- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

A Richmond man accused of killing Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Taylor Marie Behl last fall is expected to plead guilty to second-degree murder today, nearly a week before he was scheduled to go to trial in the case, according to a published report.

Benjamin Fawley, 39, an unemployed ex-convict, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Miss Behl, whose disappearance from the VCU campus during Labor Day weekend garnered national attention.

A plea agreement is expected to be signed today. It includes the dismissal of unrelated charges of possession of child pornography, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday. WRC-TV (Channel 4) reported that prosecutors are seeking a 30-year prison sentence.

Other terms of the plea agreement were not known yesterday.

Miss Behl’s mother, Janet Pelasara of Vienna, Va., said yesterday that the plea agreement lifts a weight off her shoulders.

“If the plea goes through, and I do not have to endure a trial, then I would be relieved,” Mrs. Pelasara told The Washington Times. “Hopefully, now I can get on with my grieving. It’s really the beginning of my healing.”

A hearing is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today at Mathews County Circuit Court, a spokesman for the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney’s Office said yesterday.

Mr. Fawley’s attorney, Chris Collins, and Mathews County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Gill did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Miss Behl, 17, disappeared Sept. 5. Her remains were discovered Oct. 5 behind a farmhouse in rural Mathews County, Va.

Mr. Fawley, who was indicted in January, told police that Miss Behl died accidentally when he cut off her air supply during a consensual sexual encounter in her car. He said he panicked and dumped her body in a shallow grave near a dirt road behind an abandoned farmhouse.

His murder trial was set to begin Aug. 17.

An autopsy report on Miss Behl’s remains was released last week. The state medical examiner determined that Miss Behl died in a violent encounter, but could not say how she died because of the poor condition of her partially decomposed remains.

In the 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 autopsy report stated. “The disposal of the body in a remote area associated with plastic material and duct tape indicate an attempt to conceal the body.”

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