#14) October 2003
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: October 2003
October 1 Authorities analyze the bones recently delivered to the Richmond Police Department by Lori Krestian, trying to determine if they are human neck bones or those of an animal. Authorities state that, if the bones are believed to be human, they will be forwarded to the Contra Costa County coroner’s office to determine if they are a match to Laci Peterson. KTVU breaks the story and interviews Krestian. “They looked like human bones to me,” she says. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ If I left them there they would have washed out. I put them in a bag.” Jimmy Lee states that investigators have not yet determined whether the bones are human, but that a forensic anthropologist will be testing them in the “next few days.” He says he does not know how many bones were recovered or what they look like. Later in the day, they are forwarded to the Contra Costa County coroner’s office. Columnist Maggie Bowden claims in an editorial for the Cavalier Daily that Scott Peterson is planning to write a book.
October 2 A forensic expert at the Contra Costa County coroner’s facility analyzes the bones received Lori Krestian and determines that they are not human. Subsequently, Jimmy Lee announces that the bones received from Lori Krestian were those of an animal and not additional remains of Laci Peterson. Sgt. Enos Johnson says the bones are those of a “small critter,” possibly a seal or a small dog, but “definitely not human.”
October 3 Principal Life Insurance files in Stanislaus County Superior Court to have a judge order $256,429.02 in Laci Peterson’s life insurance benefits held in an account until the outcome of Scott Peterson’s trial. The court documents show he is the only beneficiary on the policy, although he would be ineligible to collect on it if he is found guilty—the money would go to Laci Peterson’s estate. That estate has not yet been formally established, according to Adam Stewart, who notes that, because Laci Peterson did not have a will, her beneficiaries would be Dennis and Sharon Rocha. “We’re obviously going to make a claim to funds on behalf of her family and her estate,” he says. “We obviously have a dispute as to who’s entitled to them.” The Modesto Bee releases an article summarizing the efforts of Frank Muna to present the case of his client Cory Carroll. The article states that “little information has surfaced to corroborate his accounts and questions about his motivation have been raised.” One of those questions involves a report that Muna shopped his story to the National Enquirer for $75,000 (the Fresno Bee will report two days later that this story was verified by two sources), a story that he flatly denies. “The National Enquirer made the offer, and we turned it down,” he argues. “This sounds more like there is some law enforcement—some third party—trying to influence credibility. We don’t have anything to sell. All the information we have has been released.” The article contends that Muna’s information has come in “distinct batches”: First, he said Carroll arranged a meeting with gang members to discuss stealing Laci Peterson’s vehicle to commit insurance fraud; later Muna added the part about kidnapping her; now he has included an account of Carroll saying that he heard Scott Peterson arranging to pay the gang members $22,000 to abduct and murder her: “I am authorized to reveal,” Muna says, “that Scott Peterson offered “Skeeter” and “Dirty” $3,000 apiece to kidnap Laci and $8,000 apiece to get rid of her—to kill her.” With these reports, the story states, Muna speculates that Laci Peterson may have died while being held when Scott Peterson did not deliver the money after he came under intense police scrutiny, and that the kidnappers could have dumped the bodies where he said he went fishing so as to implicate him. The article notes that the latest parts of this evolving story had not been heard by Melvin King, the polygraph examiner who originally said that Carroll appeared to believe the information he was providing. “I specifically do not remember that, and my position is it never happened,” King remarks about the kidnapping money arrangements. “I took some pretty thorough notes. I certainly didn’t hear anything like that.” Muna contends he did not previously reveal this information “because we wanted the prosecution to have an opportunity to conduct their own investigation” and that he and Carroll were “caught off-guard because the story broke before we thought.” Regarding arguments by members of the Peterson family that Scott Peterson could not have met with Carroll on November 29, 2002, because he was driving back from San Diego, King notes that he did not press Carroll on the date, and that the meeting could have been later. The article further reveals that Carroll said he and Scott Peterson had photographs taken with an entertainer named Tammy when they met at City Lights, and that investigators have been seeking information at the club with a photo of a woman they’ve identified as Tammy, according to a source who works there. John Goold remains noncommittal, citing the gag order: “As new things come to light, some are investigated and some are not. Some have to be looked at one way or the other to determine if they are true or if they’re not. Some things don’t pan out.”
October 4 The Modesto Bee releases an article entitled, “Frequent Phone Companions,” which continues to use partial phone records to document a regular phone relationship between Scott Peterson and Amber Frey. According to the article, the two exchanged at least 37 telephone calls in the four weeks after she revealed their relationship at a January 24, 2003, televised news conference—the great majority of the calls being recorded by investigators. The story states that the last call of record between the two was February 19. The story also recounts that Amber Frey called ABC’s Diane Sawyer, CNN’s Connie Chung, a Fox News affiliate in Santa Monica and Fortune and People magazines.
