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Press: Suspect Arrested
 

Oxford Eagle, Saturday, December 16, 2000
Fellow Writer Stands Accused in Chase Murder

by Loretta Winston, Staff Reporter

Friday evening, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department arrested Peggy Madeline LeClaire for the October 14 murder of Oxford writer Zoe Chase. LeClaire was taken into custody without incident at her residence and was transported to the Yoknapatawpha County Detention Center, where she was questioned.

LeClaire is accused in the shooting death of The Oxford Town Weekly columnist Zoe Chase. Chase was found dead on the side of County Road 2003 by teenager Beau Jenkins, who was delivering groceries to a nearby church member. Early in the investigation, some considered Jenkins a suspect in the apparent car jacking murder, but detectives quickly dismissed Jenkins as a suspect and discarded the car jacking theory. "The scene had been staged to look like a car jacking, and we didn't want to mention it while the investigation was ongoing, but whoever did it didn't know much about how car jackings really look. There were too many things that just didn't quite add up," said Sheriff's Detective Ted Armstrong. "We knew almost right from the very start that this murder was personal."

Speaking about the circumstances leading up to LeClaire's arrest, Yoknapatawpha Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones said, "The detectives conducted a search of the suspect's residence throughout the day Friday and recovered several pieces of evidence that implicate her in the crime. PIO Jones declined to comment on the specifics of the evidence against LeClaire or her possible motive, but sources close to the investigation say LeClaire is claiming religious justification for her actions. When asked if LeClaire had expressed an intention to use an insanity defense, District Attorney Jake Hood said, "The case against Peggy LeClaire is strong. She may believe that a diminished capacity or mental defect defense strategy is the only way she can escape punishment for her crime, but she is mistaken. We have no reason to believe that she is mentally incompetent to stand trial or that she was insane at the time of the shooting."

In the weeks since Chase was slain, many Oxonians have speculated about the motive behind her killing. Members of the Oxford Writers Circle, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they have heard rumors that Chase may not have been the sole author of her new book, which was scheduled to be published in Summer 2001. Some think that could have been the reason she was killed, while others believe it was Chase's romantic involvements that led to her death. Both the victim and the alleged killer were members of the Oxford Writers Circle and their fellow members say the arrest of Peggy LeClaire and her apparent assertions of religious justification have done little to clarify the question of motive in their minds.

To date, LeClaire has refused legal representation, opting instead for religious counsel. Father Patrick Monahan, pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in Oxford, was present at LeClaire's request while she was being questioned. Father Monahan refused to comment on whether he had given LeClaire any religious advice regarding the allegations against her. "It would be inappropriate for me to speak about my conversations with Ms. LeClaire on this or any subject. I will tell you, this is a tragedy from all angles," Monahan told reporters. "The premature and violent death of a woman as young as Ms. Chase and the fact that one of her friends now stands accused of the murder, both are terribly tragic. I will keep Peggy LeClaire and Zoe Chase, as well as their families and friends, in my prayers during the Christmas season and throughout this ordeal."

Peggy Madeline LeClaire will be arraigned on murder charges early next week. The court is expected to assign an attorney to represent LeClaire at that time, if she has not retained legal counsel prior to the hearing.

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