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Bechler did it

February 02, 2001

Deepa Bharath

SANTA ANA -- Eric Bechler, the debonair father of three and athletic

beach volleyball player from Newport Heights, was found guilty of

first-degree murder Thursday, marking a shocking climax to a missing-body

murder case that has intrigued the community for 3 1/2 years.

A jury of seven women and five men deliberated for 30 hours over seven

days before convicting Bechler, 33, of murdering his 38-year-old wife,

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Pegye, during a boating trip in July 1997. He faces life without the

possibility of parole after he is sentenced March 16.

Jurors also found Bechler guilty of a special circumstance of "lying

in wait," and determined that he attacked her suddenly in an unsuspecting

moment. Jurors, however, acquitted Bechler of a charge that he murdered

for financial gain.

Prosecutors had argued that Bechler wanted to get his hands on his

wife's life insurance policies worth $2.5 million. Bechler had

continually denied those charges and claimed that his wife, an expert

swimmer and triathlete, was swept underwater by a large wave when she was

driving their rented 18-foot speedboat while towing him on a bodyboard.

Her body was never found.

On Thursday, Pegye Bechler's mother, June Marshall, reacted instantly,

bending down and weeping softly, when the verdict was read in the packed

courtroom at about 11 a.m. Pegye's sisters and best friend Glenda Mason

also turned around to comfort each other, tears glistening in their eyes.

Members of Pegye Bechler's family said they were too overwhelmed and

emotional even to talk or comment.

"We've been devastated for 3 1/2 years" Marshall said as she tried to

hold back tears. "It's been really hard. . . . We just have to keep

dealing with this."

Bechler showed no reaction as he sat staring straight ahead as the

verdict was read. His mother, Linda Bechler, who sat outside the

courtroom all seven days during jury deliberations, was comforted by her

family members. She said she believes the jury came out with the "wrong

verdict."

She criticized her son's former girlfriend Tina New, who cooperated

with investigators to secretly record her conversations with Bechler in a

crowded restaurant when he admitted to the murder. Bechler was arrested

that night in October 1999.

"We all know what Tina New is," Linda Bechler said Thursday. "It goes

without saying."

Eric Bechler's aunt Gail Bechler said she believes her nephew is

innocent and that she feels sorry for his three children.

"They lost their mother. Now they've lost their father," she said.

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