#23) July 2004
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: July 2004
July 2 The Associated Press reports that an anonymous source has stated that Det. Al Brocchini misrepresented the actual contents of a tape-recorded tip he cited while on the witness stand on June 29, 2004. According to the source, the tip never mentioned duct tape—present in the detective’s testimony and on the body of Laci Peterson.
July 6 After the extended break for the Independence Day holiday, Al Delucchi meets for about an hour in chambers with Scott Peterson, attorneys from both sides and an investigator from the Office of the District Attorney, apparently to discuss the recent revelations that Det. Al Brocchini embellished his testimony. Some observers later speculate that the defense is arguing to put Brocchini on the stand to ask him whether he intentionally lied in order to inflame the jury. As the meeting takes place, Brocchini sits in the courtroom. When Rick Distaso emerges from chambers, he speaks briefly with the detective, who then leaves. Doug Mansfield testifies concerning an interview he conducted with the defendant on December 25, 2002. According to Mansfield’s testimony, Scott Peterson stated he was going to the San Francisco Bay not to fish, but simply to try out the boat. Mansfield also testifies that Scott Peterson reported that he and his wife had about $2,300 of disposable income each month after paying bills—in stark contrast to earlier reports that the couple was struggling financially. According to Mansfield, Scott Peterson told him “there were no third parties involved,” his way of saying that neither he nor Laci Peterson were having affairs. Mansfield testifies that the defendant showed concern about his wife walking in the park, saying that he asked her to take pepper spray. But, Mansfield notes, her pepper spray was found in her purse—still in the home. As Mike Looby is called to testify concerning his finding of Conner Peterson’s remains, Sharon Rocha, Ron Grantski and Brent Rocha exit the courtroom. As Dave Harris projects a photo of the unborn child’s body, jurors are noticeably affected. “It was the body of a small baby,” Looby tells the court. “I knew what it was right away.” Looby also says that he saw what he viewed as an unusual amount of debris along the shore that day. That debris was possibly brought in by a recent storm, according to testimony by Brian Gard. Under cross-examination, though, he also admits that he did not find anything similar to the plastic tape found around Conner Peterson. Capt. Erik Newman, Tod Opdyke and Alena Gonzalez also testify. By chance, Gonzalez meets Sharon Rocha, Ron Grantski and Brent Rocha in a San Carlos restaurant.
July 7 The prosecution calls 12 witnesses, the most of any day during the guilt phase of Scott Peterson’s trial. Returning to the witness stand, Alena Gonzalez recalls the horrific discovery of Laci Peterson’s body. Gonzalez says she recovered a glove near the spot where Laci Peterson’s body was found, but prosecutors make no link to the case. Jackie Peterson remains during the graphic testimony, but she appears to break down at one point, and is comforted by Janey Peterson. During the testimony, Scott Peterson briefly puts his hand on his head. The prosecution calls Chris Martinez and Leo Martin from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Under cross-examination by Mark Geragos, the attorney charges Martinez visually estimated that the remains of Conner Peterson as that of a baby “a few days old,” a finding seemingly inconsistent with the prosecution’s scenario. “You estimated the baby to be several days old when you found it,” the attorney states. “I meant several days of decomposition,” Martinez explains. Martinez states that he did not add or remove anything from the remains. During questioning by Dave Harris, the witness points out that he does not conduct autopsies or make medical determinations. The prosecution then calls four witnesses from the Berkeley Marina: Alonzo Chess, Sylvester Goosby, Gary Freedman and Cliff Marchetti. All say that there was little traffic there on December 24, 2002. None remembers seeing Scott Peterson. Bruce Peterson takes the stand, testifying about selling a boat to Scott Peterson. He is followed by Kim Fulbright, who is pregnant and about the same size Laci Peterson was at the