New Evidence In Laci Peterson Case May Prove Her Husband Is Innocent
Laci Peterson and her husband Scott seemed like the perfect young couple. They were successful, good looking, and to top it all off, they were expecting their first child after five years of marriage. So imagine the shock when one day, the heavily-pregnant Laci suddenly disappeared just days before Christmas. Making it all worse was that Scott was pegged as the prime suspect. For years, he has sat behind bars, charged with his own wife’s murder. Now, new evidence evidence might turn the court’s verdict on its head. Read on to learn the latest updates in this gruesome case.
1. Scott and Laci Peterson
Scott Peterson and Laci Rocha first met at the Pacific Café in Morro Bay, California, where Scott worked. They quickly fell in love as students at California Polytechnic State University, where he majored in agricultural business and she majored in ornamental horticulture. The duo became engaged in December of 1996 and married on August 9, 1997.
For the first few years of marriage, they put off having children. Once they decided to try, it turned out getting pregnant wasn’t easy. However, she eventually conceived in May of 2002. Tragically, their baby wouldn’t have a chance to be born.
Laci Peterson disappeared at some point between 8:30 pm on December 23, 2002, and 10:15 am on December 24 Laci’s half-sister Amy was at the house on the evening of the 23rd and cut Scott’s hair. Later that the evening, Laci spoke with her mother Sharon on the phone.
That was the last anyone heard from her. The next morning, a neighbor found the Peterson’s family dog roaming the neighborhood returned her to the yard. Scott had been gone on a fishing trip during the day.
3. Missing Person
Scott Peterson returned home on December 24 to discover that Laci was not at home. Laci’s car was parked in the driveway and her purse and keys were still in the house. Some reports claim that Scott washed his clothes, tidied up around the house, ate and meal and took a shower upon his return.
At 5:20 pm he called his mother-in-law Sharon to ask if Laci was with her. She wasn’t. By 6 pm that same day Laci’s mother called the police to report her missing. The search was on.
4. Mass Panic
Laci, now eight-months pregnant, was missing. According to Scott, Laci had planned to go to the grocery store to stock up for Christmas and take the dog for a walk at a nearby park. Family, friends and concerned neighbors began searching for Laci immediately, fearing that something had happened to her.
Over 900 people were involved in the searches within the first two days of Laci’s disappearance. However, she was still nowhere to be found. Now police became more involved and employed the use of an official search crew.
5. Search Parties
Police organized not only on-foot searches but also deployed patrol cars, SUVs, helicopters, boats, search dogs and horseback units. They thought the disappearance of an eight-month pregnant woman on Christmas Eve was highly suspicious and suspected foul play. At a press conference, one Modesto detective stated that her running away without telling anyone was “completely out of character for her.”
As the days went on, people began searching more furiously. Rewards were offered in the amount of $25,000, then increased to $250,000, and then finally $500,000. Over 1,500 volunteers assisted with the search efforts. Still, all the searches failed to uncover a single clue.
Family and friends were devastated by Laci’s disappearance. Not only did they want to find her alive and well, they wanted to find out who was responsible. They ruled out the possibility that Laci ran away. There was really only one option left. Sadly, that option meant that she was possibly already dead. Police investigated possible suspects, known criminals and neighborhood burglars, but no one fit.
Whispers were already swirling about the possibility that the husband Scott had been involved somehow. Statistically speaking, nearly half of all murdered women are killed by their romantic partners. Laci’s family was vehemently opposed to such accusations. They couldn’t for a moment believe that Scott had anything to do with it. Scott had their full support, for now…
7. Prime Suspects
Police considered Scott Peterson a suspect in the case but they kept the information hidden from the public mostly due to Laci’s family and their insistence that he was innocent. Then something happened that turned the entire case upside-down.
On January 17, 2003, evidence that Scott was having an affair surfaced. A picture of him with another woman was taken while he was on a supposed business trip. Or at least that’s what he told his wife Laci.
8. Sordid Past
In a shocking development, Scott’s mistresses came forward to tell her story and what she knew of Scott Peterson. The woman, named Amber Frey, told the police how she was in a romantic relationship with Scott and she had no idea that he was married with a pregnant wife.
