On April 23, 2003, a case of murder on two counts was lodged in Stanislaus County Superior Court of California against Scott Peterson for killing his wife, Laci Denise Peterson a 27-year-old wife who was eight months pregnant Laci Peterson disappeared on Christmas Eve, prompting a nationwide search. The bodies of the Modesto, California woman and her unborn child were found four months later, washed ashore in San Francisco Bay.
Prosecution said that Scott Peterson killed his wife Laci, a substitute teacher, who was about a month away from delivering their first child, dumped her body in the ocean and told her family and police that his wife simply disappeared. Peterson insisted he was innocent and had no idea of what happened with his wife. He told police investigators that he had last seen his wife on December 24, 2002 at 9:30 a. m. when he left their home for a fishing trip in Berkeley. Investigators found that Peterson was having an affair with another woman and had taken a $250,000 insurance policy on his wife.
However Peterson denied such affair having to do with Laci’s disappearance. On April 23, the decomposed bodies of a baby and a woman were found and DNA tests proved the bodies were Laci Peterson and her son. The bodies were found in the area about three miles away where Peterson said, he was fishing (Law, 2004). The prosecution had more than a year to prepare its case but the trial’s opening statements started with prosecutors hurdling their own obstacles, the absence of witnesses, the murder weapon or the cause of death.
In the opening statement that lasted nearly four hours, Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso offered bits of circumstantial evidence. He focused on the credibility of Peterson’s alibi and his alleged motive of a budding affair with Amber Frey. Distaso said with regard to Peterson’s alibi the day he reported his wife missing, that a scientist specializing in tides studied the location of the remains and concluded that they separated in the same area where Peterson said he fished. Distaso further said that in a month before the remains washed ashore, Peterson repeatedly visited the bay.
A waterproofed canvass apparently used by Peterson during his fishing trip was found drenched in gasoline. Another was covered with fertilizer. Both substances destroy DNA and prevent dogs from tracking up a person’s scent. The prosecutor pointed that Laci Peterson did not leave the house alive on December 24, saying that the pieces of jewelry that Laci wore whenever she left the house were found in their bedroom. Also, Distaso added that Peterson’s alibi that his wife was watching a TV segment when he left was actually aired December 23.
Much of Distaso’s opening statement was centered on Amber Frey, the most anticipated witness and did not know Peterson was married when she began an illicit relationship with him, a month before the murder. Defense lawyer, Mark Geragos conceded that his client was a two-timer but never a double murderer. He told the panel of jury that Peterson loved his wife and anticipated for the birth of his first child; that he cannot risk his life for a masseuse mistress he took out in just few dates.
Geragos maintained the prosecution has no evidence and eyewitnesses supported the theory that Laci Peterson was abducted while Scott was away on a solo fishing trip in San Francisco Bay. The defense presented its case after the prosecution had told the jury that small pieces of circumstantial evidence when taken together can prove the guilt of Peterson. Geragos told the jury that he will present five witnesses as direct evidence to prove the defendant’ innocence.
He further contradicted the TV episode which Peterson claimed his wife was watching when he left, which according to investigators was actually aired on December 23, not on December 24. He played a clip of the December 24 episode. Further, he said that Laci visited her husband’s new boat, the reason why her hair was found in it, not because he used it to dispose of her remains. Following the defense opening statement, the first witness, Margarita Nava was called to the witness stand and testified that on December 23, she mopped and dusted the entire residence and placed the mop on top of the washing machine for Laci to wash it later.
This testimony was presented because of a previous statement given by Scott Peterson that he saw his wife mopping the floor on the morning of December 24. The prosecution countered that a woman nearly eight months pregnant would not mop a floor less than 24 hours after somebody had cleaned it. Unintentional but embarrassing blunders had impaired the first two months of prosecutions double murder case against the fertilizer salesman. The prosecutions opening statement was short of rage and long unrequited questions on how Peterson allegedly killed his wife and son.
