Born on October 2nd 1974 in San Diego California, Scott Lee Peterson, an American, was convicted of the murder of his 8-months pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son- Peter Conner. Peterson’s parents were Lee Arthur Peterson and Jacqueline Helen Latham. Arthur was employed by a trucking company and later ventured into crate-packaging. Jacqueline owned the Put On boutique in La Jolla California.
Lee Peterson was employed as a caddy at a golf course while schooling at the University of San Diego High School. The young Peterson was a golfer at school. He later attended California Polytechnic State University. Scott met Laci Rocha while working as a waiter at San Luis Obispo cafe as he was studying at California Polytechnic. Scott married Laci in August 1997.
Scott and Arthur Peterson alleged that Phil Michelson was known to Scott. Arthur asserted that his son and Michelson were friends and that Scott abandoned his ambitions of being a professional golfer due to the fact that Scott couldn’t match Michelson’s prowess (Lee, 2004, 17). Mickelson said that he couldn’t remember Scott.
Laci Peterson’s disappearance
Laci was reported missing from their home in Modesto California on 24th December 2002 by Arthur Peterson. Laci was due to deliver on February 10th 2003.
Scotts and Laci’s families, Scott and the Modesto community addressed press gatherings. A witness observed that Scott had initially said that he was golfing and later claimed that he was fishing at Berkeley marina when Laci disappeared.
Laci’s and Conner’s bodies were discovered on different dates five kilometers from the place Scott was supposed to be fishing. Conner’s body was found on April 13th 2003 and Laci’s on April 14th. Peterson was not initially regarded as a prime suspect by the police mainly because Laci’s friends and family believed Peterson was innocent at the outset. Contradictions in Peterson’s statements later led police to grow suspicious of him.
Petersons many extramarital affairs came to the fore on 17th January 2003, the latest being with Amber Frey, a massage expert. Frey sought police assistance when she learnt that Peterson was not honest with her since by lying to her about his marriage. Frey was suspicious of Peterson owing to the disappearance of his wife, the existence of whom he had hidden from Frey (http://crime.about.com/od/current/a/scott040718.htm).
Laci’s family stopped presuming Scott’s innocence. The family was not incensed by the illicit affair but by Peterson’s statement to Frey that he had lost his wife and that he would be spending his first Christmas without a wife 15 days before Laci’s disappearance. Frey construed Scott’s statement to imply that he was a widower. The family was convinced that Scott had pre-planned Laci’s murder before her actual disappearance. Frey was recruited as a major witness against Peterson after she conceded to police taping of her subsequent conversations with Scott. The motive was to induce Scott to confess, an act he never did.
Frey’ and Peterson’ phone conversations recordings were played at the trial and the transcripts made public. Peterson’s character was dented by the recordings which also deeply implicated Scott. It was adduced that Scott lied to Amber that he had traveled to Paris on holiday with his new partners Pasqual and Francois after Laci’s disappearance. However, Scott was actually attending Laci’s candlelit vigil at the New Year’s Eve when he had one of the conversations.
Recovery of bodies
A male fetus was found on 14th April 2003 on San Francisco Bay in Richmond’s Point Isabel region’s shoreline. The body had been washed ashore north of Berkeley Marina where Scott had been boating at the time of Laci’s disappearance. An incomplete female torso without feet, hands and head was washed ashore on April 15th in the same locality. The bodies were identified to be Laci’s and Conner’s but due to putrefaction autopsies couldn’t determine the exact time and cause of death.
Laci had her 5th, 6th and 9th ribs broken before death, injuries not resulting from dragging of the body along the bay rocks. It was assumed that Laci had been strangled or suffocated in the Modesto home. The FBI and Modesto Police Department undertook forensic searches at the Modesto home, Scott’s tool box, Scott’s truck, his warehouse and his boat. The single evidence adduced was a single strand of hair presumed to be Laci’s on pliers found on Scott’s boat (Lee, 2004, 32).
Detective Taylor Burlingame arrested Scott on 18th April 2003 in La Jolla California at a golf course’s parking lot. Peterson alleged that he was due to play golf with his father and Zak O’regan, his brother, at Torrey Pines golf course. Several golf-irrelevant items were found on Scott at his arrest. Peterson had: 4 cell phones, $ 15,000 in cash, his family members credit cards, camping gear (knifes, food warming equipment, tarpaulins, tents, water purifier), twelve pairs of shoes, a gun, changes of clothing, a map to Frey’s workplace printed on the same day, a shovel, a T-handled double –edged knife, rope, Viagra, 24 packs of sleeping pills, and a brothers drivers license.
