Murder trial begins for man who claimed wife died in boat accident

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A man who told authorities his wife vanished in a bizarre boating accident three years ago went on trial Thursday on charges of murdering her to collect on a $2 million life insurance policy.

Prosecuting and defense attorneys began painting vastly different pictures of Eric Bechler, 32, who claimed his wife, Pegye, fell off a motorboat four miles off Newport Beach on July 6, 1997. A search failed to find her body.

''You're going to hear a story of a fairy tale relationship with a wonderful man,'' Deputy District Attorney Deborah Lloyd told jurors in opening statements. ''But Pegye Bechler died so the defendant could maintain the lifestyle he had become accustomed to.''

The prosecutor said Bechler admitted the crime two years later to his girlfriend, Tina New.

Bechler's attorney told jurors his client made up the story to impress the girlfriend, who called him a ''goody-goody.''

Attorney John Barnett described a man so devastated by the loss of his wife that he would say anything not to lose another woman he loved.

''It's nothing to be proud of. But it's not murder,'' he said.

Bechler has repeatedly said his wife's death was a ''tragic accident.''

Bechler told investigators he and his wife rented a 19-foot speedboat. He said they had margaritas, and then she began towing him on a body board. He said he hit a swell and fell off, and when he surfaced the boat was circling in the distance and his 38-year-old wife, who wasn't wearing a life vest, had vanished in water 1,000 feet deep.


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