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Tale of two families continues

A CLOSER LOOK -- A

February 05, 2001

Deepa Bharath

The families of Eric and Pegye Bechler will move on after last week's

guilty verdict, but in dramatically different ways.

Pegye's parents, her brother and three sisters, will try to bury their

murdered loved one in their own minds. Without her body, which was never

found, it is the most they can do.

But Eric Bechler's family will continue to fight for his acquittal by

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appealing the verdict.

A 12-member jury convicted Bechler on Thursday of first-degree murder

for killing his 38-year-old wife during what was supposed to have been a

celebratory boating excursion off the Newport Beach coast more than three

years ago.

Jurors also found him guilty of "lying in wait" or suddenly ambushing

his victim -- his wife. But they acquitted him of the charge that he

murdered Pegye, a successful physical therapist and businesswoman, for

financial gain.

The prosecution argued Bechler wanted to cash in on Pegye's

$2.5-million life insurance policy. Once sentenced on March 16, Bechler

will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of

parole.

Eric Bechler's defense attorney, John Barnett, said Friday he will

appeal the jury's decision based on jurisdiction and "corpus" issues.

Barnett submitted a motion to the Orange County Superior Court during

the trial saying the case should be dismissed because, according to

prosecution accounts, Bechler hit his wife on the head with a 35-pound

dumbbell and weighted her body into the ocean about eight to 10 miles off

the coast of Newport Beach, well outside the state's jurisdiction.

That motion, strategically submitted by Barnett right after the

prosecution rested its case, was denied by Judge Frank F. Fasel because

he said there was enough evidence that Bechler had embarked on the

murderous voyage with his wife equipped with weights, trash bags and

dumbbells.

But Barnett still disagrees with that ruling.

"The prosecution's evidence does not prove the incident happened

within California's territorial waters," he said. According to him, the

state's jurisdiction ends within four miles of the coast.

Proving a crime happened

Another factor that is part of the appeal is the "corpus" issue -- in

other words a "body of evidence" that could be negated because of lack of

proof that a crime happened.

The law states the court should not consider any of the defendant's

statements unless there is evidence of a crime. And usually the victim's

body is the prime proof that a murder was committed.

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