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Slay suspect also charged with rape

| Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006

The handyman accused of killing a 12-year-old girl at a horse farm in Greene County was charged Friday with sexually assaulting her.

The new charges against Jeffrey Martin, 48, of New Geneva, Fayette County, raises the possibility that he could face the death penalty if he is convicted of killing Gabrielle Miranda Bechen, of Dunkard.

Martin was charged yesterday with rape of a child, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault of a child, sexual assault and abuse of a corpse. He also faces charges of homicide, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.

Bechen was last seen alive by family members on the morning of June 13 when she went riding on her all-terrain vehicle. The ATV and her body were found several days later, buried on the horse farm where Martin worked.

Linda A. Chambers, first assistant district attorney in Greene County, said the rape charge constitutes the "aggravating" circumstance that could send Martin to death row, if convicted.

Chambers said Martin has denied raping Bechen but has admitted killing her. The results of DNA tests won't be known for several weeks because of a laboratory backlog.

Chris Bechen, Gabrielle's father, said it "would have been nice" if authorities had notified the family about the new charges before he was told about them by a reporter.

He said the family knew police and the district attorney's office had been looking at the possibility of filing a rape charge.

In a taped confession to police, which was played at his preliminary hearing, Martin said he grabbed the girl by the arm after she accused him of misconduct. She broke free and began to run, and Martin said he pounced on her when she fell and strangled her.

Chambers said in a written statement that forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's autopsy revealed evidence of sexual assault at or near the time of death.

A criminal complaint filed with District Judge Lee Watson, of Carmichaels, stated that when the girl's body was found, her jeans were down around her ankles and her bathing suit top was pushed up.

Bechen was buried in a 6-foot grave on the farm on Mt. Joy Road. The ATV, her helmet and shoes were buried in another location.

Martin led authorities to Bechen's burial spot after a neighbor taking part in the massive search for the girl discovered the ATV.

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