Beckett trial: Couple described as 'lovebirds'

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Peter Beckett.
Peter Beckett.

The final defence witness for a former Napier City councillor accused of drowning his Canadian wife while on a British Columbia holiday in 2010 described the couple on Monday as "lovebirds" and the alleged victim as a troubled woman hesitant to accept help.

Peter Beckett's British Columbia Supreme Court trial, which started in mid-January, is coming to a close in Kamloops.

The 59-year-old is charged with one count of first-degree murder in connection to the death of Laura Letts-Beckett, who drowned in Upper Arrow Lake on August 18, 2010. She died after going into the water while on a Zodiac dinghy with Beckett.

The Crown has alleged Beckett killed his wife out of greed, hoping to cash in on life insurance and accidental-death benefits, as well as Letts-Beckett's teachers' pension.

Beckett said he believes his wife committed suicide after dealing for years with depression brought about by a childhood rape at the hands of a family friend.

Testifying by video from Alberta, Anita Leigh said her son was a student in Letts-Beckett's grade 1 class in 2007 and she became fast friends with the teacher, eventually inviting the Becketts to family gatherings and going on short trips together.

"Their relationship can be described as two lovebirds," Leigh said. "Quite often, he would call her 'baby' - just things like that. There was always love and caring that we saw. My kids loved them. Laura loved my kids. Peter loved my kids."

Leigh and Beckett both began crying in court as Leigh described Letts-Beckett's personality.

"I can describe her as a beautiful person, willing to do anything for anyone," Leigh said. "But I can also describe her as a very troubled soul who had difficulty accepting help from anyone. You could tell there were things that were troubling her and it took a lot to get her to understand that there were people who were there for her."

Previous witnesses have described Beckett, a mountain of a man who speaks with a booming voice in a thick New Zealand accent, as an overbearing and domineering husband. Leigh said that was not the case.

"I don't think there was really a dominant factor," she said. "Like in any relationship, certain tasks were delegated to certain people. Peter is a gregarious guy, but Laura was never shadowed by him. She was confident being around and with him."

However, Leigh said, that confidence was shaken when Letts-Beckett had to confront her relatives - a religious family, the jury has heard, that was "shunning" her for marrying Beckett, who was divorced.

"Her weakness was maybe not standing up for herself when it came to her family," Leigh said. "She commented to me that she would shake when she would see her father's car pass.

"She said she just didn't know why her parents were treating her the way that they were. Her family was a great source of sadness for her. It was just always there, always troubling. It wasn't a happy situation for her."

Over the course of numerous boating trips with the Becketts, Leigh said she never saw Letts-Beckett wear a life jacket.

"Did she ever comment to you what would happen if she went in the water?" defence lawyer Donna Turko asked.

"She always thought Peter would save her," Leigh replied.

Jurors heard Beckett lived with the Leighs on their property after Letts-Beckett drowned - a stay that was cut short because of Beckett's overwhelming grief.

"Peter became a part of our family," Leigh said. "He brought his motorhome over to our house. I didn't want him to be alone. I believe he stayed until October. I got my husband to ask Peter to leave because there was just so much sadness and grief."

Leigh and the Becketts lived in Westlock, Alberta - a small, rural community 90 kilometres north of Edmonton. Leigh said Beckett became the subject of local speculation after his wife died.

"I know there were people saying he'd done it, that he'd plotted," she said. "There was a lot of negativity. Peter said, 'Let them do what they want - I'm telling the truth.' He didn't let it bother him because he had truth on his side."

Beckett and Letts-Beckett met in 1995 in New Zealand. Five years later, he moved to Westlock to be closer to her. The couple married in 2003.

Previous witnesses have described their relationship as a rocky one. The Becketts separated in late 2007, but reconciled months later.

Letts-Beckett also went to police alleging physical abuse on the part of her husband, but no charges were laid.

Closing arguments are expected to begin tomorrow morning. The jury is expected to go out later this week.

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