time of her disappearance. The court then has a 402 hearing to discuss whether the prosecution can show that Fulbright is able to fit in Scott Peterson’s tool box and be curled up in his boat. Geragos asks Al Delucchi to disallow the photographs of Fulbright, saying they are “fabricated evidence.” Although the judge initially agrees with him because he believes that Laci Peterson was larger than Fulbright, he reverses his view after Rick Distaso confirms that the two women were nearly the same size, with Fulbright being just slightly taller and heavier. After the hearing, Fulbright is called again, and prosecutors show photos portraying that she could fit in both places. The Modesto Bee later notes: “Jurors appeared captivated by the images, which drew murmurs from the audience.” Although her appearance obviously proves a point for the prosecution, Geragos manages to get in a few jabs. He asks Fulbright if she was able to walk when 35 weeks pregnant—an attack on the prosecution’s theory that Laci Peterson was too fatigued to have been walking McKenzie in late December 2002—then feigns disbelief when the witness answers in the positive. Through questioning, he also suggests that the prosecution’s test was inaccurate. “I don’t mean to be facetious, but you were alive, right?” he asks Fulbright. “You didn’t have rigor mortis, right?” Distaso finally objects when Geragos asks the witness for a medical opinion. “If rigor mortis had set in, would you be able to roll yourself up like that?” he asks sarcastically. Delucchi sustains the objection and counsels the defense attorney, saying, “On rigor mortis, there’s been no evidence so far.” Geragos snaps back, “There’s been no evidence whatsoever.” At that remark, a female observer bursts into laughter, drawing disapproving looks from the family and friends of Laci Peterson. The state calls David Browne and Sgt. Rick Armendariz as the day’s final witnesses. Armendariz discusses the difficult searches of the San Francisco Bay, testifying that divers described the bay as “black water.”
July 8 The scheduled court session is canceled to allow one of the attorneys to attend the funeral of a friend.
July 9 Lee and Jackie Peterson, living on the edge of the gag order, are interviewed on 20/20. The conversation, taped earlier, is largely a defense of their son. The couple, perhaps in anticipation of prosecution evidence that Scott Peterson had his car loaded down with supplies at the time of his arrest, tells Barbara Walters that Scott Peterson “literally became a nomad” after being “virtually run out of town” after his wife’s disappearance. “He became a homeless man, living out of a car,” Lee Peterson states. He continues to deny that his son could be responsible for the death of Laci Peterson, saying, “The only time I’ve seen him mad is if he misses a golf shot—he might get a little mad.” He tells Walters that it was oddly comforting to see his son taken into custody. “It was a relief when we heard he was arrested,” Lee Peterson says. “That sounds strange, but at least we knew where he was every night and that he was safe—relatively safe.” Laci Peterson is mentioned in a new advertisement for George Bush’s presidential reelection campaign. The spot assails opponent John Kerry because he “found time to vote against the Laci Peterson law that protects women from violence.” According to Lt. Mark Smith, Scott Bernstein uses his false identification for the last time while investigating the Laci Peterson case.
July 10 The Modesto Bee runs an article in which the relationship between Amber Frey and Det. Richard Byrd is investigated. The article reveals that the two spoke by telephone at least three times from December 21, 2002, to January 2, 2003. Byrd, contacted by a reporter, states, “You know I know her—I don’t have any comment.” Nevertheless, he is dismissive of suggestions that he and Amber Frey have skeletons in their closet that could derail the case against Scott Peterson. In the article, Gloria Allred continues to defend her client and dismiss insinuations by Mark Geragos. “This suggestion by Geragos that somehow she was in any way involved in the disappearance of Laci is preposterous,” Allred states. She declines to give a date for when Amber Frey discovered Scott Peterson’s marriage, but points out, “She never went out with him thinking he was married.”
