- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MATHEWS, Va. — A Richmond man was arraigned yesterday on a charge that he killed a 17-year-old college student whose decomposed remains were found in a shallow ravine one month after she disappeared.

Benjamin Fawley, 38, entered no plea to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Taylor Marie Behl, whose body was discovered Oct. 5 in this rural county 70 miles east of Richmond.

The indictment handed up last week accuses Fawley of killing Miss Behl “in the commission of, or attempt to commit, rape, forcible sodomy or abduction.”

The medical examiner’s office has not determined a cause of death in Miss Behl’s case.

Mathews Circuit Court Judge William Shaw III appointed William Johnson as Fawley’s counsel. The judge scheduled a May 30 trial date. Fawley is being held without bail in Richmond.

Miss Behl’s mother, Janet Pelasara of Vienna, Va., stared hard at Fawley during his arraignment.

Fawley, an amateur photographer who lived near the urban VCU campus, glanced at the packed courtroom as he was led in for the brief appearance. He wore a checked shirt and dark slacks.

Outside of the courtroom, Mrs. Pelasara said, “We’ve got our man so now it’s just — the process needs to go forward.”

Asked about seeing Fawley, she said, “I felt absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing. … I just am still so numb that seeing him didn’t make me feel anything.”

Mr. Johnson said outside of court that he had made no decision on whether to seek to have the trial moved out of Mathews County, but noted the extensive press coverage and said “that position could change.”

In October, a judge presiding over a special grand jury investigating the case issued a gag order after reports were leaked to the press that Fawley told police he accidentally killed the teen during a rough sexual encounter.

Fawley also is facing unrelated child pornography and firearms charges.

Miss Behl was reported missing from the VCU campus in Richmond by her roommate Labor Day weekend. Her car was found two weeks later, less than two miles from her dorm.

Police soon zeroed in on Fawley, raiding his apartment and seizing dozens of items, including a box of bones, a machete and a cutting of a box spring bearing a reddish-brown stain.

Prosecutors said authorities also found at least 30 videos on Fawley’s computers depicting children as young as 1 in sexual acts.

If the medical examiner’s office cannot determine a cause of death for Miss Behl, the prosecution could have a tough time securing a first-degree murder conviction, said Esther Windmueller, immediate past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“In order to convict anyone of anything, you have to prove the charge, so in proving a murder or a manslaughter, you have to … prove the death,” Ms. Windmueller said.

“They’re going to have to prove that Mr. Fawley murdered her … and that would be difficult to do without showing how somebody died.”

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