping her body in the ocean in trash bags filled
Bechler has continually pleaded not guilty and maintained that the
July 6, 1997, incident was a “tragic accident.”
In Bechler’s account, a wave pushed his wife, an expert swimmer and
triathlete, off the rented speedboat that she was driving while towing
him on a bodyboard. Her body was never found.
On Friday, he took one last opportunity to stress his innocence.
“As much as the Marshalls are hurting, my family is also hurting,” he
said in reference to his wife’s relatives. “I love my wife terribly and I
miss her, and there’s nothing else I can say.”
His mother, Linda Bechler, said the family is determined to appeal the
“Eric is an innocent victim of a [flawed] system,” she said, wiping
away tears. “He thought justice will prevail, but it didn’t. . . . He’s
still keeping his faith that the appeal will work.”
Defense attorney John Barnett said the appeal, to be filed within 60
days of the sentencing, will be based on the argument that a California
court has no jurisdiction over a crime committed in federal or
Another part of the appeal is the “corpus” issue -- a body of evidence
that could be negated because of lack of proof that a crime was
Members of Pegye Bechler’s family took the opportunity in court Friday
to flesh out the portrait of a daughter and a sister whose death they
struggled to explain, justify or understand.
In the courtroom, they placed enlarged photos of Pegye Bechler smiling
in each frame -- in a wedding dress, with her children, showing off her
muscular body at the Milkman Triathlon in her hometown of Dexter, N.M.
“She was my cheerleader,” said her brother, Larry Marshall, as he
recalled how his sister would send him encouraging quotes during times of
distress or worry.
Pegye Bechler’s sister, Kim Marshall, tearfully recalled “silly camp
songs, secret conversations in bathroom stalls and telephone
conversations that didn’t begin with formalities.”
June Marshall, Pegye’s mother, chastised her son-in-law directly and
sarcastically for committing a “cowardly act” and recounted the gruesome
murder as pieced together by prosecutors.
“He hit my precious girl on the head with a dumbbell,” she said. “He
had to clean the boat all by himself . . . lot of work for such a li’l
June Marshall talked of how the tragedy has affected Eric and Pegye
Bechler’s children -- Bryelle, 7; Brenyn, 6; and Brodryk, 4. They think
their mother was devoured by a shark when she fell off the boat, she
“Brenyn is afraid to get on a boat,” she said. “Bryelle gets
hysterical, sometimes crying for her mommy: ‘I want my mommy. I need my
mommy. I’m afraid I’ll forget her.’ She’s afraid she won’t remember what
her mommy looks like.”
Police arrested Bechler more than two years after the crime when his
former girlfriend Tina New told investigators that Bechler had confessed
to her about killing his wife.
New also wore a recording device and helped police secretly record
conversations with Bechler when he referred to the murder. The
surreptitious tapes and New’s testimony that lasted four days created a
significant body of evidence in sealing Bechler’s fate.
For Pegye Bechler’s family, Friday’s sentencing was an oasis after
weeks and months of dry anticipation -- motions, evidence and testimony.
“It was good to hear it,” June Marshall said. “But this isn’t over.
It’s going to be hard dealing with questions” from the children.
The Marshalls have legal custody of the three children.
And there is still a “lot left to talk about,” Larry Marshall said.
“Our main concern is the children,” he said. “But at least now we can
move on. With this load off our shoulders, we can take a deep breath and
go back to living our lives.”
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