July 12 Sgt. Rick Armendariz concludes his testimony. He tells the court that the San Francisco Bay searches brought up a wide variety of garbage, but nothing that seemed related to the Laci Peterson case On cross-examination, Mark Geragos asks him if he knew that dive crews searched more than two hundred quarter-mile-square grids. Al Delucchi sustains the prosecution’s objection to the question. Geragos suggests that the side-scan sonar used in the searches should have been sufficient to produce significant findings—if there were any to be had. “Apparently this was so sophisticated that they could spot a target as small as a beer can,” Geragos remarks. Armendariz disagrees with the presumption, offering that the items found could have been located by divers searching the San Francisco Bay bottom by hand. Armendariz is followed by four Modesto Police Department officers: Sgt. Adam McGill, Det. Ray Coyle, Det. Rudy Skultety and Doug Lovell. McGill states that Scott Peterson’s boat cover reeked of gasoline during the December 26, 2002, search of Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. Coyle states he that, during that same search, he was asked to check for “blood spatters or drops,” and found “a couple of small spots on the comforter” in the couple’s bedroom. A tape of the search reveals McKenzie barked almost incessantly throughout the 45-minute recording—seemingly evidence that the prosecution wanted to introduce to make jurors question whether Laci Peterson could have been quietly abducted with the protective dog around. As the tape shows Conner Peterson’s nursery, Sharon and Amy Rocha appear to begin crying. Brent Rocha puts his hand to his mouth. When the tape shows the kitchen, Sharon Rocha buries her face in her hand. The outdoor scenes clearly show a cover to the barbecue grill—visual evidence that Geragos was incorrect when he mockingly dismissed the testimony of Harvey Kemple, who told the court that the defendant had once slammed down the cover after burning chicken. Skultety tells the court that investigators used a special vacuum to collect cement residue from the bottom of Scott Peterson’s boat. Skultety says that investigators also found what they considered to be a suspicious brown stain on the kitchen floor near the trash can and another “brownish color splatter” on a water heater door. Nancy Grace appears for the first time at Scott Peterson’s trial. During a break, she hugs Sharon Rocha in the courthouse hallway.
July 13 Doug Lovell concludes his testimony. He is followed by Kim Castro and Det. Dodge Hendee. Hendee testifies that investigators found what they thought could be blood on the inside of a door, on the tailgate and by the toolbox in the bed of Scott Peterson’s vehicle. Hendee also says that they found small chunks of concrete and “a white powder cementlike mix” on a “Pro Gardener claw hammer” in the bed of Scott Peterson’s truck. A receipt from Home Depot for “a cement product” was found in the truck’s glove box. Hendee says he also found what appeared to be a dark strand of hair about 5 to 6 inches long in the teeth of pliers found in the bottom of Scott Peterson’s boat. He states that the hair had “vegetative material” attached to it in two places. The detective testifies that he “didn’t pay much more attention” to the hair after putting it inside the evidence bag, suggesting that it could have been two strands of hair rather than the one as he originally thought. The Modesto Bee reports that the names “Laci” and “Conner” have risen in popularity, attributing the rise to the posthumous celebrity status of Laci and Conner Peterson.
July 14 The morning begins with an in-camera session. Al Delucchi states that he will consider the defense motion for a mistrial during a hearing scheduled for July 29, 2004. Dave Harris argues that the hearing should be closed to the press. “We don’t think the media has a right any more so than the jury does because they’ve not proven themselves responsible to handle that information,” he argues. Delucchi initially concurs that he will have to keep that hearing closed unless Mark Geragos agrees not to bring up previous charges against Det. Al Brocchini. Geragos refuses to be silent about the previous infraction, telling the judge he intends to show that the detective was not simply mistaken or negligent, but committed an “intentional and willful violation” that was the crux of the mistrial motion. “You know that old expression,” Geragos says. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” After an argument from Karl Olson, Delucchi seemingly relents, saying he will probably allow reporters to be present except when there are discussions about the previous mistrial. Delucchi says Geragos wants the proceeding to be open so that he can publicly embarrass Brocchini and the prosecution. “There’s a certain strategy here that you’d have to be an imbecile not to figure out,” the judge remarks, then tells Olson, “I’m not calling you an imbecile…because the press would put down that I called you an imbecile.” Delucchi says that, during the July 29, 2004, session, he will also hear arguments on a second defense motion regarding Scott Peterson’s television interviews from January 2003—the defense wants unedited tapes to be shown—as well as a media motion opposing a subpoena regarding photographs related to the case. Det. Dodge Hendee again takes the stand, describing his participation in law enforcement searches of the San Francisco Bay. He admits that underwater mapping equipment pinpointed 223 targets, but that none of them seemed to have implications in a case against Scott Peterson. The Modesto Bee runs an article on the continuing investigation of students caught cheating on Stephen Schoenthaler’s survey related to Scott Peterson’s trial. In the article, Stacey Morgan-Foster states that, of the 58 students in the class, 31 were cleared, 20 have been disciplined, one has a case on hold, one has not yet been charged, and five are being charged with obstruction for refusing to talk with college officials about the alleged cheating. She adds that those students have until July 16, 2004, to talk about a settlement agreement. “If they are responsible for cheating, they need to take responsibility for that and move on,” she says. One anonymous student tells the Modesto Bee, “I just did what I needed to do to get my diploma.” The report states that California State University, Stanislaus, plans to put the cheating to good use: as an example to incoming freshmen about the importance of academic integrity. Geragos buys a 7,700-square-foot office building at 749 Brewster Avenue for $1.75 million.
