Closing arguments offered in former New Zealand politician’s murder trial

Defence has offered closing arguments in the Peter Beckett murder case, and Crown’s is underway

Is Peter Beckett a grieving husband who lost his wife in a tragic accident or the mastermind of a murder plot put into motion for financial gain?

Marilyn Sandford, the defence lawyer for the former New Zealand politician charged with the 2010 murder of his wife, argued it’s the former and the argument that Beckett planned a murder for riches simply doesn”t make sense.

Sandford told the Kelowna jury if Beckett was motivated by money at all, he’d be better off keeping his wife alive. As a longtime school teacher Laura Letts-Beckett made a good wage that couldn’t be replaced by the pension she’d leave behind which, including CPP, amounted to around $2,600 a month.

When it came to the Crown’s allegation that an insurance payout offered incentive for Beckett to kill his wife, Sandford said that there’s no reason to make that assumption if you view the accused under the veil of innocence.

Issues raised through the case, such as Beckett taking out an accidental death insurance policy in the months before Letts-Beckett died, Sandford said, aren’t unusual unless you’re operating from the premise that he is a murderer.

Besides, she said, Letts-Beckett was accustomed to carrying a signifcant life insurance policy.

Between her work benefits and a $200,000 life insurance policy attached to a loan for a large motorhome the couple shared, Laura Letts-Beckett was insured for roughly $644,000 as early as 2006.

That amount dipped for around a year when the couple switched over financing for the motorhome and the policy they took out months before the drowning brought them back up.

“That’s the same total amount of life insurance she had in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009,” said Sandford.

“Where is the planning and deliberation? When did it start? …Was Peter Beckett planning and deliberating in 2006 when he bought the motorhome? ‘Well let’s buy that and get life insurance on that debt. Four years from now I will kill you and I will get that money.’”

It doesn’t make sense, she told jurors.

“There’s no evidence of a financial motive for claiming life insurance — and you may have thought this is a life insurance case,” she said.

She also told jurors that in the months after Letts-Beckett’s death, Beckett never tried to cash in on the life insurance policy that had been taken out, nor did he make any real efforts to secure any potential inheritance from his wife’s well-off parents — another Crown theory.

“What is the Crown premise? Peter Beckett believes that by killing his wife he could then sue the Letts (family) for the money that his wife would have inherited from them someday, if they predeceased her?” she said. “If you accept that you have to put aside all common sense about how wills work and how estates work.”

Prosecution, she said, would like you to ignore the fact that Letts-Beckett’s parents were still alive and if he wanted to gain from their future death he could have sued them when Letts-Beckett was alive.

“It’s a tortured theory,” she said.

She also dismissed all evidence from a jail-cell informant alleged to have been asked to get rid of anything that may get in the way of Beckett’s future freedom.

His motivation was self-serving and unreliable.

Crown counsel Iain Currie started his closing arguments toward the end of the day, and they’re set to continue through today.

“Sometimes accidents happen in tragically unfortunate circumstances. Accidents on water happen. People drown,” said Currie.

“Of course it can happen. Make no mistake the burden to prove this accident didn’t happen, that Laura Letts-Beckett fell from that boat, didn’t stumble, didn’t faint, didn’t fall… the burden is high.”

But, he continued, you have to start somewhere when considering the case at hand and suspicion is a good place.

He argued that Beckett chose a private place for a reason.

“It’s the first place where you can’t be seen, the first place you can’t be detected,” he said, adding that it’s just suspicious and nothing more.

Building on that suspicion, he said, is the accidental death insurance. Less than two months before her death, Mr. and Mrs. Beckett applied for accidental death insurance.

“What’s suspicious about accidental death policies is that it only works with an accidental death,” he said.

The previous insurance policy that Sandford pointed to was a life insurance policy not an “accidental death policy.”

Currie will continue Tuesday morning.