October 6 Scott Peterson’s defense team faxes more than 70 pages of documents to Stanislaus County Superior Court in motions to exclude from consideration at the preliminary hearing strands of hair, testimony from hypnotized witness Kristen Dempewolf and evidence from trailing dogs and from GPS tracking devices hidden in vehicles. According to the court papers, Det. Al Brocchini and Det. Dodge Hendee broke the “chain of custody” when they “spontaneously decided to review” the hair on February 12, 2003. “These two Modesto Police officers supposedly found a second strand of hair while reviewing the evidence alone and without any supervision by a criminalist or lab technician,” Geragos writes in the motion. Geragos also argues to have the hair thrown out as evidence on the argument that testing mitochondrial DNA is inaccurate. Concerning Kristen Dempewolf, Geragos contends that authorities did not follow California’s strict legal requirements for hypnotizing a witness, including accurately recording her prehypnotic memory and having the hypnosis conducted by a qualified professional without law enforcement present. Geragos questions whether Dale Pennington is “experienced in the use of hypnosis” and also notes his connection to law enforcement—he trains police officers at the Santa Rosa Regional Criminal Justice Training Center. The motion further contends that there have been no California cases where evidence from dogs trailing victims, rather than suspects, has been admitted as evidence. The defense specifically requests information about trailing dog Merlin and his handler, Cindee Valentin. A similar argument is made that GPS tracking evidence is scientifically unreliable, noting that even Orion Electronics Ltd., the company that provided the tracking devices, admitted to investigators that there were “strange occurrences” with the tracking information. The San Jose Mercury News releases an article, later to be picked up in syndication, reviewing some of the more recent bizarre aspects of the case: “Nazi Low Riders named Dirty and Skeeter, an old Satanic cult called the Order of Lion, and bizarre paintings of decapitated women and floating fetuses. These are the latest surreal elements in the Laci Peterson murder case. Who could have guessed that the death of this pregnant homemaker who watched Martha Stewart Living each morning and had a wine-of-the-month club membership would be intertwined with such seamy images?”
October 7 FilmJerk reports that the USA Network has scheduled production on a made-for-television movies tentatively entitled A Perfect Husband that is based on the story of Scott and Laci Peterson. According to the report, filming will begin sometime around November 3, 2003, in San Diego, and will air in 2004.
October 8 In a Fresno Bee article, Jim Hammer says the motion to get hair evidence excluded on the basis of the chain of custody being broken “sounds like a play out of the O.J. Simpson playbook.” Det. Doug Ridenour contends there is no reasonable argument to have the hair excluded as evidence, noting that the detectives were by the book in what they did: “They have every right in the world to check the evidence out to do further investigation.”
October 10 Sources close to the case reveal that Mark Geragos will ask for a delay of the preliminary hearing to October 27, 2003, because a Los Angeles murder trial in which he represents one of the defendants is behind schedule. Mike Tozzi says there is a “strong likelihood” that a request to reschedule will be made at a procedural hearing later in the day. Modesto Police Department officials unveil their plan to handle the media onslaught expected for the preliminary hearing. Announced plans include street closings, a mobile police command post, five or so additional officers to patrol outside the courthouse and a firetruck to be on hand when tankers are brought in to refuel the diesel generators that power satellite trucks. According to Lt. Dan Inderbitzen, the media has agreed to pay for any needed extra personnel and equipment, which may also include a generator, portable toilets and garbage bins. “We are not going to make a dime on this,” he says.
October 12 The Modesto Bee releases an article entitled “Frey, Family Shared Feelings,” which reveals that Amber Frey made numerous calls to the friends and family of Laci Peterson following the news conference in which she announced she was Scott Peterson’s unwitting mistress. The story states that, between January 24 and March 14, 2003, Amber Frey spoke by phone 53 times for nearly 6 1/2 hours to persons close to Laci Peterson, including Sharon, Brent and Amy Rocha. The majority of that time was spent with Lori Ellsworth—at least 20 calls totaling nearly 3 1/2 hours. She also spoke to Rene Tomlinson and Kim Petersen. According to “well-placed sources,” Amber Frey’s primary motivation was to assure the Rocha family and Laci Peterson’s friends that she did not know that Scott Peterson was married when they began dating. Two sources also state that she spoke with Scott Peterson about him taking a polygraph examination, but it never happened. Contacted by reporters, most of those called decline to comment, citing the gag order. Ron Grantski states, “I hand it to Amber for doing the right thing,” but adds that he understands others not wanting to talk about those conversations. “A lot of it does pertain to the case,” he acknowledges. “It’ll all come out in court. At least I hope it will.”
