Murder trial for former New Zealand councillor continues

Evidence for fainting equal to evidence of being pushed

A witness who offered testimony supporting the theory that Laura Letts-Beckett may had drowned after fainting told a Kelowna jury there was just as much evidence for the idea she was pushed into the water.

Dr. Matthew Orde, a forensic pathologist with the UBC Faculty of Medicine, was cross examined by Crown counsel Iain Currie Wednesday, as defence of the New Zealand politician charged with killing his wife continued.

In a report on the case, Orde detailed a number of reasons why Letts-Beckett may have died in the water Aug. 18, 2010, while boating with her husband Peter Beckett in remote Shelter Bay on Upper Arrow Lake.

Cold water shock — the process of someone gasping when they find themselves in cold water and sucking in cold water — was among the possibilities he listed.

“Do you have any evidence that cold water shock was a significant factor?” asked Currie.

“ No I don’t. I can simply raise it as an issue,” Orde replied.

“Given the available literature, if a jury were to conclude that the water was 20 C or above when Ms. Letts-Beckett went in the water, would you agree there would be there would not be a likelihood of cold water shock?” Currie asked.

Orde couldn’t support that theory definitively, so Currie asked him to translate what he did believe into “lay language.”

“Cold water shock is a thing — one. And two, it may or may not have happened here — yes?” said Currie.

Orde agreed to that.

Currie also challenged Orde’s theory that heart issues may have played a part in Letts-Beckett’s fall into the water. Part of the evidence in the background of that theory was that Letts-Beckett allegedly had told her husband, Peter Beckett, that her back hurt.

“If an otherwise healthy woman reportedly said her back was sore, out of 10, what mark would you give a first year medical student if they suggested the diagnosis of fatal arrhythmia?” Currie asked.

Orde pointed out that if she hadn’t died it clearly wouldn’t be a fatal condition, and said his job as a pathologist was to try and delve into any underlying factors that may have caused her to plunge in the water and ultimately die.

The back ache and potential arrhythmia fit into that category of thinking, he told the jury.

“Would you agree with me that sitting on a cooler on a thin cushion and a life-jacket would likely be uncomfortable?” Currie asked.

Orde said as a pathologist, he couldn’t answer that question but as a person he could imagine it would be uncomfortable.

Currie also pointed out that Letts-Beckett’s parents lived into their 80s and her siblings were alive well into their 40s and 50s without any evidence of a heart condition, which is a factor that should be considered when assigning potential heart health diagnoses to a person.

Ultimately, said Currie, there was no medical evidence that Letts-Beckett had an underlying cardiac condition. The same goes for the theory that she fainted and fell into the water.

“If Ms. Letts-Beckett was pushed into the water, you wouldn’t expect to find forensic evidence of that either?” said Currie.

“I would not,” said Orde.

“Yet you haven’t listed that possibility anywhere for the jury to consider as a possible contributory factor?” said Currie.

Currie later pointed out that there are many circumstances where a person falls in the water and doesn’t drown, not the least of which being when someone is nearby and reaches out to help someone onto a boat.

Beckett, now 60, denies murdering second wife Laura Letts-Beckett. He was arrested in August 2011 and charged with murder and Crown counsel is attempting to prove he killed her intending to claim on a life insurance policy he had taken out in her name.