Susan Whiting death: Woman guilty of manslaughter

Steven and Julie BeardsImage source, West Midlands Police
Image caption,
Steven and Julie Beards both denied murder and blamed each other for killing Susan Whiting

A man has been jailed for life for murdering a student with learning difficulties as his wife has been convicted of her manslaughter.

Steven Beards, 34, had already been convicted of the rape and murder of Susan Whiting, 20, who was drugged, raped and killed in August, Leicester Crown Court heard.

He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 33 years. His wife Julie Beards, 36, who also has learning difficulties, had denied murder and was convicted of manslaughter.

Miss Whiting's body was found wrapped in a shower curtain under a bed in the Beards' home in Walsall.

Steven Beards, whom the judge described as "a sexually motivated violent killer", denied the charges.

Julie Beards will be sentenced at a later date.

Image source, West Midlands Police
Image caption,
Susan Whiting suffered a fractured skull and was found dead under a bed, the court was told

Miss Whiting went to stay the night with the Beards on 16 August, which she had done before. She had become friends with Julie Beards through a local adult community centre.

The following day she was reported missing to the police.

The couple from Bloxwich in Walsall told the student's mother she had left their home safe and well, but the next day police found her body wrapped in a shower curtain under a bed in their house.

Image source, Helen Tipper
Image caption,
Julie Beards (left) was appointed an intermediary by the court to help her

Miss Whiting was raped after her food had been laced with a 'sedating hypnotic drug' Zoplicone, and died of a fractured skull when she had been struck on the head at least three times, a post-mortem examination found.

Steven Beards, who has also been convicted of rape, told the court he had "no idea" how evidence of his sperm had been found on Miss Whiting.

He claimed he was planning on being a sperm donor so had kept a sperm sample in his bathroom.

Analysis: Peter Wilson - BBC Midlands Special Correspondent

Susan Whiting placed her trust in two people she thought were her friends.

Susan had stayed with the Beards before and her family trusted them - that trust was totally broken, totally abused.

Julie accused her husband of extreme violence towards her in the past, and even rape - which he denied.

But the police believed she too was to blame for drugging vulnerable Susan and helping to conceal her body.

Steven's head was bowing down in the dock as the judge passed a sentence. He will be spending at least 33 years behind bars.

'Sexually motivated'

Det Supt Mark Payne said: "Susan Whiting was a vulnerable young woman who lost her life at the hands of this pair, who betrayed her trust.

"The two have never given a reason why Susan was killed, but we believe the attack was pre-planned and sexually motivated."

Steven Beards initially told police he had not stayed at the house that night and claimed to return home the following morning.

Julie Beards said she was in the bathroom and accused her husband of being a murderer.

Image caption,
Susan Whiting's body was found wrapped in a shower curtain under a bed in the Beards' home

Miss Whiting's mother, Maureen, paid tribute to her daughter saying: "She was just 20 years old, an easy-going, loving young lady, enjoying her life. I know she was loved and will be missed by so many people".

Julie Beards lived in a specially adapted bungalow run by the charity Brighter Futures which released a statement: "Our thoughts and sympathy go out to the family of Susan Whiting.

"This has been a very difficult and distressing time for everybody involved in the case. Brighter Futures has been working hard to support our customers and staff as they deal with what has happened."