October 14 The prosecution files with Stanislaus County Superior Court a 420-page response to the defense motion to exclude evidence. “What the defense conveniently omits to tell the court is far more important,” writes Dave Harris, noting that at no time could the evidence hair have been contaminated. Dave Harris explains that the second hair discovered on February 12, 2003, was simply part of the one hair, now broken in two, as both samples had damaged ends that “appear to match each other, meaning the hair broke apart in the package.” Arguing for admissibility of the dog trailing evidence, the court documents say that two trailing dogs followed a track that led from a “known location” to “the body of water where the victims’ bodies were recovered.” Jack Crist sends an e-mail to the Modesto Police Department, urging them to keep one lane open for traffic in each direction during the preliminary hearing. A Fox News article entitled “Peterson Phone Logs Shed New Light on Affair” points out that Scott Peterson “phoned Frey twice as often as she phoned him and sometimes dozens of times in one day.” The article cites “sources close to the case” and summarizes the phone records of Amber Frey and Scott Peterson in this way: “Though Peterson’s defense team and family have suggested that 28-year-old massage therapist Amber Frey was a temptress who doggedly pursued him, the records show Peterson called Frey hundreds of times, even after his wife Laci had been reported missing.”
October 15 In more than 450 pages of documents filed with Stanislaus County Superior Court, prosecutors change course, announcing they will not introduce evidence from hypnotized witness Kristen Dempewolf at Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing. They say that they do still intend to call her to testify if the case goes to trial. The decision apparently delays a legal showdown over the admissibility of her testimony. Prosecutors note in the filing that defense objections to Dempewolf’s testimony must also apply to potential defense witness Diane Jackson, who also went under hypnosis. Countering arguments to have GPS data excluded, Rick Distaso explains that GPS is used extensively worldwide, and that a lack of case law on a particular technology does not render it inadmissible: “No one doubts the admissibility of evidence that a cup of coffee at room temperature placed in a microwave oven for three minutes would get hot.”
October 16 Kirk McAllister files with Stanislaus County Superior Court seeking to have a police search warrant thrown out, and the evidence gathered under its authority excluded from consideration. According to the court documents, the cadaver dog Twist did not alert in Scott Peterson’s boat, and this information was purposely omitted by Steve Jacobson from the search warrant affidavits, which “fatally undermines a finding of probable cause” because it “destroys the theory on which the prosecution has based its case.” The documents cite other court cases with similar circumstances in which willful or misleading omissions invalidated findings of probable cause. “The prosecution’s own investigation proved that Laci Peterson’s body was never in Scott Peterson’s boat,” McAllister states. He asks the court for a Franks Hearing (an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress evidence based on a challenge to the facts included or omitted from a search warrant) on the alleged omission. Contacted by reporters for comment, John Goold again cites the gag order and declines: “We’re just going to have to wait to argue it at the time the argument is heard in court,” he says.
October 17 Scott Peterson, wearing a dark suit, smiles briefly and says “Hi” to his parents as is led into a courtroom for a hearing at Stanislaus County Superior Court. Pat Harris takes the place of Mark Geragos at the defense table. Girolami refers to Pat Harris as the “new face” on the team, but later, outside the courtroom, the veteran attorney remarks, “I’m the old guy. I’ve been with Mark for seven or eight years, and I’m going to be with him more.” During the brief hearing, Al Girolami reluctantly agrees to Kirk McAllister’s request to grant a continuance to the defense because Geragos is involved in a murder trial in Los Angeles. Girolami proposes a preliminary hearing starting date of October 28, 2003—the third time the date has been changed at the request of the defense team. When asked by Girolami if he agrees with the delay, Scott Peterson replies, “Yeah, the 28th is appropriate.” Rick Distaso predicts the preliminary hearing will last five days. Girolami also sets a pretrial hearing for October 24, 2003, to check the status of both sides and to determine what witnesses will be excluded from the courtroom during the upcoming preliminary hearing. After the hearing, Sharon Rocha, seated in the front row, is escorted from the courtroom before bailiffs allow the public and reporters to stand up. Scott Peterson again encounters his parents as bailiffs lead him across a courthouse hallway. “Hey, Scott,” says Lee Peterson. “Hi, sweetie,” says Jackie Peterson. Scott Peterson turns his head and smiles faintly to them as he is led past. Outside the courthouse, Jackie Peterson tells reporters that she has not heard whether she will be called to testify. Lee Peterson declines to comment, citing the gag order. The prosecution files court documents in response to the defense team’s contention that Steve Jacobson “purposely omitted” information from Eloise Anderson’s report in affidavits to a judge when seeking warrants for wiretaps of Scott Peterson’s phones. In the papers, Rick Distaso contends that the defense argument “grossly misstates” the dog handler’s report, and that there was sufficient evidence to believe Laci Peterson’s body was in the Tradecorp Warehouse and in Scott Peterson’s boat before being dumped into San Francisco Bay. The documents cite a report that the cadaver dog, Twist, showed “mild interest” in the boat and also displayed interested in containers under a small workbench in the warehouse. According to the prosecution’s theory, Twist may have not come to full alert because of the heavy smell of chemicals in the storage facility. Moreover, the prosecution writes, Jacobson had not read the dog handler’s report at the time he wrote his affidavit and could not have included it, whether or not it was favorable to a case against Scott Peterson. The Modesto Police Department announces a new plan to deal with the crush of media anticipated at Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing. Revising the original plan to close I Street between 10th Street and 12th Streets, Lt. Dan Inderbitzen proposes limiting traffic to one lane in each direction and banning parking in the area. The new plan draws a firestorm of criticism from business owners, downtown shoppers, members of Modesto City Council and even Mayor Carmen Sabatino. An article in the Modesto Bee entitled “Peterson Defense Spots an Opening” notes that the previous day’s defense tactics could signal a wider strategy of trying to show that investigators acted improperly throughout the case, echoing the defense strategy of O.J. Simpson’s attorneys.
