Almost every little girl dreams of having that fairy-tail life which includes: the perfect wedding, the perfect husband, and perfect house with the perfect family. Take for example, Laci and Scott Peterson. To the people who knew them they were the “perfect couple” with the “perfect lives”. They had a nice home, good circle of friends, great jobs and seemed to never fight (Fleeman, 2003). But unfortunately life isn’t a fairy-tale and things don’t always go perfectly. It become evident the day Laci’s husband killed her that their “perfect” marriage was no more.
Because life isn’t a fairy-tale, it makes a person wonder, “Can you fully trust the people around you? ” The Laci Peterson case is one that touched the heart of millions of people and opened the eyes of a nation. It all started on the evening of December 24, 2002, when Scott Peterson, husband to Laci Peterson, called his mother-in-law and asked if she had seen or talked to Laci. When Sharon Rocha replied she hadn’t, Scott said “Well she’s missing” (Fleeman, 2003). The words “she’s missing” struck Sharon as peculiar.
She wondered to herself why not “out” or “gone” and then all of a sudden this terrible feeling ran through her and she knew immediately that something was terribly wrong (Fleeman, 2003). This was the beginning of what would be one of the most devastating days of Sharon Rocha’s life. Laci Denise (Rocha) Peterson was born May 4, 1974 to Sharon and Dennis Rocha. Ever since Laci was a baby she was known for her big grinning smile and large dimples. People used to say that her smile hinted at a devilish side to her (Fleeman, 2003).
As an adult she still had that beaming smile that people couldn’t resist wanting to get to know. Because of that smile, millions of people couldn’t resist wanting to help find her and bring her home. It was later known as the smile that touched millions of people around the nation. At the time of Laci’s disappearance, she was 27 years old, about 5-foot-1, and weighted about 140-pounds. She had shoulder length brown hair, with dark brown eyes, a beaming smile, and a sunflower tattoo on her ankle. She was also, at the time, eight months pregnant with her and Scott’s son Connor.
For the people who knew her, they found the whole “missing” thing suspicious. Laci was known for being outgoing and bubbly, not impetuous or irresponsible (Fleeman, 2003). Many of her friends classify her as being a “fun-loving girl” who was always smiling and laughing and to them this was completely out of character for her (Fleeman, 2003). When the police and detective finally arrived at the Peterson’s home, the first question they asked Scott was when he had last seen or spoken to Laci. Scott Explained that: “He had come home to an empty house and a missing wife.
Her Land Rover was parked in the driveway. Her purse and phone were inside. He had last seen her at 9:30 that morning. She was working in the newly remodeled, Spanish-tiled kitchen, her sanctuary, with the TV on, the channel turned to one of her favorite shows, Martha Stewart Living. She was wearing a white oversized shirt and dark black stretch pants rolled up because she was mopping the floor. Once she was done she was suppose to take the dog for a walk and then head to the grocery store” (Fleeman, 2003).
They then asked him where he had been all day while his wife was left alone at home. Scott quickly told the police that he had left the house midmorning and went to his storage unit where he dropped off some of the patio umbrellas. He explained that the reason he had put them there was because a storm was due to hit and he wanted to protect them from getting damaged. After he was done unloading the umbrellas, he said he hitched his boat to his 2002 Ford F- 150 pickup and left Modesto around 11:30am. He then told them that he had arrived at the Berkeley Marina sometime around 1:00pm.
His plan, for that day, was to try his luck at fishing for sturgeon (Lee, 2006). With no luck at catching any fish, he decided to leave and headed home sometime mid-afternoon. On his way home, he said he placed a call to Laci and got no answer. Once finally home he discovered that Laci was no where in sight and then placed a call to his mother- in-law. From Scott’s alibi, suspicion and doubt ran though the minds of the authorities. The whole notion of a fishing trip in the San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve seemed quite odd and didn’t sit well with them (Lee, 2006).