She described how he had told her that he had “lost his wife” and would be spending his first Christmas alone. This was before Laci’s disappearance, 14 days before. The news spread like wildfire and destroyed Scott’s public image.
9. Family Support
Laci’s family was devastated by the news. According to her mother Sharon, Laci never mentioned anything about an affair or any marital issues. They believe that she was unaware of her husband’s indiscretions. As the details came pouring out, it was revealed that Scott had multiple extramarital affairs.
A relative of Scott’s actually described him as a sex addict. Laci’s family immediately withdrew their support of Scott, and even worse, they began to believe that he may have actually killed her based on the comment about losing his wife. It was later revealed that Laci knew about at least one of Scott’s affairs.
The Modesto police began working with Amber Frey in attempt to trick Scott Peterson into confessing. Amber agreed to let the police wiretap her phone. Over 300 phone conversations between Amber and Scott were recorded. Amber relentlessly asked about details of his missing wife, to which Scott replied that he didn’t do it and that for her protection couldn’t go into details. “I am not an evil person. … I would never hurt anyone,” Scott said.
For a period of a few weeks Scott even pretended to be in Europe. He described in detail being at a New Year’s Eve celebration at the Eiffel Tower and even faked phone interference to make his lie more believable. He later confessed that he had lied and apologized to Amber. No confession was ever recorded.
11. The Shoreline
On April 13, 2003, a couple walking their dog in the San Francisco bay area discovered a human fetus on the shoreline. The gruesome finding was located close to where Scott Peterson launched his boat on December 24th for a fishing trip, the same day that his eight-month pregnant wife disappeared.
The fetus was male and still had all its limbs and organs. Experts estimated that the fetus was around 33 to 38 weeks old based on bone measurements. But was it Laci Peterson’s child?
12. Mutilated Corpse
The fetus was, in fact, Laci’s unborn child which the couple planned on naming Connor. The very next day Laci’s body washed ashore not far from where Connor was found. She was wearing cream-colored maternity pants and a maternity bra. The body was severely mutilated.
Both forearms were missing, the left leg from the knee down was missing and the body was decapitated. Due to the condition of the body, it wasn’t possible to determine the cause of death nor the time of death.
13. Laci’s Family
The news devastated Laci’s family who had been praying that their daughter and the baby were still alive. Forensic experts determined that Laci’s head and limbs were likely removed prior to her body being dumped.
Reports indicated that Laci suffered multiple injuries, including two cracked ribs at or near the time of death. The most gruesome revelation was that all of Laci’s internal organs had been removed from her body, apart from the uterus.
14. Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
The murder of Laci Peterson received enormous press coverage with interviews, commentators, and analysts weighing in with their opinions. All of them had one thing in common: they clearly thought Scott Peterson was the killer. Scott became an easy target after news of his numerous extra-marital affairs broke.
His affair with Amber Frey continued during the search for his missing wife. One of the recorded calls to Amber was placed during a vigil for the missing Laci Peterson. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera referred to Scott as “a rat caught in the trap.”
15. Prime Suspect
Modesto police initially considered a few other possible suspects but all had strong alibis or zero motive. That left Scott as the sole prime suspect. Police had a few theories as to why he would murder Laci. Police proposed that he might have killed Laci for either the insurance money, not wanting to be a father, or the desire to date other women.
With Scott being the only suspect in the murder, it was clear that he would be going to trial. But would he get a fair trial considering the massive waves of negative press already calling him a killer?
Just days after the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson were found, police arrested Scott in the parking lot of a golf course where he had been golfing with his father and brother. Suspiciously, Scott’s hair and newly-grown goatee had been dyed blond.
Futhermore, his car was stuffed with a number of strange items. Inside the vehicle were around $15,000 in cash, several changes of clothes, four cell phones, camping equipment and survival gear. Authorities immediately assumed that he was planning on fleeing the country.
17. Unusual Circumstances
Scott Peterson claimed that he had been living in his car to avoid media attention which had been stalking him relentlessly. Not only had the media been following him, he was now the most hated person in Modesto, if not the entire country.