October 20 The Scott Peterson case is discussed on Larry King Live with panel members Ted Rowlands, Nancy Grace, Jan Ronis, Jeanine Pirro, Chris Pixley and Robi Ludwig. The Modesto Bee releases an article entitled “Merchants Dread Media Frenzy” that gathers public reaction to the plan to have limited traffic and no parking except for media trucks on I Street during Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing. The Modesto Police Department revises its traffic and parking plan, keeping I Street open and moving parking for media trucks to the 51,000-square-foot construction site of the Gallo Performing Arts Center. Carmen Sabatino, who had expressed displeasure that neither he nor members of the Modesto City Council were consulted about the plan, states that he is happy the plan was changed. “I’m pleased that enough pressure was put on them to find another solution,” he says. “As mayor, I can’t stand by as businesses and people suffer so the TV networks can have an easier time of it.” According to the new plan, Stanislaus County will charge six television networks $15,000 to rent the construction site during the preliminary hearing, with the money going to pay for security, fencing and any work that might be required on the site afterward (later, the price tag is reported as being $30,000). Stan Risen states that the networks will have the option of renting individual spaces to local television stations, as long as they don’t make more than the $15,000 they are paying. Police will still close 11th Street, between H Street and I Street, for the preliminary hearing, as they have been doing on all days that Scott Peterson has been in court.
October 21 Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman file a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of Amber Frey, seeking to block attempts to sell nude photos of her that she says were obtained illegally. The suit contends that, after a “test shoot” with Emerald Photography in 1999, she decided not to continue an association with the company and did not pick up photographs taken of her, but did not “license or authorize the use of her photographs by any defendant or any other person.” The suit seeks $6 million, an injunction to prohibit David Hans Schmidt from continuing to sell the photographs through his pay-for-use Internet site and an order that he turn over the photographs and negatives. Schmidt’s public relations and production company is also named in the lawsuit, which alleges misappropriation of Amber Frey’s name and likeness, unlawful or misleading advertising, invasion of privacy, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Schmidt declines comment, saying he has not seen the lawsuit. Although he had said previously that he had a model release for the photographs, the suit states it is, in reality, a “data sheet” that indicated she “had no tattoos, no body piercings, likes horses and would pose nude” and that “nothing on the data sheet discussed or described any agreement between the parties, nor did it make any reference to the actual taking of photographs or rights to photographs.” Gloria Allred states that she did not file the lawsuit because she is a potential witness in the case. K. Arianne Jordan states that the lawsuit against Schmidt was filed as quickly as possible after the photographs were posted. New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams offers a predictive snippet in her column: “Bad news for bad boy Scott Peterson, accused murderer of wife Laci Peterson. New information that hasn’t yet surfaced and will not until the trial is in prosecutorial hands. They’re guarding it so carefully it won’t even leak. Part-chemical, part-circumstantial, it’s wholly as tough and strong as the chains that could bind him foreverevereverever. Trust mother, kiddies.”
October 23 KPIX reports that red paint marks found on Scott Peterson’s boat are similar to that found on navigational buoys in the San Francisco bay, leading to speculation that he may have tied his boat to a buoy before dumping the body of Laci Peterson.