Even Laci’s family questioned his alibi because it seemed out of character for him. They had known Scott for being one who was always on the golf course. For Scott to pass up golfing and instead to go fishing by himself, seemed quite strange (Lee, 2006). Right away authorities felt they had reasonable doubt that Scott had something to do with Laci’s disappearance. The first thing they did was to ask him if he had any problem allowing the evidence officer to look around. Scott voluntarily agreed and allowed them to look at Laci’s and his vehicles and their house (Lee, 2006).
From the initial walk through, authorities’ suspicion of Scott’s alibi increase because of the things they found and the way he was behaving. At this point authorities knew they had enough probable cause to obtain search warrants. While many volunteers and family members of Laci were out searching, the authorities were hard at work trying to obtain search warrants. It wasn’t until a few days later that they were finally in luck and got the warrants to search Scott’s properties. Their main goal, at this point, was to collect every piece of evidence that pertained to the case (Fleeman, 2003).
The first place the investigators searched was the Peterson’s home. From the house they collected massive amounts of evidence. Some of the major pieces of evidence collected were Scott’s pick-up truck, the boat and its contents, the car trailer, a blue tarp, the roll of chicken wire, a pair of needle-nose pliers, a wire cutter, a Simple Green container (cleaning wipes), a sponge mop, a string mop, a blue bucket, dirty towels, a Dirt Devil vacuum, a Llama pistol, Donner boots, Timberland shoes, Levi’s jeans, and C-20 blue jeans (Lee, 2006).
They also collected a sonogram of the Peterson’s baby, two pairs of maternity stretch pants, canvas bag containing to pairs of boots, hiking gear, and more clothing (Lee, 2006). After Investigators were done collecting evidence, the next thing they did was to go around and swab all suspecting stains and areas (Lee, 2006). The purpose of swabbing stains was to see if Investigators could find any traces of blood. Finally once the search was complete all swab samples and evidence was packaged and sent directly to the crime lab.
The next place that was searched was Scott’s warehouse. From the warehouse, investigators collected an IBM external floppy drive, IBM Think Pad laptop, Dell tower, more floppy disks, internet printout of San Francisco Bay, financial records, Big 5 plastic bag, unexposed roll of 35 mm Kodak film, several photographs, pair of stained work boots, and a water pitcher (Lee, 2006). At the warehouse, investigators also discovered Scott’s boat which needed to be searched.
Inside the boat they found Craftsman sledge hammer, roll of plastic shrink-wrap, pair of black Nike shoes, chisel mortise( used to shape wood and stone), water from the boat, orange work gloves, piece of red nylon rope, single orange-colored hair, single brown shoestring, green nylon bag which contained orange and black nylon rope, plastic container which contained a homemade cement anchor, blue hat, pair of yellow and green gloves, camouflage jacket with rain pants, two fishing lures, 1999 fishing license, Remington 20-gauge #80-shot shell, paddle, brown tackle box, Master Fish 650 GR rod and reel, pro guide fishing rod with reel, and liquid from the boat’s engine which was also taken as evidence (Lee, 2006).
After the search was complete, all the evidence, including the boat, was taken into investigators custody and sent to the crime lab. During the time the investigators were conducting their search, police and volunteers were still out looking for Laci. At this point, police and investigators felt that the search for Laci needed to be expanded outside of Modesto. They knew the chances of finding Laci alive were becoming slimmer and slimmer as each day past. As everyone kept searching for Laci, it was now the forensic scientist turn to help out with the case (Lee, 2006). The first thing presented to the forensic scientist was a statement that explained the theory that investigator had come up with. From their theory they believe that Scott had indeed killed his wife.
