A Navy lieutenant sentenced last year to life in prison for the 2015 murder of his wife has gotten permission from an appellate judge to file an extended appeal in the case, one that has spanned international borders over nearly a decade.
A U.S. military jury in April 2022 found Lt. Craig Becker guilty of premeditated murder, assault consummated by a battery and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman in connection to the October 2015 death of his wife, 32-year-old Johanna Hove-Becker, a Belgian woman who plunged to her death from the seventh floor of their Mons, Belgium, apartment.
In the latest twist, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, or NMCCA, granted a request last month by Becker’s civilian defense attorney to submit an appeal brief that exceeds the court’s standard 30,000-word limit for such filings.
Becker’s attorney, Richard Sheldon, told Military Times that the 200-page brief, pending submission to the court, claims Becker’s trial record is fraught with errors stemming from translation issues with Belgian authorities and witnesses.
In one instance, Sheldon said, those alleged errors affected the recorded testimony of a woman who Sheldon alleges is the only person who testified to seeing Hove-Becker at the window prior to her fatal fall.
Sheldon said he expects a government reply to the appeal brief by the spring, followed by oral argument and a decision by the appeal court in the summer.
“I don’t think [Becker’s conviction] will stand,” he said.
The appeal court’s ruling last month is the latest step in a long legal saga that initially saw the Navy unwilling to prosecute one of their own, even though Becker was assigned to a NATO command in Belgium at the time and fell under the alliance’s Status of Forces Agreement, which allows the military to take jurisdiction over cases involving personnel overseas.
Why the Navy declined to take on Becker’s case remains unclear.
Becker was in Belgian custody for more than two years after Hove-Becker’s death, and the Navy didn’t take over jurisdiction until a former Becker attorney filed a complaint in court and former Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered the sea service to do so in 2018.
Sheldon did not represent Becker for his court-martial, but he assisted Becker’s former attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, with court filings to compel the Navy to take jurisdiction of the case from European authorities.
In July 2020, the NMCCA reversed a decision by trial judge Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh to exclude statements Hove-Becker had previously made to military authorities accusing Becker of strangulation and abuse.
She originally claimed Becker had thrown her “around their hotel room and strangled her” in 2013 after learning of her affair, but she later recanted the statements in a joint counseling session, according to court documents.
The military jury that convicted him at general court-martial in April 2022 found Becker had pushed her out the window, while his defense argued that she had jumped and pointed to her history of mental health issues, including suicidal ideations.
Court records show Hove-Becker had the drugs tramadol, an opioid, and the active ingredient in the insomnia medication Ambien, in her system. Becker was accused of using these to subdue her before murdering her.
Becker’s case reached a wider American audience earlier this year when it was turned into an episode of NBC’s true-crime TV series “Dateline.”
The show features exclusive interviews from troops Becker served with who called the decorated explosive ordnance disposal officer “a bold leader” with a “warfighter’s mentality,” as well as a Belgian friend of Hove-Becker who described her as happy and easy to like.
The two had met in 2005 and had a one-year-old daughter together at the time of Hove-Becker’s death.
Becker, people who knew the couple alleged, became possessive and controlling over the years. Hove-Becker had a brief affair with one of his friends that rocked the marriage and exacerbated her husband’s controlling behavior, friends told Dateline.
In one audio clip featured in the show, Becker berates Hove-Becker over her selection of “ugly” material for curtains she made.
The “Dateline” episode also sheds light on text messages Hove-Becker purportedly sent to her boyfriend on the night of her death, including one stating “I f—ing hate my life.” Becker was later accused of sending the messages himself.
Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter covering the U.S. military and national defense. The former managing editor of Military.com, her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico Magazine, USA Today and Popular Mechanics.
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