October 24 At Stanislaus County Superior Court, Scott Peterson walks briskly into the courtroom, smiling and mouthing a greeting to John Peterson—the only Peterson family member in attendance—for a 30-minute status hearing in front of Al Girolami. Court TV remarks that Scott Peterson appears to “pay careful attention” during the proceedings. Sharon Rocha attends the hearing with four supporters. Rick Distaso says he intends to begin the preliminary hearing with DNA evidence and testimony from a DNA expert, but is paring down the rest of the case and “strongly considering” saving the GPS device information for the trial. “We’re trying to keep this to a somewhat manageable level,” he tells Girolami. Kirk McAllister again asks for a short delay of Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing to allow Mark Geragos, the defense team’s DNA expert, to finish trying Karen Terteryan’s murder case, which has been delayed because of an inmate transportation problem. “These unforeseen delays have thrown a monkey wrench in what we thought was a firm date,” McAllister states, asking for a postponement from Tuesday to Thursday or Friday. Distaso argues against another delay, stating that he has already lined up a Monday arrival of an expert DNA witness, but after discussion with Girolami and McAllister says, “We’re willing to split the baby and move to Wednesday.” Girolami agrees and sets a new start date of October 29, 2003. Prosecutors and the defense team exchange witness lists, with McAllister noting that he has subpoenaed Wray Ladine and three police officers. Neither side releases information to the media. Both sides agree to allow family members who are also potential witnesses to attend the preliminary hearing. Girolami cautions both sides to make sure they have witnesses ready. “The court is not going to look kindly on any continuance,” he warms. Girolami rules that, at the preliminary hearing, Scott Peterson may continue “to dress as he wishes” rather than wear the inmate jumpsuits, even though no cameras will be present. Girolami declines the defense team’s request to have full-blown hearings concerning the scientific reliability of the search dogs and GPS devices, but agrees to a Kelly hearing into the reliability of mitochondrial DNA. After the hearing, John Goold explains to the media that Kelly hearings are reserved for “new and novel scientific evidence,” noting that prosecutors will then attempt to persuade Girolami that mitochondrial DNA analysis is not a “wacky, crazy technique.” After the hearing, John Peterson is questioned about the absence of Scott Peterson’s parents and usual supporters, and reports that other family members are out of town, but that “they are all coming up for the hearing.” He indicates that, after months of rumors and leaks, they are eager to hear the prosecution’s case against Scott Peterson: “We’re looking forward to the opportunity for them to show us their cards. We’re hopeful that not enough evidence will be shown by the prosecution, because we all believe he’s innocent.” The Modesto Bee releases an article quoting Lee Peterson as saying about his son’s birthday, “There is nothing much you can do. One of his brothers will visit him.” Scott Peterson spends the rest of his 31st birthday in Stanislaus County Jail, where, Tom Letras states, it is “just another day” in the cell: “They don’t have cake and ice cream. There are no special visits. They get no special privileges whatsoever for birthdays.”
October 25 The first Laci Peterson Memorial Day and Concert is held to remember Laci Peterson and to thank those who worked worked and prayed for her safe return. The event, spearheaded by Shawn Rocha, is supported by volunteers from the American Legion Riders of Turlock, the Livermore Harley Owners Group chapter, the Blue Knights and a group of Shawn Rocha’s co-workers from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company office in Stockton. An estimated 700 members of numerous motorcycle clubs from Northern California attend the event. “Bikers come out stronger than anyone else for support when others are down,” says Shawn Rocha—himself a Harley-Davidson owner—who notes that he had to scrap his original plan of a large memorial ride because of insurance issues. Prior to the concert, actor and event host Mickey Jones and some of the other bikers meet at Mitchell’s Modesto Harley-Davidson and ride to the grave site of Laci and Conner Peterson at Burwood Cemetery. Jones later takes to The Fruit Yard restaurant stage for the centerpiece of the event: a free blues concert featuring the Fabulous Blue Notes and the Homewreckers. Jones emcees and helps Shawn Rocha announce the raffle winners. T-shirts are also sold. According to volunteers, the proceeds from the sales will benefit a new nonprofit foundation whose name and purpose have not yet been announced.
October 26 The Modesto Bee, in preparation of the upcoming preliminary hearing, releases profiles of all the key players among the prosecution, the defense and the witness pool.
October 27 A source tells a Modesto Bee reporter that Amber Frey has spent hours with legal experts practicing for Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing and will be called as a witness. In anticipation of Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing, media trucks are already in place outside the Stanislaus County Courthouse, with more than 100 phone lines installed. On The John Walsh Show, Sara James, Erin Moriarty and Nancy Grace discuss the Scott Peterson case. Moriarty says she does not approve of Grace’s style. “You’re not reporting on this case,” Moriarty snaps. “You’re still the prosecutor you were, and you’re taking an adversarial position when you’re reporting, and I don’t think that’s what we should be doing.” The San Jose Mercury News runs an article entitled “For Modesto, Peterson Slaying Cements Dark Notoriety,” which states that, tragically building on the murders of three Yosemite tourists and the slaying of Modesto native Chandra Levy, “It’s the Peterson case that has pushed Modesto over the edge, giving this humble community an international reputation as a place stricken by awful things.” Several Modestans provide man-on-the-street-type comments about the Scott Peterson case and his upcoming preliminary hearing. KPIX, in preparation of the upcoming preliminary hearing, releases analyses of the potential prosecution and defense strategies. One KPIX article claims that the prosecution is aware of as many as seven affairs Scott Peterson had.
October 28 Reporting on Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing, the Associated Press states that nearly 200 applications—from as far away as Japan—have been received for the fewer than two dozen sets of courtroom credentials available. “We’re putting on a mini Super Bowl is what we’re doing,” says Kelly Huston. “It swamps everything by far. This is the event that trumps all other events locally.” Still, the odds for the media are better than the odds for the public: Only about a dozen seats will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Many other news organizations publish recaps of the case in anticipation of the preliminary hearing. A Court TV article states, “The district attorney has hinted at bombshell evidence, and the defense has outright promised it,” recalling statements made by Jim Brazelton and Mark Geragos. Brazelton had told reporters that observers at the preliminary hearing are “going to see some stuff that might open some eyes”; Geragos, likewise, had filed court papers in July 2003 claiming that the defense had evidence concerning the “true killers” that “negates any possibility that Mr. Peterson committed this horrible crime”—evidence, he promised, that would come out at the preliminary hearing. Lee and Jackie Peterson visit Scott Peterson at the Stanislaus County Jail.