July 15 Det. Dodge Hendee continues testifying, admitting that he was mistaken when he thought the pitcher found in the Tradecorp Warehouse had been used as a mold for an anchor found in Scott Peterson’s boat. Mark Geragos disputes that there were four roughly circular patterns and a partial fifth one found in the cement residue on the trailer near the pitcher. Projecting a photograph, Geragos asserts there is only one clear circle, and mockingly points to other objects in the photograph, asking whether they are circles. Dave Harris objects as Hendee attempts to point out the areas. “The jury can see it,” Al Delucchi answers. “They can draw their own conclusions.” Geragos sardonically asks, “Ever go out into the fields where they have those circular patterns in them?” Hendee acknowledges that Scott Peterson’s camouflage jacket was lying in his boat in one police evidence photograph, but was inside a duffel bag in another shot. Delucchi excuses jurors early for the weekend so that he may view televised interviews the defendant gave in January 2003. When scenes are edited out for the program, “It looks like the entire thing was contrived,” Pat Harris argues, asking the judge to let the jury see the unedited tapes of Scott Peterson’s interviews. Delucchi says he may want to excise a portion of an interview that deals with Scott Peterson loading umbrellas if his comments were in response to what Kristen Dempewolf saw.
July 19 Det. Dodge Hendee continues testifying—his fourth day on the stand. Dave Harris holds up the anchor entered into evidence and asks Hendee about it. “This particular anchor—Who made it?” Harris asks. “Scott Peterson,” Hendee replies. He tells the court that suspected bloodstains on the tailgate of Scott Peterson’s truck and on his tool box tested negative for blood. Hendee notes that he found a 7 1/2-inch hair in the tool box, and originally thought it may have come from Laci Peterson, but suggested that tests did not bear out his theory. Mark Geragos asks the detective why a videotape of Kim Fulbright in Scott Peterson’s tool box did not include footage of her entering the box, hinting that portions of the demonstration may have been edited out or intentionally not recorded. Hendee testifies that he did not order the recording be stopped, nor to his knowledge was the tape edited. Questioned by Harris, Hendee explains that the person doing the video recording was also shooting still photographs, and would stop the video to take the still shots. Hendee recalls the moment he opened the evidence envelope and saw two hairs where he had thought there was one. “I just had a puzzled look on my face,” he remembers. “It looked like one on the pliers.” Hendee is followed by Denise Ducot and Det. Ray Coyle, returning to the stand for a cross-examination by Geragos. Coyle states that Modesto Police Department investigators dismissed a man’s confession to murdering Laci Peterson because he had a “history of mental illness.” Geragos asks about several registered sex offenders, implying that the investigations were often marked “completed” even though no alibi had been produced.
July 20 Det. Ray Coyle returns to the stand for a second day of cross-examination. He notes that a pair of women’s panties in a hamper, shown in an evidence photograph, were not those he remembered being in the hamper during his initial walk-through of the home. His testimony is followed by that of two Modesto Police Department investigators, Det. Darren Ruskamp and Det. Rick House. Ruskamp testifies that Conner Peterson’s nursery had been filled with three office chairs and a mound of bedding when investigators returned for a search on February 18, 2003. On cross-examination, he admits that several of Laci Peterson’s belongings were still in the home. House says that Scott Peterson rented a mailbox on December 23, 2002, and used it to receive at least one letter from Amber Frey. He also states that investigators found some of the defendant’s wedding album in a trash can at Security Public Storage. But House tells Mark Geragos on cross-examination that it did not seem the photographs were intended to be discarded because there were other seemingly important documents in the wastebasket. Al Delucchi tells jurors they will get a break on July 28, 2004, because Mark Geragos is scheduled to appear in an appellate court on another case. According to the Modesto Bee, some jurors appeared pleased.
