Behind bars for his wife’s murder, Peter Beckett hatched a plan with his cellmate to get rid of anyone in the way of his future freedom and wealth, a Kelowna jury heard this week.
Beckett, a former New Zealand city councillor, was arrested and charged with murder a year after the Aug. 18, 2010 drowning of Laura Letts-Beckett in Upper Arrow Lake, near Revelstoke. While awaiting trial at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in July 2012 he told his cellmate that he didn’t deserve the charge, though his story didn’t ring true.
“He explained to me he was out boating in a zodiac with his wife and told me he was positioned in a way where he was facing the stern of the boat and fishing, and his wife was up front, at the bow, and he said he didn’t notice that she’d fallen off of it. He didn’t see her flailing under water,” the former cellmate, whose name is protected under a publication ban, told the court in testimony that started Tuesday and continued through to Thursday.
“And I said, ‘is that your story, is that what you said to police?’ and he said, ‘yeah,’ and I said, ‘you’re f**ked.’”
The cellmate testified that he had lots of experience on the water, and a zodiac is a very buoyant boat.
A guy such as Beckett, who is six-feet-nine inches tall and 400 pounds, sitting in the steer of the boat would feel a change in the balance.
“I said that bow would have been standing straight in the air as soon as she fell off,” he said. “‘How you didn’t feel that or hear that in the boat, that’s impossible.’”
In time Beckett changed his story, and said perhaps his wife gently lowered herself from the zodiac and slipped into the water.
That, however, wasn’t the only reason he saw a conviction in his future.
The cellmate told jurors that when he asked Beckett for details on evidence the police had and witnesses queued up to speak, he was convinced he’d be convicted.
One woman in particular, said the cellmate, had the most damming evidence.
“I said if she showed up you’re done,” he told jurors.
That seemed to trigger a reaction in Beckett and a week later, after the cellmate changed cells, Mr. Beckett showed up at his door with his bail form. The form indicated who Beckett was supposed to stay away from once he was freed— including the aforementioned woman— the Letts family and their lawyer.
Beckett told his cellmate there was a lot of money with “wills, and properties and life insurance policies,” involved in his case.
“(Beckett) started going on about how we could live a lavish lifestyle on the outs, and how there’s a lot of money involved,” said the former cellmate.
“He knew I was getting out and I was well known in the system, and I hung out with shady characters on the street.”
As the cellmate built up his reputation as a criminal with clout, Beckett seemingly tried to win favour by bringing him weekly canteen supplies—junk food and cooking supplies that only arrive weekly.
He also talked a lot about moving to Costa Rica together if only the cellmate could kill the Letts family and the witnesses.
He told jurors that he was to take out the witness “MVA style” and the family by burning his house. Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames told them that the evidence about methodology was to be disregarded going forward.
The cellmate then testified that he sent a letter to the lead RCMP investigator sharing his conversations with Beckett.
“This case started to bother me … I think a lot of the reason I contacted (the RCMP case investigator) was my sister was murdered and it tore my family to pieces. This kept eating at me. I was thinking about what that family was going through.”
Defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford raised the witness’s extensive criminal record in cross examination, pointing out that starting in 1982 there were a number of convictions for robberies, fraudulent use of credit cards and dangerous driving.
She also highlighted portions of his prison diary to seemingly undermine his credibility.
The cellmate hadn’t just offered up Beckett. In a correspondence with the Mountie who was investigating the Beckett case, the cellmate spoke of his connections to the Sanghera gang.
“Perhaps we could take down the entire Sanghera crime family,” Sandford read from his the witness’s diary. They were rivals of the Bacon brothers, the Red Scorpions, and the UN gang at the time.
The cellmate said they’d become friends in pretrial confinement.
“So it wasn’t your sister’s death that caused you to do something,” said Sandford, adding that the cellmate just wanted to be a police informant.
“You’re so far on the left it’s starting to frighten me,” the cellmate said. “We’re here to talk about this case. I don’t care about some dead Sanghera.”
In opening statements, the Crown alleged that Beckett had taken out a sizeable accidental death insurance policy on his wife and he had his eyes on her part of a family inheritance. The Letts family are wealthy, fourth-generation cattle ranchers from Alberta.