October 29 Scott Peterson’s long-awaited and often-delayed preliminary hearing opens before Al Girolami with 20 minutes of outlining ground rules and procedural matters. In the courtroom and all dressed in black are Sharon Rocha and nine other members of the Rocha family, including Ron Grantski, Dennis Rocha, Brent Rocha and Amy Rocha. Lee Peterson, Jackie Peterson, Susan Caudillo, Joe Peterson and Janey Peterson wear the blue-and-yellow ribbons that became associated with the search for Laci and Conner Peterson. Scott Peterson wears a European-cut dark-blue suit and smiles and nods at his supporters when he enters the courtroom. Greta Van Susteren and Gloria Allred also attend. According to some sources, “Citizen Q” also appears incognito. Mark Geragos asks that Allred be removed from the courtroom. “Excluding me from the courtroom would interfere with my ability to defend my client,” Allred tells Girolami, who rules that she may stay as long as she does not discuss specific testimony with client Amber Frey. “You can give her advice but you cannot include what witnesses have said,” he orders. All other witnesses are kept out of the courtroom except Lee Peterson, Sharon Rocha and Amy Rocha. Rick Distaso says that the prosecution will not be introducing evidence gained through wiretaps or GPS tracking devices during the preliminary hearing. The prosecution calls its first witness, Connie Fisher, who matched a hair found in Scott Peterson’s fishing boat to his murdered wife by using a swab of DNA taken from the mouth of Sharon Rocha. Fisher provides what Dave Harris terms “DNA 101,” painstakingly describing the science and process of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. “The court will see that there is nothing new and novel in this particular type of technique,” Harris offers. Though acknowledging that mtDNA testing is less precise and more “sensitive” than traditional nuclear DNA analysis, Fisher says it can distinguish individuals as long as they are not related. “It is a very highly exclusionary technique,” she says—just 1 in every 112 Caucasians would be expected to have the same mtDNA sequence. She explains for the court that the FBI has used mtDNA in forensic testing since 1996 and that it is not considered a novel technique: “Children are learning this in high school. They’re doing this in biology labs across the country.” The Modesto Bee notes that, after Fisher provides detailed testimony for most of the morning, a “collective sigh of apparent relief” is heard after she concludes a lengthy explanation. Mark Geragos cross-examines Fisher as to her qualifications, and she acknowledges that she has never testified in California state court and that this is the first case where she is testifying about the admissibility of mtDNA evidence—although she has testified 14 times on other DNA-related issues. Geragos attacks the mtDNA sample on two fronts, contending that it is the focus of a “raging debate” in scientific community and arguing that the sample itself was not handled properly in police custody. He notes that the technique has not been widely accepted in courts, and has been ruled admissible only once in a California state court. Geragos gets Fisher to admit that FBI protocol prohibits her from opening an evidence envelope at one point in testing, to prevent contaminating evidence or possibly allowing another hair to enter the envelope. During the cross-examination, Sharon Rocha writes a note to Ron Grantski and the two share a chuckle. Bailiffs hand a note to Lee Peterson and a note to Jackie Peterson at separate times. According to Court TV, Scott Peterson appears to closely follow what it describes as “dense technical testimony,” noting that, when Fisher uses a PowerPoint presentation to explain mtDNA structure, he turns his chair toward the screen, and that he later appears to be taking notes. The Modesto Bee reports that many observers yawn during complex, technical testimony after lunch, and some appear to doze off. Reporters from as far away as Japan are in court—or as close as they can get to the 70-seat courtroom—to cover the case. Outside, an area in front of the courthouse and the vacant lot that is planned to soon host construction for the Gallo Performing Arts Center have been transformed into communications central for media trucks, with mobile office trailers, satellite trucks, portable generators and about 125 lines for phone and high-speed Internet access installed. Just outside the courthouse, there are 28 media tents. Inside, not much is different, according to Mike Tozzi: “It’s an open courthouse, and we intend to keep it an open courthouse.” According to Kelly Huston, the contingent is “easily twice as big as the Condit media horde,” although the Modesto Bee reports that media coverage for the preliminary hearing is no larger than it has been for other key proceedings related to Scott Peterson’s prosecution, possibly because the wildfires in Southern California have drawn away some network resources: “The scene outside the courthouse…could be described, for the most part, as sedate or just plain boring.” At the end of the day, Jackie Peterson exits the courtroom holding onto the arm of Geragos. She tells reporters, “We’re glad it’s getting started. We’re praying for wisdom for the court, and for the truth to come out.” Gloria Allred appears on Larry King Live and announces that she will stay in Modesto for the length of the preliminary hearing.
