Man accused of murdering young Soldotna woman seeks dismissal of all charges

KENAI — A Soldotna man accused of murdering a young woman is seeking dismissal of all charges, saying that the state acted recklessly when it allowed her body to be cremated.

Frank Bessette Jr., 54, is charged with the murder and sexual assault of 20-year-old Michele Pecora after a party in 2008. The woman was killed and her body stuffed in a cardboard television box, police said, then was driven around town for four or five days before being dumped in an abandoned vehicle in Kenai. The body was discovered seven months later.

Bessette was charged in October 2009 with murder and sexual assault. According to Monday’s Peninsula Clarion, Bessette’s attorney filed a motion earlier this month to have all charges dismissed. The court is expected to decide Attorney Steven Wells’ motion in August.

Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders was not available for comment and did not return a phone call from the Associated Press on Monday.

In his motion, Wells outlines how the initial medical examiner’s report concluded that Pecora died from an accidental drug overdose. Her body was then released to her family, who immediately cremated her remains.

Wells goes on to say that months after Pecora’s cremation, the state hired a new medical examiner named Dr. Katherine Raven to give a second opinion. Raven concluded “there was no way to determine an anatomical or toxicological cause of death,” and that “the circumstances surrounding the finding of Ms. Pecora’s body meant that the manner of death was homicidal violence.”

Wells says if the state had either kept the body or preserved tissue samples, the question of why she died could have been answered relatively easily.

Wells’ motion says if Pecora’s liver and body were available for re-examination, the findings of the first medical examiner, Dr. Robert Whitmore, would be confirmed, and an elevated level of a muscle relaxant would give strong support to the theory that Pecora died from a self-administered drug overdose.

Re-examination of the body could also show that the injuries interpreted as signs of sexual assault could be attributed to post-mortem effect, he said.

Wells said what really happened to Pecora is an example of what forensic pathologists call a “body dump.” A bunch of people are partying together, one overdoses, and the others panic. Instead of calling the police, they decide to dispose of the body themselves to keep from engaging with the authorities and potentially incriminating themselves.

“What I expect is that essentially she died of a drug overdose and Mr. Bessette thought that he killed her and panicked,” Wells said. “And that’s tampering with evidence, but that’s not murder.”

Bessette pleaded guilty to a charge of tampering with evidence in September 2009, before the murder and sexual assault charges were filed. His trial was to begin in early August but has been rescheduled for April. He is incarcerated at the Wildwood Correctional Center.

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