They suspected that he killed Laci at home then used the towels and mop to clean the area. Once that was done they believed he transported her body, with his truck, to his warehouse (Lee, 2006). At the warehouse, they believe he wrapped her body in a blue tarp and chicken wire and placed her body into the boat. Once finally in the water, they believed he attached five cement anchors to Laci’s body and then dumped her into the bay (Lee, 2006). From this theory the forensic scientist were then given the task of trying to find any physical evidence that could be used to help solve the case. The first task they performed was to look over each piece of evidence and decide what needed to be thoroughly examined.
From all the evidence collected, only half really needed a more in-depth examination. The rest of the evidence was put back into the evidence lockers for later use (Lee, 2006). The first major examination conducted was the search for fingerprints (Lee, 2006). Each piece of evidence was examined to see if there were any traces of plastic or patent fingerprints. The reason the forensic scientist looked for these types of prints first is, because they’re already visible and don’t require being processed (James, 2005). With no visible prints, the next thing they did was to search for latent prints. Latent prints are fingerprints that require additional processing to become visible for comparison (James, 2005).
The best method for enhancing prints is to dust, because it doesn’t destroy the prints and it’s inexpensive. Once all the positive prints had been collected, the next step was to carefully remove the print from the piece of evidence for further examination. A good tool to use is a hinged lifter which is a plastic, adhesive-backed sheet attached to a colored cardboard (Meloan, 2005). With a hinged lifter a decent print can be retrieved and examined easily under a stereo microscope. When looking under the microscope it is important to look for the ridge patterns. The last thing they did was to retrieve the prints of both Scott and Laci and compare their prints to the ones found.
One major problem that was later noted about this case was the fact that, the Peterson house had never been dusted, only the evidence collected (Lee, 2006). Unfortunately, the only fingerprints that were identify were the Peterson’s and had no direct forensic value to the case (Lee, 2006). After they were done searching for fingerprints, the forensic scientist then conducted a test to see if they could find any traces of blood. The first test they used was a presumptive test which helps to eliminate stains (James, 2005). Within the presumptive test there are six different tests that can be used to identify the presents of blood. These tests consist of the Catalytic color test; Adler test, Kastle-Meyer test, O-tolidine test, Leucomalchite Green test, and Tetramethylbenzidne test (James, 2005).
After the test has been selected, the suspected area is swabbed then dipped into the proper solution. Within minutes a result will appear indicating whether the sample is positive or negative. A good test to use is the Kastle-Meyer test because it is commonly used in forensic laboratories today (James, 2005). Because these tests are not, a 100% accurate a, confirmatory test is need to help positively identify the presence of blood. The two tests used to confirm the presence of blood are the Teichmann test, and Takayama Test. The best test used is the Takayama test because it’s more effective in confirming the presents of blood (James, 2005). Just like every other piece of evidence, the swab samples didn’t indicate any clues (Lee, 2006).
Another piece of evidence thoroughly examined was a single strand of hair. First thing the forensic scientists did was to look under a stereo microscope at the different scale pattern, medulla pattern, diameter, length, color, reflectivity, tip, root, cross section, pigment, cuticle and any damage part of the strand (Lee, 2006). By thoroughly looking at these patterns, shapes and pigments, the forensic scientists are able to rule out if the strand is human or animal. Once the strand is finally classified, they can then test for possible DNA. The two possible tests that can be used are nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA. If the root of the hair is present, then nuclear DNA will be used.
If there is no root to the hair sample then Mitochondrial DNA will be used because it only requires extraction from the hair shafts (Lee, 2006). In most cases mitochondrial DNA is used because this type of DNA is found outside the nucleus in the cytoplasm and it’s easier to extract with large quantities of DNA (Lee, 2006). Because there is a limited amount of DNA available for the forensic scientist to use, they found that mitochondrial DNA method appeared to be the most beneficial to this case. From the test results it indicted that the DNA found did indeed fall into the range of Laci’s DNA profile (Lee, 2006). This sample was later used to help identify Laci’s remains.