Scott was faced with public scorn and violence. Most people seemed convinced that he was the murderer even before being arrested. As for his changed appearance, Scott claimed that his hair had been bleached accidentally by pool chlorine.
18. Finding a Jury
By the time the trial came around, the story of Laci Peterson’s murder had dominated headlines for over a year. Finding someone who didn’t already know the story and didn’t already consider Scott guilty was near impossible. It took over nine weeks to select a jury for the case and nearly 1,600 candidates were considered as prospective jurors.
Over 50% of the potential jurors interviewed admitted that they already thought Scott Peterson was guilty of murdering his wife and child. The selected jury, six men and six women, were ordered to avoid news coverage of the case. Was that even possible?
The trial itself was moved from Modesto, considered a hostile place toward Scott, to Redwood City, on the San Francisco peninsula. The move, however, wouldn’t do much good since San Francisco is the main media hub of Northern California.
Not a person in the country hadn’t heard about the Scott Peterson case. One detective told People Magazine that the “case was all over the place. I don’t know where you would go to find people that didn’t know about it — maybe Burma.”
20. The Evidence
Very little direct evidence connecting Scott to the murder of Laci existed. The prosecution theorized that Scott killed Laci in their home then transported her to the marina in his truck on the night of the 23rd or morning of the 24th and proceeded to dump her body into the harbor. No physical evidence was ever presented to support this argument.
Forensic teams found no blood, urine, or tissue of any kind in Scott’s truck, nor in his home. Police officers found a mop and bucket at Scott’s house which they believed he used to clean up the crime scene but that too contained zero evidence that a murder had been committed.
21. The Boat
The Prosecution argued that Scott, alone, transported Laci’s body in his boat, weighed down by four concrete anchors, and dumped her body into the bay. The prosecution did not attempt to recreate the crime by attempting to dump a body or weights out of the boat. The defense team, however, did.
In a demonstration, the defense pushed a mannequin of Laci’s weight with four anchors attached to it out of the exact same boat as Scott’s. Experts determined that it was not possible to do this without the boat capsizing. The state objected to the evidence and the demonstration was excluded from court evidence.
22. Hair Fragment
The only physical evidence found was a fragment of hair matching Laci’s on a pair of pliers in the boat. Experts concluded that the fragment could have been transferred indirectly to the boat from Scott’s clothing, which Laci sometimes wore. Additionally, no evidence of blood was found on the pliers.
Instead of direct physical evidence, the prosecution turned to circumstantial evidence and character profiling to prove that Scott Peterson murdered his wife. In fact, almost all of the evidence presented by the state would be circumstantial.
23. Dog Scent
With no direct evidence that the murder occurred at the Peterson residence and no evidence that Laci’s body had been transferred in Scott’s truck, the prosecution relied on dog scent evidence to fill the evidentiary void for the body’s transfer to the marina. Two different tracking dogs were used to trail Laci’s scent using different items.
One dog detected Laci’s scent at the Berkley marina and the other did not. The defense argued that the scent the first dog picked up could have easily been that of Scott Peterson due to cross-contamination. The prosecution argued that that the dog picking up the scent was proof of Scott’s guilt, “simple as that.”
24. Fetal Expert
The state prosecution attempted to establish the date and time of Laci’s death based on the fetal development of her unborn son. A fetal development expert was brought in to testify. Based on two ultra-sound examinations, the expert estimated that Connor died on December 23, 2002.
The expert also admitted, however, that Connor may have died a day or two before or after the 23rd. The last main piece of circumstantial evidence was the movements of the water in the San Francisco Bay.
25. Water Movements
An expert witness charted how Connor’s body could have traveled through the water from the exact location where Scott had been fishing on the 24th, but could not produce such a chart for Laci’s body. The expert identified a “highly probable” location where Laci’s body could have been dumped.
That same area was searched multiple times by search divers with sonar equipment in the weeks after Laci’s disappearance and found nothing. During cross-examination the expert was asked if he had ever studied anything about bodies and their movements in the San Francisco Bay. The expert conceded that he had not.