October 30 Scott Peterson, wearing a light gray suit and red tie, enters the courtroom for the second day of his preliminary hearing, gesturing a quick hello to Jackie Peterson. At least three armed bailiffs stand at two courtroom entrances at all times. Mark Geragos questions Connie Fisher for nearly 5 hours about intricate technical aspects of her genetic testing. Geragos moves back and forth between the defense table stacked with scientific journals and in front of the witness stand, asking her question after question about the limits of mtDNA analysis in establishing identity. Court TV reports that Fisher seems “worn out” by more than 9 hours of questioning over two days, and the Modesto Bee states that she seems “exasperated,” rolling her eyes at a question just 16 minutes into the morning session. In contrast, Court TV reports that Scott Peterson is “watching intently” during the proceedings, even as at least one of his family members appears to sleep in the courtroom. Geragos tries to show that the FBI did not follow its own guidelines by failing to use DNA from Laci Peterson’s bone along with a sample taken from Sharon Rocha, reading to the court from FBI guidelines that technicians “should” compare results with a second tissue sample. “‘Should’ has wiggle room in it,” Fisher replies. “There is a difference between ‘should’ and ‘must.'” Geragos questions the reliability of a computer program used by the FBI to analyze DNA data. Fisher replies that the program, written by an employee no longer with the bureau, had errors but that the program’s results were also checked manually. Perhaps sensing an opening, Geragos asks, “Was he fired for incompetence?” to which Fisher replies that the employee left to study law—prompting the packed courtroom to erupt in laughter. Scott Peterson also laughs, then briefly shakes his head from side to side as he smiles. At one other point, a technical exchange between Geragos and Fisher elicits laughter from the courtroom gallery that Court TV called “groggy and lost”: Fisher, responding to how she generally calculates certain results, fires back, “1.96 times the square root of the frequency times one minus the frequency over the sample size.” Before the lunch recess, Al Girolami warns Geragos, “You’re at 4 hours about now. You should be able to get all the issues by now.” The judge and those in the gallery are not the only ones frustrated by the slow going in the hearing. As the detailed questioning wears on into the late afternoon, Dennis Rocha groans and throws up his hand before leaning forward in his chair and staring at the floor. Even after the conclusion of the cross-examination, Girolami has his own questions for Fisher, asking her how all the DNA samples the FBI used for cross-reference had been obtained and whether they were specifically gathered for mtDNA comparison. Fisher replies that the samples came from blood, and that some had indeed been extracted for nuclear DNA testing. Gloria Allred states that Amber Frey is not expected to testify until at least the following week: “I have no plans for her to be in Modesto tomorrow,” Allred tells reporters. She admits, too, to dozing off during the more technical testimony. Janey Peterson defends the controversial decision to wear the blue-and-yellow ribbons that were symbolic of the search for Laci and Conner Peterson. “The bottom line is we’re not taking them off until we find who took Laci and Conner from us,” she tells reporters. Ted Rowlands breaks a story that KTVU has obtained correspondence by the inmate Scott Peterson. KTVU follows with an article entitled “Peterson Letters Reveal Tears and Loss.” According to that article, he wrote in pencil on a simple yellow legal pad to an unidentified person. He states he was told by detectives on the trip back to Modesto following his arrest that the bodies found along the San Francisco Bay were positively identified as those of his wife and unborn son: “I didn’t believe…wouldn’t believe them. I only knew it was true on the next morning when I saw the paper.” He says the jail conditions have made it nearly impossible for him to mourn: “I am finding it so difficult to grieve for them here. At night, I have my head buried in a blanket. I don’t want the other inmates to see the tears.” He notes that the high point of his day is the shower: “You get to move around a room that is 8-feet-by-20-feet without chains on. I try to spend as much time there as possible.” He also states that he does not like the food: “They just brought dinner. It’s a green ‘liquid’ with I think some tiny carrot chunks in it. I think I will have to resort to the commissary bag. I have been hoarding it, rationing it, like I am on Survivor. Please vote me off this island.” Renee Baca pleads no contest to crimes related to her involvement in a scam in which people claimed to be family members of Laci Peterson. The Hollywood Reporter announces that Dean Cain, Dee Wallace-Stone and Tim Quill have been cast for the upcoming USA Network movie about the Scott and Laci Peterson story, scheduled to begin shooting in November 2003 in San Diego.
