Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 13:57 UK

Marcus Bebb-Jones: from poker fame to murder charge

By Paula Dear
BBC News

Marcus and Sabrina Bebb-Jones, Melrose Hotel, Grand Junction, in 1996. Pic: Christopher Tomlinson, Daily Sentinel
Briton Marcus Bebb-Jones and his wife Sabrina owned a hotel in Colorado

More than 12 years after the disappearance of his American wife, poker champion Marcus Bebb-Jones is a step closer to being extradited from the UK to face trial in the US for her murder.

The case has seen a number of bizarre twists that have yet to be explained.

These include Mr Bebb-Jones going on a Las Vegas "playboy weekend", partially funded by his wife's credit cards, then shooting himself in the head in a failed suicide attempt - all in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance.

In recent years he has had more attention for his successes on the online and casino poker circuit, winning thousands of pounds in prize money.

We are looking forward to sitting down and talking to him [Mr Bebb-Jones]
Commander Bill Middleton, Garfield County Sheriff's Office, Colorado

The large amount of cash he was thought to have accrued was one reason given for his being held in custody since his arrest. However, his barrister argued the money could not be used to aid his escape because it was "either spent or lost" and he was living on benefits.

Extradition to the US is a fate the Briton has been challenging since he was arrested at his home in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, last November.

Following a hearing in London on Monday district judge Howard Riddle will now send the case to the Home Secretary. If handed over and then convicted in the US, Mr Bebb-Jones would face a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The judge rejected his lawyer's argument that such a sentence would be "grossly disproportionate" and would breach his human rights.

Mr Bebb-Jones's barrister Ben Cooper - who is also representing British computer hacker Gary McKinnon in his US extradition case - will now try to persuade the Secretary of State to let his client stay in the UK, and he will have the right to appeal against the eventual decision if necessary.

Right to remain silent

But if that process fails then, before long, Mr Bebb-Jones could be saying goodbye to his mother and 16-year-old son and boarding a flight with US marshals, who will travel to the UK to escort him back across the Atlantic.

Map of Colorado

He would then be collected by detectives and taken to the county jail in Glenwood Springs, Colorado - the state in which Mr Bebb-Jones' wife Sabrina's skull was found, on a mountain pass, nearly six years ago.

If and when he arrives there, he will find at least two people who are "looking forward" to seeing him.

Commander Bill Middleton and Detective Eric Ashworth, of Garfield County Sheriff's Office in Colorado, have been working on the case since that grisly find, and they are keen to see it brought to a conclusion.

"We have worked on this since September 2004, and the investigation has taken us to London, Dublin and Edinburgh to interview people.

"Now we are looking forward to sitting down and talking to him," Commander Middleton told BBC News.

However, Mr Bebb-Jones may decide to exercise his right to remain silent, he added.

Car cleaned

Mr Bebb-Jones had been living in Colorado with his wife, Sabrina, 31, and their son, Daniel, who was three when his mother vanished.

The couple owned the Hotel Melrose, in Grand Junction, and it was an employee who reported Sabrina missing on 18 September 1997, according to details of the court documents reported in local newspaper the Daily Sentinel.

Mr Bebb-Jones is said by prosecutors to have put forward a number of different stories as to what exactly happened and where, but in each he claimed his wife had walked out on him after an argument while they were out on a day trip.

Playing cards
Mr Bebb-Jones allegedly used his wife's credit cards on a "playboy" weekend

More than one witness said the pair had gone on an outing to Dinosaur National Monument in north-west Colorado, and Mr Bebb-Jones is said to have told one friend of Sabrina's they had had a fight while there.

One employee said Mr Bebb-Jones had told her not to the call the police to report his wife missing, according to the report.

The employee also told police Mr Bebb-Jones had taken his minivan to the car wash to have the inside and outside cleaned, before taking his son to Las Vegas on 17 September. He told colleagues he was going to look for his wife, whose family live in the city.

According to US prosecutors, police later found Sabrina's blood inside the van.

Four days later Daniel was found alone in a Las Vegas hotel room and taken into state care. The next day a maid found Mr Bebb-Jones in another hotel room, with a "self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head".

Detectives said nearly $5,700 (£3,825) had been charged to credit cards - some of which were Sabrina's - in Las Vegas and a further $7,000 (£4,697) was refused. The spree is said to have included cash advances at casinos, hotel rooms and car rental.

No parole

Mr Bebb-Jones refused to talk to the US police, and moved back to the UK with his son in 1998, after selling the hotel.

For the next six years the case lay dormant, until a rancher found a human skull - later identified as Sabrina's - near Douglas Pass, which is between Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Junction.

The court document states that in the vicinity of the skull detectives found purple thistle flowers, which had also been discovered on the undercarriage of the couple's van in 1997.

Some 12 years after Sabrina's disappearance, a warrant was issued for Marcus Bebb-Jones in the US for murder in the first degree, concealing death and domestic violence.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police extradition unit acted on behalf of the US authorities, and Mr Bebb-Jones has been in custody awaiting the outcome of the extradition case.

On charges so serious, if found guilty the death penalty could be issued in the US.

But in accordance with the US-UK extradition treaty assurances have already been given that the sentence will not be used in this case.

However if Mr Bebb-Jones were to be found guilty following a trial he still faces staying in prison until his death.

As he awaits the final outcome of case from across the Atlantic, Commander Middleton says there is still much to explain.



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