The case of Peter Bergna is quite interesting in that there are a lot of unanswered questions still surrounding the incident. Was it just an unusual accident with a few coincidences, or was it an almost perfect murder?
On the night of May 31, 1998, Peter Bergna, after picking up his wife Rinette (who was just returning that night from a trip to Italy) from the airport, drove up Slide Mountain to talk about their marital problems. What transpired form there is anyone’s guess. According to Peter, the brakes on his truck malfunctioned, causing the truck to crash through the guardrail and plummet off the 800 foot cliff. Luckily for him, Peter somehow flew out the driver’s side window and gently landed on the side of the mountain. Rinette was not so lucky; she remained inside the truck. Her broken body was found inside the wreckage.
Police, as well as the paramedics, became suspicious of this story pretty early on. Firstly, Peter only suffered from a sprained ankle after supposedly being forcibly thrown from a moving vehicle—it would not have been unusual for someone in the same situation to be admitted to the ICU. Secondly, the accident scene didn’t correspond to his version of events. There were no skid marks on the road and, according to the investigators, there was no indication that he had made any attempt to steer away from the guardrail—the truck seemed to drive straight into the railing, as if someone wanted to drive off the edge.
Another detail noticed by the first responders was Peter’s lack of tears. He appeared to be sobbing, but not a single tear was seen on him. He also did not seem surprised by the news that his wife was dead.
One possible slip-up of Peter’s was his admission that, while sitting on the side of the mountain awaiting the ambulance, he said to the 911 operator that he didn’t see the truck or a fire. Why would he be expecting to see a fire? This corresponds to a detail the police discovered—when the truck went over the cliff, it had two gas cans in the back. Both were recently filled and had the safety valves removed from them.
There are a number of details in Peter’s favor, however. The entire case is purely circumstantial, and no concrete motive has been established. The prosecution’s assertion was that he killed Rinette because he was lonely from her being gone for so long at a time (she was an international tour guide at the time of her death); it does not make sense that he would kill her because he wanted her to be home more.
There was a life insurance policy on Rinette, but according to the insurance broker it was Rinette herself who wanted the policy, and Peter pushed to have less coverage. Peter also seemed surprised at the amount he received from the life insurance, according to his insurance broker, because he did not remember that Rinette had added accidental death coverage onto the policy.
It took the police and district attorney over two years to file charges against Bergna. His first trial ended in a hung jury. A retrial began in 2002, this time concluding with a guilty verdict. Peter Bergna was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
After his conviction, Bergna immediately filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court. His appeal was rejected. Later, in 2010, another appeal was filed that was also rejected. Peter Bergna is currently held at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.
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