A photographer whom Richmond police consider a suspect in the death of college student Taylor Marie Behl has been charged with the illegal possession of a firearm, authorities said yesterday.
Ben Fawley, 38, one of the last people to see Behl, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman, has been jailed since last month, when he was arraigned on 16 counts of possession of child pornography. The new charge, possession of a firearm while a convicted felon, was filed Friday.
In a statement released yesterday, Richmond police said the new charge against Fawley stems from the department's "continued focused and aggressive investigation" into what happened to Behl, 17. The teenager, a June graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna, was found dead Wednesday in a shallow ditch about 70 miles east of Richmond. Her body was so badly decomposed that police have not established a cause of death; an autopsy has not been completed.
Police said Fawley illegally had a firearm before Behl's disappearance from the VCU campus Sept. 5. Fawley has several convictions in his home town of Doylestown, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, for crimes ranging from theft and petty larceny to aggravated assault, court records show. Because of the felony convictions, Fawley was prohibited from owning a firearm. He also has served time in Virginia for assault and battery, court records show.
Fawley's attorney, Chris Collins, did not return a phone call to his office yesterday.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported the firearm charge.
No one has been charged in Behl's death, but police said that Fawley, who had a sexual relationship with Behl, is considered a suspect. Forensic tests continued yesterday on items seized during the month-long investigation into her disappearance and taken from the scene where her body was found, police said.
An attorney for Behl's family said yesterday that funeral arrangements for the teenager, who would have turned 18 on Thursday, will not be made until her body is released from the medical examiner's office in Richmond.
Fawley wrote about his criminal record on his Web sites. The title of one Web log is "Playing with Fire -- The trash of a crazy X-con," in which he asked, "Burn baby, burn! . . . have you committed a felony today?"
Behl was reported missing by her roommate about 27 hours after she was last seen. Police said she went to her residence hall, found her roommate with a boyfriend and told her she would leave for a few hours. Behl, who was two weeks into her first semester in college, took only her cell phone, car keys, student identification and about $40.
Her 1997 Ford Escort was found nearly two weeks later in a residential area about one mile from campus. Its Virginia license plates had been replaced by Ohio tags that were reported stolen several weeks before she was last seen.
After a month of news conferences, hundreds of leads and national television coverage, it was a photograph posted by Fawley on one of his Web sites that led investigators to Behl's remains. A former girlfriend of Fawley's recognized the photo of an abandoned trailer and farmhouse surrounded by weeds, because the property is adjacent to her family's land in coastal, rural Mathews County.
Fawley has been held in an isolated jail cell since his arrest Sept. 23 on the child pornography charges. After a search of his apartment in the days after Behl was reported missing, police and prosecutors said, numerous sexually explicit videos involving children as young as 1 year old were found on his computers.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.