Scoot had also dyed his hair and beard blond, but he alleged that the color resulted from chlorine after swimming at a friend’s pool. The said friend later asserted that Peterson had never used his pool or his hot tub. Police concluded that Peterson was planning to escape probably to Mexico (Posey, 2005, 50).
The trial of Scott Peterson
The Stanislaus County Public Defenders Office was assigned to be Peterson’s defense on Scott’s request. Kent Faulkner, Chief Deputy Public Defender and Maureen Keller, Deputy Public Defender, were the attorneys in the case. Later Peterson chose to hire attorney Mark Geragos as private counsel. Owing to mounting hostility to Scott and much media attention, Peterson’s trial was transferred from Modesto to Redwood City, California.
The People of the State of California vs. Scott Peterson trial was opened in June 2004 with Rick Distaso as lead prosecutor. Amber Frey, the prosecution witness, hired attorney Gloria Allred, not subject to the gag order, to protect her privacy from the press. She held that Frey couldn’t confirm or deny Peterson’s guilty. Allred appeared severally on TV criticizing the defense thus displaying her solidarity with the prosecution (Graber, 1997, 5).
Defense lawyers at Peterson’s case capitalized on the lack of evidence and quashed circumstantial evidence. They argued that Conner was a full-grown infant and suggested that somebody else had abducted Laci, detained her up to birth and dumped the two bodies. Geragos had Dr. Charles March to show that Conner died one week after the prosecutors’ time estimates. The prosecutions’ medical team proved that Conner had not fully grown and that Laci and the baby died simultaneously.
Geragos argued that a satanic cult had kidnapped the expectant woman. Peterson was viewed as an immoral person for cheating on his wife but not a murderer. One juror was eliminated earlier in the trial owing to misconduct and replaced by an alternate. This followed CourtTV’s complaint that Laci’s older brother, Brent Rocha and the juror exchanged words in court. A video footage was shown to lend credence to these claims (http://crime.about.com/od/current/a/scott040718.htm).
Gregory Jackson, a medical student and the jury foreman, was later removed on his request made during jury deliberations. Jackson could have asked to be removed because he was due for replacement although Geragos indicated that Jackson had been threatened. An alternate replaced Jackson.
Peterson was found to be guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing his wife and second degree murder for killing Conner on 12th November 2004. The trial’s punishment period commenced on 30th November and ended on 13th December. The twelve-member jury recommended death sentence for Peterson on 13th December at 1:50 PM PST (Scott, 2008, 7).
The jury indicated that Scott’s behavior particularly his lack of remorse and his phone conversation with Amber after Laci’s disappearance pointed to his guilt. The sentence was based on the many circumstantial evidence details deduced from the trial. Petersons absconding of his duty to protect his family also earned him the verdict.
The evidence was purely circumstantial. Peterson altered his looks to camouflage himself from the press and purchased a car in his mother’s name. A day after Laci’s disappearance, Scott subscribed to 2 hardcore pornography TV channels, a pointer that he was sure his wife would not return. Scott wanted to sell the family home and he sold Laci’s land rover. A United States Hydrological Survey hydrologist, Ralph Cheng also a San Francisco Bay tides expert, and a witness said that tides aren’t violent enough to drown person. Cheng also couldn’t explain how the bodies were transported and deposited. Peterson’s affair with Amber and the conversations they had was also evidence for Scott’s guilt (Scott, 2008, 9).
The prosecution surmised that Peterson killed his wife owing to his affair with Amber. Increasing debt and a yearning to be free from coming family obligations could also be one of Scott’s motives.
Judge Alfred A. Delluchi sentenced Peterson to death by lethal injection on 16th march 2005. Defense’s requests for a re-trial pleading juror misconduct and media meddling in the earlier trial were quashed. Peterson was taken to San Quentin State Prison on 17th March 2005. His case is on automatic appeal to the Supreme Court of California in Sacramento.
A TV film starring Dean Cain was aired in 2004. Amber Frey published a book detailing her experiences with Scott Peterson in January 2005. Richelle Nice, a member of jury in Scott’s case, is one of Peterson’s correspondents in prison.
Since Petersons trial was based solely on circumstantial evidence, rules of natural justice dictate that a retrial should be done to try to adduce concrete evidence against Scott. The failure to determine the exact time and cause of Conner and Laci is also a pointer that Peterson’s case was not conclusive. Scott could be suffering innocently in prison.