- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Virginia’s medical examiner has determined that Taylor Marie Behl, a Fairfax teenager whose remains were found near a farmhouse last year, died in a violent encounter, according to a final autopsy report issued this week.

“The cause of death is listed as homicidal violent, type undetermined,” said Arkuie Williams, a spokesman for the chief medical examiner. “It was a homicide.”

However, the medical examiner could not determine how Miss Behl, 17, was killed because of the poor condition of her partially decomposed remains, according to the autopsy report.

The examiner noted that Miss Behl’s remains showed no skeletal damage and were wrapped in plastic, and suggested she may have been strangled.

“In cases where there is no skeletal injury, an asphyxial mechanism of death is a possibility,” the report says, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “The disposal of the body in a remote area associated with plastic material and duct tape indicate an attempt to conceal the body.”

Benjamin Fawley, 39, an unemployed ex-convict, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Miss Behl, whose disappearance from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond during Labor Day weekend garnered national attention.

Fawley, who was indicted in January, has told police Miss Behl died accidentally when he cut off her air supply during a sexual encounter in her car in rural Mathews County, Va. He said he panicked and buried her body in a shallow grave near an abandoned farmhouse.

His murder trial begins Aug. 17 in Mathews County.

John Hunsaker, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said that ruling Miss Behl’s death a homicide does not mean she was murdered.

“The fact that a case is a homicide as determined by the medical examiner does not equal murder, manslaughter or reckless homicide,” he said. “It just means that, based on the criteria medical examiners use, the person was killed by another person.”

Mr. Hunsaker said Miss Behl’s death can be deemed a homicide by the medical examiner without skeletal evidence.

“In order to assign even the wording along lines of ‘homicide by undetermined means,’ it is dependent upon what the circumstances of the body are,” he told The Washington Times.

“If you have a body that is significantly decomposed … and there is perhaps duct tape or some indication that the person was put there after death, it is reasonable to consign homicide as the cause of death.”

Miss Behl’s mother, Janet Pelasara, said the autopsy results did not surprise her.

“I’m very happy to see the fact that [the medical examiner] could tell it was a homicidal violent death,” Mrs. Pelasara said. “But at the same time I’m not happy as a mother that that’s how my child died.”

The prosecution may have difficulty in getting a conviction in the case because the exact cause of death is not known, a former attorney for Mrs. Pelasara told The Times last year.

Mrs. Pelasara said she does not think the autopsy report will hinder the prosecution.

“I don’t think that was ever an issue,” she said. “The way that [Fawley] has lied, the way he tried to cover up where he left her, I don’t think it will be a problem.”

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