26. Mistress Witness
Mistress-turned-police-spy Amber Frey was called in as a main character witness in the case against Scott Peterson. On the stand, Amber revealed that Scott had lied to her about almost every aspect of his life, including the fact that he was married.
During the police investigation, Amber agreed to let the police wiretap her phone. Nearly 12 hours of recorded conversations between the two were played in court. Her testimony was highly damaging to Scott as it painted him as a sex-crazed serial liar to the jury, especially since he continued the relationship even after his wife went missing.
27. The Jury
Even before the trial started, the potential jurors were under extreme pressure for a guilty verdict. As the trial moved forward and the months went by, that pressure only grew. At least three jurors were dismissed during the trial proceedings, some due to misconduct and other for undisclosed reasons. A few of the jurors even received death threats saying that Scott must be found guilty or else.
The judge presiding over the case, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi, also decided not to sequester the jury and instead asked the jury not to discuss the case or watch news coverage of it. Scott’s defense attorney objected, saying that it was “a child-like belief” thinking that the jury could avoid the sensational media that had already deemed Scott guilty of murder.
Even though in criminal cases the state prosecutor isn’t required to establish a motive in order to convict a suspect, they did so, possibly due to a lack of physical evidence. Their argument for his motive was three-fold.
First, the prosecutor argued that Scott allegedly killed his wife for financial reasons. They argued that the family was in debt and he wanted to cash in on Laci’s life insurance policy. Second, Scott allegedly killed Laci because he didn’t want to be a father. Third, it was said that Scott allegedly killed Laci because he wanted to date other women, evident by his multiple affairs.
29. Mass Media Hysteria
The Scott Peterson trial was deemed the “trial of the decade” by the media. It received unprecedented coverage and Scott’s lawyer called it a “complete media lynching” of his client. Ever since news broke about Scott’s affairs, the media turned on Scott.
As the only suspect in the case, he was automatically deemed guilty. According to his lawyer, the coverage of his client’s trial surpassed that of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. With the verdict due within days, would the negative publicity affect the outcome of the trial?
30. Scott Peterson’s Verdict
On November 12, 2004, Scott Peterson was found guilty of murder. He was convicted of first degree murder for Laci’s death and second degree murder of their unborn son, Conner. The jury also recommended Scott receive the death penalty. The presiding judge agreed and sentenced Scott to death by lethal injection. Judge Alfred A. Delucchi called the murder of Laci Peterson “cruel, uncaring, heartless, and callous.”
In addition to the conviction, a judge ruled that Laci’s $250,000 life insurance policy would go to her mother. Scott was shocked by the sentencing, having thought that there was no way he could be proven guilty with such a lack of evidence. He immediately moved to appeal the decision.
Crowds of people all around the country took to the streets celebrating the guilty verdict. In many ways the trial was treated in the media like a reality TV show, for viewing pleasure. A number of jurors were interviewed after the trial and asked why they felt so certain that Scott was guilty.
One juror cited a lack of remorse for the loss of his wife and unborn child. Another was convinced because the bodies had washed ashore near the same area where Scott fished. But the most agreed upon reason was that Scott was a “proven liar,” based on his affairs and the testimony of Amber Frey.
32. Sitting on Death Row
Scott Peterson was sent to San Quentin prison state prison, located around 10 miles from where the bodies of Laci and Conner were discovered in the San Francisco Bay. On October 31, 2007 the California 5th District Court ruled to uphold the trial court’s decision.
There are currently over 700 death row inmates in California. The last execution in the state was in 2006. Almost all of the inmates are likely to die of natural causes before the state gets around to executing them.
Scott Peterson maintains that he is innocent and blames the media and his lawyer for the guilty verdict he received. His trial, however, is far from over. Scott has one last option left: petitioning for habeas corpus (unlawful imprisonment) and getting a retrial.
“I wasn’t the last one to see Laci that day,” Scott says. “There were so many witnesses who saw her walking in the neighborhood after I left. The police failed to find my family.”