July 21 Ten witnesses take the stand, beginning with Det. Rick House concluding his testimony. He notes that, although Scott Peterson received a package from Amber Frey at his private mailbox, he also received mail related to Tradecorp. “If you know your wife is going to disappear, why do you rent a mailbox?” Mark Geragos asks. The prosecution objects, and House does not answer the apparently rhetorical question. House is followed by three Modesto Police Department detectives: Det. Mike Hermosa, Det. James Eichbaum and Det. David Hawn. Hermosa testifies about a break-in to the cluster mailboxes in the Tradecorp Warehouse area, saying the crime was not uncommon. “Those industrial areas—there’s nobody around on weekends, and the mail thieves just have a field day,” he tells the court. Hawn talks about finding a pea-sized chunk of concrete in the dining room at Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. Veronica Holmes then takes the stand with more damaging testimony for the prosecution: She recalls how a January 2003 interview with the defendant was flubbed because of a dead battery in a hidden tape recorder. Holmes is followed by plant systematist Frederic Hrusa. He, too, seems to offer little help to the prosecution, noting that the vegetative material on the hair entered into evidence was from an annual bluegrass that he describes as “one of the most common plants in California.” Also taking the stand are criminalist John Nelson, and Sandy Jagoda, Gary Sims and Angelynn Moore of the Richmond DNA laboratory. Geragos asks Nelson several questions about the plastic labeled “Target” and recovered from the San Francisco Bay.
July 22 Angelynn Moore returns to the witness stand. She explains that she identified Laci Peterson by comparing DNA taken from her remains to samples from Dennis and Sharon Rocha. Moore further explains that she identified Conner Peterson by comparing DNA from his remains to samples from Laci Peterson’s body and a DNA sample provided by the defendant. In two of the least-disputed facts of the case, Moore notes that the chance that the baby’s remains were not Conner Peterson are 1 in 18 billion, and the chance that the woman’s remains were not Laci Peterson are 1 in 1.9 billion. Ron Oswalt then testifies. Oswalt seemingly boosts the defense case when he opines that two hair fragments found in pliers recovered from Scott Peterson’s boat were not from a single hair. About Oswalt’s testimony, a Modesto Bee article states, “The testimony could lend credence to defense attorney Mark Geragos’s claim of sloppy work.” Oswalt’s admission comes as a response to an apparently frustrated Al Delucchi, who after listening to detailed answers about the hairs, finally asks the witness to cut to the chase and say whether the two fragments came from the same hair. The Modesto Bee later remarks that Dave Harris was powerless “to prevent his own witness from handing Peterson’s defense team a victory.” Nevertheless, Oswalt concludes that ends of both fragments looked mashed, thereby consistent with being crushed by the pliers, and that it was possible the two could have been stuck together when recovered as evidence. Under cross-examination by Mark Geragos, Oswalt details his reasoning, noting that only one of the fragments had a slight curl, and that the two hairs were different in color—one varying from darker to lighter, the other being a consistent shade. Oswalt also explains that one of the four hairs found with Laci Peterson’s body could have been hers, and that one of the eight hairs stuck to the duct tape could have been hers. He states that none of those hairs came from Scott Peterson. Geragos attempts to get Oswalt to comment on the apparent theory-shift by the prosecution, but an objection stops the line of questioning. After the jury is dismissed, Geragos complains that the prosecutors’ case theory “blows in the wind.” Dave Harris responds that the prosecution had never taken sides on whether there were two hairs or one. Geragos suggests that he may yet move to have the hair evidence disregarded.
