WAYNESBURG, Pa. – A farmhand charged with strangling a 12-year-old girl told police in a recorded statement that he panicked after the girl threatened to tell her parents that he molested her.
Jeffrey R. Martin was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on homicide and other charges in the death of Gabrielle M. Bechen, who hung out on the farm where he worked because she liked to visit the horses.
Gabrielle vanished June 13 when she left her rural home to ride her all-terrain vehicle to the farm. State troopers said they found her ATV in a manure pit Saturday and questioned Martin that afternoon because his duties at the farm included hauling manure.
Martin led them to the girl's grave, officials said. Prosecutors said he confessed and played a recording of his statement in court.
"She just came out of the blue and said, 'I'm going to tell my mom and dad that you molested me,'" Martin said on the tape. "And I just panicked."
Martin, 48, has a record of petty crimes. He did not confess to molesting Gabrielle, authorities said. Martin told troopers she jumped off her four-wheeler and ran down the farm's driveway after confronting him. He said he chased after her and, when she fell on loose gravel, jumped on top of her.
"I'm still scared, panicked, and I started choking her," he said in the recording.
Martin told the troopers it was a "good while" before the girl stopped moving.
Bechen's body was found in a shallow grave beneath some rocks on the farm. Authorities said Martin strangled her and then used farm equipment to move her body to the field where he buried her. He then buried her ATV, helmet and shoes in separate locations elsewhere on the farm, police said.
Afterward, Martin told police, he went back to work, cleaning the barn and gathering a load of horse manure, which filled the hole where he hid the ATV.
Martin also will stand trial on an aggravated assault charge and four counts of tampering with physical evidence.
Public Defender Harry Cancelmi did not directly contradict the charges against Martin, but after the hearing attempted to explain why his client had trouble holding jobs and had a criminal record.
Martin was badly injured in an accident when he was 12 and spent two years in a body cast. He fell behind in school and, Cancelmi said, that possibly affected him mentally.
The girl's parents, Christopher and Blanche Bechen, wept quietly as Martin's statement was played at his preliminary hearing. They later declined to comment.