Once the examination of all the evidence was finally complete, the authorities felt they were stuck in a dead end. The majority of evidence examined contained little forensic value. It wasn’t until April 2003, when two remains washed ashore that the case turned from a missing person report to a homicide case. With no physical evidence turning up, the authorities finally felt that they had something. They believed that these indeed were the remains of Laci and Connor Peterson. Now the only thing the authorities could do was to wait for a positive identification of the bodies (Lee, 2006). After the bodies were removed from the shore line, they were sent directly to the coroner’s office where the initial autopsies were performed.
The first initial examination of the bodies indicated that the female had been in the water for a good amount of time because it was in an advanced state of decomposition. The autopsy reports also indicated that the fetus was completely intact which meant it was in the water for approximately about two to five days (Lee, 2006). The autopsy reports continued to reveal that woman’s ribs were fractured, most of the internal organs were gone, that the womb was present but there was an “unnatural” opening and that the cervix was still closed (Lee, 2006). They also noted that the body was also missing a head, neck, both arms, left leg, part of her right leg, and all her skin (Lee, 2006).
On the other hand the fetus found was a near-term male infant remarkably well persevered; head, arms, legs, were all present (Lee, 2006) At the time of discovery the fetus weighted in at three and half pounds and measured nineteen and half inches in length (Lee, 2006). Also noted was the fact that there was a rope like material rapped around its neck, arms and chest (Lee, 2006). Once the coroner’s office was finished with their examination, the two bodies were then transferred over to the state crime lab for further examination. The job now was for the forensic scientist to identify the bodies. At first this posed a potential problem. The only remains of the female was the torso which left little DNA to be analyzed.
Just like in the hair examination, DNA analysis had to be used in order to identify the bodies. The reason they used DNA analysis is because it can be extracted from various body tissues including blood, semen, hair roots, organs, and bones (Lee, 2006). The type of DNA testing that was performed on the remains was nuclear DNA using the Short Tandem Repeats technique because it allows for small amounts of DNA to be extracted from degraded tissue (Lee, 2006). The main goal was to try and retrieve a decent DNA sample. In hopes of doing that they took part of the tibia bone and muscle tissue from the unidentified female and part of the femur and muscle tissue from the fetus (Lee, 2006).
With the DNA testing complete they were able to make sufficient amounts of DNA which they used to compared to the DNA profile (Lee, 2006). The DNA profile that was used to compared to the unidentified female and fetus was the DNA of Laci’s parents, Scott’s blood and hair samples of Laci’s (Lee, 2006). It wasn’t until April 18, 2003 that a positive identification was made. It was indeed the remains of Laci and Conner Peterson and from this the authorities were able to arrest Scott Peterson and charge him with a double homicide murder. After Laci and Conner’s bodies were identified it was then time for the prosecution lawyer to step in and close the case.
Throughout the case, the majority of the evidence examined by the forensic scientist was dismissed because it had no direct value to the case. The only significant results conducted by the forensic scientist, was the positive identification of Laci and Connor Peterson. The evidence that was actually presented in trial was the phone calls between Scott and Amber Frey, tidal charts, a large plastic bag found near Laci’s remains, and the homemade anchor made by Scott (Lee, 2006). Also presented to the courtroom was the fact that the remains of both Laci and Connor Peterson washed ashore within a one mile radius of where Scott claimed he’d been fishing (Lee, 2006).
The only problem with the evidence presented to the courtroom, was the fact that it all was circumstantial and didn’t prove that he was guilt of murdering his wife (Lee, 2006). With all the arguments between the defense and prosecution, many people involved felt like the trial was never going to end. But on November 12, 2004, after all the final testimonies a verdict was reached. The jury members of this case found him guilty of first-degree murder of his wife and second degree murder of his son (Lee, 2006). After the case was over, it was stated that there was no compelling evidence to this case, and that neither the forensic science nor investigation played a significant role. Ultimately it was Scott that did himself in (Lee, 2006).
Courtney from Study Moose
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