A former Napier City councillor who was convicted of drowning his second wife in a Canadian lake has had his murder conviction overturned and may go to trial for a third time.
Kiwi Peter Beckett is facing the prospect of a new trial after the British Columbia Court of Appeal yesterday found the presiding justice and Crown prosecutors made mistakes during his second trial which found him guilty of killing Laura Letts-Beckett, according to west Canadian news site, Castanet.
The elementary school teacher died more than 10 years ago while the couple were out fishing one evening in a small inflatable boat in a lake northeast of Vancouver.
Her death was initially reported as a drowning, Beckett claiming she accidentally fell from the boat, but he was arrested a year after she died and charged with her murder.
During the 2017 trial the former Napier man was accused of pushing his wife into the water and leaving her to drown to cash in on a $200,000 accidental death insurance policy the couple had bought just two months prior to the water tragedy.
He was found guilty of first degree murder for drowning his wife after an earlier trial ended in a hung jury. He was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Beckett had appealed his murder conviction and lengthy jail term, hoping to have a full acquittal and walk away a free man.
Instead, the murder charge still remains and it is now up to the Crown to see if Beckett will take the stand for a third time.
Castanet said in her decision Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon ruled the presiding judge incorrectly instructed the jury they could rely on evidence that Beckett had fabricated his story to police as evidence of his "after-the-fact consciousness of guilt", without independent evidence Beckett's story had been fabricated.
She had also erred in admitting certain evidence during the trial, including "inherently unreliable demeanour evidence" – how an accused acted during an event. This had "invited the jury to engage in improper speculation", reported Castanet.
"Before the Crown can invite the jury to use their disbelief of the statement as evidence against the accused, it must show by way of a different body of evidence that the statement was intentionally concocted by the accused," Justice Fenlon said.
The Crown had told the jury that Beckett's statement to police was "the most important piece of evidence in the case".
Castanet reported the Court of Appeal also found the Crown's closing submissions to the jury included "unproven facts".
Justice Fenlon called the Crown's case against Beckett "not strong" but added the jury's verdict was not unreasonable. Therefore, a new trial has been ordered by the Court of Appeal, rather than the full acquittal that Beckett was seeking.
Beckett served one term on the Hawke's Bay local council between 1998 and 200.
He previously ran a tour business taking groups from Napier to Cape Kidnappers when he was elected to council. He did not seek re-election on the Napier City Council and moved to Canada, where he met and married Letts.