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Ex-girlfriend takes witness stand in Bechler murder trial

December 12, 2000

Deepa Bharath

SANTA ANA -- A former girlfriend testified Monday that Eric Bechler --

who is standing trial for the murder of his wife -- told her that Pegye

Bechler disappeared during a boating trip three years ago off the coast

of Newport Beach and was "not coming back."

Key prosecution witness Tina New said she and Bechler often discussed

his wife's July 1997 disappearance. Bechler, 33, is charged with

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murdering 38-year-old Pegye Bechler by throwing her overboard during a

boating trip.

He has pleaded not guilty, saying that a rogue wave pushed his wife

off the speedboat she was driving while towing him on a boogie board.

New said that when she asked Bechler how he knew his wife was not

rescued elsewhere or is possibly suffering from amnesia, he simply

answered: "I know. I was there."

Orange County Sheriff's investigators wired New with a recording

device in October 1999 to tape conversations she had with Bechler while

they were eating in a restaurant. Bechler reportedly confessed to killing

his wife during their conversations. Police arrested Bechler days after

the surreptitious recordings.

New is now married and eight months pregnant. The bikini model and

aspiring actress made her court appearance Monday dressed conservatively

in a long, black skirt, a dark blue blouse and a black blazer.

She told the court she "was attracted to Eric when I saw him" at a

trade fair in October 1997. New was hired by Bechler's friend to work as

a model in his booth. They dated that same day, and she spent the night

in Bechler's Cliffside home, she said.

"He told me his wife died in an accident, and he had three kids," said

New, who has two children of her own. "I was attracted to him. I felt

really sad for him."

New said for the next few months she stayed with Bechler and helped to

care for his children. He, in turn, helped build a Web site for her, New

said. The Bechler children were there with them on and off, and often

visited Pegye's family in New Mexico, she added.

Bechler also took her on luxury cruises -- three in the first three or

four months of their relationship, she said. Their first cruise, New

recalled, was to the Caribbean.

"We just played," she said. "We just had a lot of fun, really."

New is expected to return to the witness stand today.

The prosecution on Monday also called witnesses who worked at Balboa

Boat Rental when Bechler rented the 18-foot Seaswirl in 1997 for the

couple's fifth wedding anniversary celebration.

Cory Weber, who checked the Bechlers' boat before they drove off into

the water, said he did not see a boogie board or rope during his routine

inspection.

"We have a policy against boogie boards and towing," he said. "If I'd

seen it, we would have kept it in our office for them to pick up after

they returned the boat. There's no way we'd allow that on the boat."

Pegye Bechler's mother, June Marshall, testified that her daughter was

an expert triathlete who several times won an annual competition in her

hometown of Dexter, N.M.

"Yes, she was very strong," Marshall said. "She competed in that

triathlon for 15 years."

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