34. Fame and Books
Laci’s mother Sharon wrote a book in 2006 called For Laci: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss, and Justice. The book is a biography and memoir about Laci’s life and her tragic death. The proceeds of the book go to a search and rescue fund which Sharon founded. Scott’s once-time mistress Amber Frey subsequently wrote a book detailing her experience, angering Laci’s family.
Seven of the trial jurors also wrote a book together about the case. Furthermore, numerous TV series and movies had been made about the sensational murder trial. There is certainly no lack of people monetizing off the case. But as we said, it’s not over yet. What exactly is Scott trying to challenge? And does he have a legitimate case against the state’s decision?
35. Problems in the Trial
Scott Peterson’s new lawyer submitted an almost 300 page habeas corpus petition detailing evidence that wasn’t presented to the jury, mistakes made by his then lawyer, and issues with the circumstantial evidence presented against him.
Scott’s main claim is that he was denied a fair trial due to the media portraying him as a cold-hearted monster and that there was never any hard evidence against him. The document categorically broke down the trial and raised many questions about whether Scott is actually guilty or just the only person they could pin the murder on.
One of the most striking points in the case is that no physical or forensic evidence was ever presented that could link Scott Peterson to the murder of his wife. Only a singular hair fragment from Laci was found on a pair of pliers in Scott’s boat, but experts agreed that it could have easily been transferred by his clothes.
Additionally, there are no eyewitnesses in the case nor have there been any confessions to the murder. Scott fully cooperated with the authorities after Laci’s disappearance and even assisted in the search efforts. Despite his guilty verdict, it was definitely clear that things were wrong with the trial.
37. Stealth Juror
Scott’s petition also claims that the jury was pressured by the public as result of the media encouragement to reach a guilty verdict, no matter the actual evidence. It even claims that a “stealth juror” lied in order to be picked as a juror. Richelle Nice, juror number five in the murder trial, also known as Strawberry Shortcake due to her red hair, was assaulted when she was four and a half months pregnant. According to Scott’s defense team this would have disqualified her as a juror due to Laci also being pregnant.
Reports also showed that this juror volunteered to stay on the trial even though her employer wouldn’t pay her compensation, something that gives jurors an automatic pass from being forced to serve. As a result she went into severe debt and reportedly even borrowed money from a fellow juror. The revelation led many to believe that she wanted to be on the jury for the sole purpose of making sure Scott received a guilty verdict.
After Laci went missing dozens of people called into the Modesto Police Department claiming to have seen Laci on the morning of the 24th. Some reported seeing her after Scott had already left, which meant that Scott couldn’t have killed Laci. Some of the tips were from different states but many reported seeing her on the street where she lived and were reported by neighbors. Police, however, only followed up on three of the tips via phone call, stating that they just didn’t have the budget or manpower to follow up on such cases.
Had one of these witnesses been properly questioned or called to the stand during the trial, Scott could have potentially walked free. Scott’s petition points to this as a key flaw in his lawyer’s defense.
39. Burglar Theory
Another theory not originally mentioned in court was that Laci was murdered by a man robbing a house next door. According to an eyewitness, Laci witnessed a man named Steven Todd breaking into the house next door and Laci confronted him while on a walk with her dog. Other witnesses confirmed seeing a van in front of the house after Scott had already left on his fishing trip.
The location of Scott’s fishing trip was televised shortly after Laci’s disappearance, giving the real killer ample time to plant the body in the same area, framing Scott and aligning the approximate timelines of Scott’s trip and the murder. Scott’s lawyer attempted to earn a retrial based on the new evidence but it was denied.
40. Did Scott Do It? Will We Ever Know
Currently, Scott Peterson is still on death row at San Quentin prison. His last and final petition for retrial is still being considered by the Supreme Court of California. Should the case go back to trial in a less chaotic media storm, what would the outcome be?
Some say the entire case is an example of the perversion of the American legal system. “Scott Peterson’s conviction was less a tribute to the efficacy of the legal system,” said an investigative series on the case by A&E, “than it was a case study for the overwhelming power of modern media to deliver the facts of news in a way that creates irresistible tabloid fodder.”
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