The judge, Delucchi showed his disgust on the prosecutions repeated violation of the evidence rules. To many of the observers, an acquittal appeared possible. However the situation changed over the next two months. The momentum has changed and the jurors are now inclined toward conviction. An addition of a new more polished prosecutor is one of the several factors for the turning point. The admission of several audio and videotapes showing Peterson lying, the compelling scientific testimonies from several expert witnesses and highly damaging account of the lead investigators contributed to the shift.
Despite the prosecution’s strong conclusion, a conviction is not at all certain. The evidence is entirely circumstantial, with no forensic evidence of a murder committed in the residence and nobody saw Peterson dispose of the body of the victim. Moreover, medical examiners were unable to determine the cause of Laci Peterson’s death. To shift the momentum back to the Peterson’s side when they begin calling witnesses on the next trial, the defense will certainly use this lack of direct evidence.
On October 5, 2004 over nineteen weeks of trial before resting the case, the prosecution presented 175 witnesses and piles of evidence exhibits. Without specifying the reason, the judge postponed the start of the defense for a week. The prosecution apparently was not told that Gebler a senior engineer for the Illinois-based Construction Technology Laboratories will likely rebut a prosecution witness that Peterson made at least one cement weight to sink the body of Laci to the bottom of San Francisco Bay. The prosecution was not prepared to cross-examine him.
Under California Law, both parties are required to inform the opposition which witness they intend to call 30 days before the trial begins. This would give ample time for the prosecutor to conduct its own review of whatever record or document the witness may present in court. Scott Peterson’s defense has painted a picture that transients may have killed Laci Peterson. East Bay Regional Park Police Officer, Timothy Philipps admitted that squatters frequented the area where the 27-year old victim’s body was found.
During the prosecution’s 19-week case, the defense repeatedly pointed to homeless people who lived in a park near Peterson’s residence. The defense lawyers rested their case after presenting a six-day 14- witness defense that legal commentators called amazingly fallible. Jurors have been anticipating a more wide-ranging assault on the prosecution’s case, brought about by the comments by high profile attorney Mark Geragos in his opening statement. He also said the evidence would show that his son was born alive and that a succession of witnesses saw Laci Peterson alive after the time her husband is alleged to have killed her.
The defense had well-publicized consultations with notable forensic scientists Cyril Wecht and Henry Lee, but in the end did not call them to as witnesses. Those who did testify included five law enforcement officers, the defendant’s parents, a dog tracker, and an expert in each of the fields of medicine, concrete and personal finance. They may have negated two or three prosecution facts but as far as establishing that the baby was born alive, they failed.
Not a single eyewitness who claimed to have seen Laci walking with her dog was called to the witness stand; instead only investigators’ narrations of having interviewed eyewitnesses. The judge recited that hearsay testimony are inadmissible in evidence. On October 29, the prosecution delivered closing arguments. According to the prosecutor, Rick Distaso, Scott Peterson strangled his wife to death on December 23 or December 24, so that he could free himself of lifetime responsibilities of rearing a child. He further told jurors that” fatherhood is a threat to his fantasy life as a rich, successful freewheeling bachelor “(Ryan, 2004).
Mark Geragos, the defense lawyer in his closing statement said, that the prosecution “painted the fertilizer salesman, as ‘the biggest jerk to walk the face of the earth’ in an effort to distract the jury from tenuous evidence linking him to the murders of Laci Peterson and the couples’ unborn son” (2004). Geragos also criticized the prosecution’s constantly changing motive of the murder, first the mistress, then the financial distress and finally the threat of fatherhood. In conclusion, Geragos said that, “This case basically comes down to evidence versus emotion” (2004). References
Harriet Ryan Court TV (2004, November 2). In closing, prosecutor says parenthood pushed Scott Peterson to kill. Retrieved on August 13, 2007 from http://www. courttv. com/ trials/peterson/110104_closings_ctv. html. Harriet Ryan Court TV (2004, November 8). Jurors begin deliberations in Scott Peterson’s capital murder trial. Retrieved on August 13, 2007 from http://www. courttv. com/ trials/peterson/110104_closings_ctv. html Law Center (2004, December 4). Peterson: ‘I am innocent’. Retrieved on August 12, 2007 from http://edition. cnn. com/2003/LAW/12/03/peterson. arraignment/