July 26 Al Delucchi addresses the jurors. “The reason for the delay this morning is that I had to have a conference with the attorneys for both sides. And there has been an administrative problem that has cropped up that requires the court’s attention, and it’s something I cannot deal with summarily.” Although not specifying the problem, the judge notes that it “involves other governmental agencies” and is, “Going to take some time to work all this out.” He apologizes for the upcoming delay. “I hate to waste time,” he tells them, “but I can’t get this case moving until I deal with this issue.” The issue, according to some later reports, involves using public funding to pay for Scott Peterson’s defense. Angelo Cuanang comes to the stand to testify concerning fishing. The Modesto Bee later summarizes his testimony by saying, “Scott Peterson had the wrong gear, wrong anchor and was in the wrong spot to catch sturgeon the day his pregnant wife was reported missing.” Cuanang also opines that the defendant’s concrete anchor would have been of little use in the San Francisco Bay. In testimony that has less to do with fishing than in countering a defense theory that it would have been impossible for Scott Peterson to have dumped his wife from the small boat without capsizing it, Cuanang says it is possible for one person in a small boat to push out a 150-pound fish with weights attached. “You just keep pushing them, and eventually there’s enough body weight and they slide right in,” he explains. Later, Brian Ullrich takes the stand, speaking about the purchase of life insurance for Laci Peterson. Although confirming that Scott Peterson had a large insurance policy on Laci Peterson, he replies, “No,” when Mark Geragos sarcastically asks, “He didn’t call you and say, ‘Hey, I want to go get some insurance on Laci Peterson—jack this up to 250 before I go fishing in the Bay’?”
July 27 Prior to the start of testimony, the jurors and alternate jurors, escorted by bailiffs, go through an underground walkway leading from the courtroom to a secure location, sans media, to view Scott Peterson’s boat. According to Al Delucchi’s instructions, they can look but not ask questions. Scott Peterson is transported in a van to the site. The group spends about 10 minutes looking over the key piece of evidence, and returns, in the words of the Modesto Bee, “largely expressionless and saying little.” One alternate juror jokes about the tight fit in the courthouse elevator as the group returns en masse. Back in the courtroom, David Weber takes the stand, saying that the boat is difficult to capsize. “The boat may be more sensitive than larger boats, but it is a very safe boat,” Weber tells the court, noting that it was rated to carry up to 680 pounds, including gear and motor. Weber acknowledges, though, that the boat had never been tested under the conditions Scott Peterson would have encountered according to the prosecution’s theory. At one point in the proceedings, Delucchi kids Mark Geragos, suggesting that the defense attorney does not have enough money to purchase photographs that he wants to have entered into evidence, an apparent reference to the defense appealing to the state for funding. After Weber’s testimony, Geragos visits Stanislaus County Superior Court to meet with Roger Beauchesne and Linda McFadden, most likely to appeal for public aid for Scott Peterson’s defense. Lee Peterson confirms to the Modesto Bee that Geragos has considered “from time to time” asking for financial assistance with the case. Asked about his financial ability to continue paying for his son’s defense, Lee Peterson replies, “All I can say is, the family’s fine.” Mike Tozzi declines comment on the visit, noting such motions are exempt from public disclosure. “If it existed, it would be confidential,” he says. “I can’t confirm or deny anything.” John Goold states he was unaware of the visit. “I don’t have any information on that,” he says. “It would be a confidential thing that they wouldn’t tell us.”
July 28 The trial is on break as Mark Geragos returns to Los Angeles to make a required appearance in an appellate court on another case.
July 29 Al Delucchi hears arguments concerning the defense motion to dismiss charges or declare a mistrial because of alleged errors by prosecutors, specifically in regard to testimony by Det. Al Brocchini. In refusing to grant a mistrial, Delucchi rules, “The court’s of the opinion that this testimony doesn’t reach the level of prejudice, mistrial or dismissal,” but states that Mark Geragos will be allowed to recall Brocchini. Noting the 40,000-plus pages of evidentiary documents, Delucchi points out that some mistakes are to be expected. “In a case of this length and magnitude,” he says, “these things are going to happen. I don’t believe there has been any prosecutorial misconduct in this case.” The judge also rules on which photographs and how much of Scott Peterson’s television interviews will be shown to jurors. The judge states that a photograph published in the Modesto Bee could be shown to jurors, but that reporters could not be compelled to testify—a violation of California’s shield law. Delucchi rules against admitting any unpublished photographs.
July 30 The Modesto Bee reports that Stanislaus County Superior Court is ruling on whether public funds will be used to help finance Scott Peterson’s defense, citing confirmation by Mike Tozzi that Mark Geragos met two days before with Roger Beauchesne and Linda McFadden. Tozzi says that Beauchesne will provide a ruling to Geragos by the end of the week. Geragos refuses a reporter’s request to comment on trial financing.