October 31 Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing enters its third day. Kim Petersen joins the Rocha family. The abbreviated session, scheduled by Al Girolami to last from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., opens with testimony from Margarita Nava. Constantly swiveling in her chair and using an interpreter, she tells the court she cleaned Scott and Laci Peterson’s home four times before Laci Peterson went missing—the last time on December 23, 2002. Attorneys on both sides question her about pets in the house, window blinds and her cleaning routine. Nava says she used bleach to clean only the bathroom floors, using water and “a little Pine-Sol” to clean the kitchen floor. Under cross-examination, Mark Geragos makes a point to dispute implications by the prosecution that Laci Peterson might have been too pregnant to walk the dog the day she disappeared: “Apparently, she was in good enough shape to go shopping, load up the car and bring them back to the kitchen.” Nava also states that, although she never saw animals in the home, she did fill a water dish that she thought was used by an animal. The prosecution next calls Amy Rocha, who tells the court that, during the time she cut Scott Peterson’s hair on December 23, 2002, he had promised to pick up a gift basket the following day as a favor for her. She testifies that, after receiving a call from the gift shop notifying her that the basket had not been picked up, she tried to call Scott Peterson’s cell phone but was unable to reach him. She states that, although she regularly cut Scott Peterson’s hair, he never asked her to color it. She describes the clothing worn by Laci Peterson on December 23, 2002. She testifies that she had never seen or heard about Scott Peterson having a fishing boat. Under cross-examination by Geragos, she states that she and Laci Peterson had inherited a “substantial” amount of jewelry from their paternal grandmother, some of which Laci Peterson attempted to sell on eBay and in pawn shops. As Amy Rocha says this, Sharon Rocha removes a large metal earring from her left ear and holds it until Al Girolami calls a recess. Sharon Rocha takes the stand and recounts the last conversation she had with her daughter. The Modesto Bee reports her as “appearing collected and looking straight ahead.” She describes her last conversation with her daughter: “She said she was very tired. I asked her if she was feeling all right, and she said she was just tired.” She also describes her conversation the next day with Scott Peterson: “When he said ‘missing,’ that’s what concerned me,” she recalls. “It wasn’t that she wasn’t there, or he couldn’t find her, but that she was missing.” Under cross-examination by Geragos, she smiles broadly when he asks if it is fair to describe Laci Peterson as a “determined young lady.” Lee Peterson states that he spoke with Scott Peterson for about two minutes during the afternoon of December 24, 2002, but that his son did not mention anything about having been to the Berkeley Marina. Lee Peterson also testifies that he did not know Scott Peterson had purchased a boat. Under cross-examination by Geragos, Lee Peterson states that it was not unusual for Scott Peterson to not inform him of his purchases, citing that his son had bought a motorcycle, a catamaran and a truck without his knowledge. Det. Jon Evers, the first officer dispatched when Laci Peterson was reported missing, testifies that Scott Peterson showed police officers a parking receipt from the Berkeley Marina but “couldn’t say” when they asked what type of fish he went fishing for. Evers says he searched East La Loma park with Scott Peterson and Laci Peterson’s relatives, visited the Scott and Laci Peterson’s home and went to the Tradecorp Warehouse, where he used car headlights and flashlights to search the storage area where Scott Peterson’s boat was. Evers testifies that Sharon Rocha and Scott Peterson appeared to be the most distraught when he arrived. He also recalls a strained exchange between Scott Peterson and Ron Grantski, during which Grantski questioned him about what he did that day and then remarked, “Boy, that’s late, 9:30, to go fishing.” According to the Modesto Bee, Dennis Rocha sighs audibly twice during testimony, and Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski whisper frequently and, at one point, pass a note up to prosecutors. The Modesto Bee also says that Scott Peterson sits stone-faced throughout most of the proceedings, but at times confers with his attorneys. After the hearing, Geragos responds to a reporter who asked if he felt the preliminary hearing was going well: “I’ll leave that to you.” Greta Van Susteren, who has attended the preliminary hearing, releases an article in which she sympathizes with the pain of the “mothers” of the case and answers why she has not been interviewing them at every opportunity: “My thought: Neither of these women did anything wrong and I think they ought to be able to take a break from the preliminary hearing without me asking questions that will later end up on a TV show.” The Modesto Bee releases an article in which Heather Richardson comments on Scott Peterson’s letters from jail. She states it is “a little irritating” to realize that letters to her and her husband are essentially the same as those Scott Peterson has been sending to others. “We were their best friends, and he doesn’t have unique thoughts for us. He writes generally the same stuff to everybody.” Heather Richardson characterizes the letters as “kind of cryptic” and out of place for someone facing the death penalty. “It’s not exactly what you’d expect from someone facing what he is. It’s like he is not realizing the reality of the situation he’s in.” She points out one of the impersonal phrases Scott Peterson wrote: “In an upcoming forum, you will be able to see the evidence my team has put together.” In the same article, an unnamed source states that, about a week after his arrest, Scott Peterson wrote at least a half-dozen letters to express his desire to continue friendships after his “exoneration.” The National Enquirer delivers a horrific new theory: Laci Peterson was still alive even as she was being loaded into Scott Peterson’s boat. Nancy Grace is the guest host of Larry King Live and welcomes panel members Ted Rowlands, Laura Ingle, Cyril Wecht, Chris Pixley, Jeanine Pirro and Robi Ludwig, and special guests Gloria Allred and Kelly Huston.