Suspect Indicted in Death of VCU Student
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Benjamin Fawley told police that Taylor Behl's death was an accident, that the Richmond college student died during a sexual encounter in which he restricted her breathing. Yesterday, a grand jury in nearby Mathews County, Va., where her body was found, called it something else altogether: first-degree murder.
The one-count indictment of Fawley, 38, an amateur photographer, came three months after Behl's decomposed remains were found partially buried in a shallow ravine. Despite numerous tests, the medical examiner has not determined how the 17-year-old from Vienna died, a spokeswoman for the office said.
"I don't want to go into any evidence in the case," the county's chief prosecutor, Jack Gill, told reporters outside the courthouse yesterday in announcing the indictment. A gag order in the case was issued in October after Fawley's statement to police that Behl accidentally died while they were having sex was leaked to the media.
Behl, a June graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna, was found one month after she was reported missing from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was just two weeks into her freshman year. Her disappearance was the focus of an intense manhunt and was publicized almost daily in national cable and print news outlets. Her body was found about 70 miles east of the downtown campus.
Janet Pelasara, Behl's mother, traveled from her Vienna home to await the grand jury's decision. She said in a telephone interview that she was "tickled and thrilled" with the indictment.
"We still have a long way to go, but this is a good beginning," she said, adding that she has been told very little about the case since the gag order was imposed, including how her daughter died. "I just hope that the trial is going to prove him guilty and that he will be put through the same pain that he put Taylor through."
Fawley, who took pictures of a fully clothed Behl last spring and posted them online, has remained jailed since September, when he was arrested on unrelated child pornography charges after police found numerous videos on his home computers.
Within days of the discovery of her remains, Fawley told investigators that he had had consensual sex with Behl in her car, parked near a beach in rural Mathews County, the night of Sept. 5 and that he had accidentally choked her, according to an attorney for Behl's mother. He told police that he had panicked after she died and dumped her body in the ravine.
Chris Collins, an attorney for Fawley, said yesterday that he was relieved that the grand jury did not indict his client on capital murder charges, which would have made the case eligible for the death penalty. And absent a cause of death, even first-degree murder "is a stretch," he said.
"I don't know how prosecutors proved to the grand jury that the case should be first degree," Collins said in a telephone interview from his Richmond office. To do so, prosecutors have to introduce evidence of premeditation.
"I think they have emotions on their side, and I think the only thing they can do is hope to get the trial jury so enraged that this 38-year-old man was having sex with a 17-year-old and that it will suffice as premeditation," Collins said. "Emotions sometimes carry these cases beyond the law."
It was not immediately known when the trial was scheduled to begin.
Behl maintained a vast online presence with journals and profiles posted at the popular social networking sites MySpace.com and LiveJournal.com. On her MySpace account, which she last logged in to the day before she disappeared, friends continue to post messages about their memories of her.
One friend wrote Saturday that she found a snow globe that Behl had given to her in the sixth grade, as well as several "hilarious bday cards and pictures from you."
"i miss you every time i look at them," the friend wrote. "always thinking of you, love you Taylor."