#25) September 2004
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: September 2004
September 1 Eloise Anderson returns to the stand. She admits that her trailing dog Trimble had run just three test searches of subjects in vehicles, failing at least one test. Mark Geragos shows video of Trimble misbehaving during a training exercise, accusing the witness of covering up the failure in Trimble’s training log, then lying about it during a pretrial hearing. According to an account in the Modesto Bee, Anderson becomes “combative” when challenged by Geragos. She is followed by several agents and officers who were involved in the surveillance of Scott Peterson in January 2003: Alexander Bettis, Randy Bolinger, Dale Lingerfelt, Mark Weiglein and Jeff MacKanin. Bettis states that the defendant drove at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour when going to the Berkeley Marina. In one humorous exchange during cross-examination, Geragos attempts to downplay the defendant’s fast driving, asking Bettis, “Was anybody else driving 80–90 miles an hour?” He replies, “Uh, myself.” Dave Harris, still feeling ill, leaves the courtroom at 9:58 a.m. and does not return the rest of the day. The Modesto Bee runs a series of quotes from Rocha family members, including Ron Grantski, who says that, amid all the “hoopla” surrounding the trial, the family still grieves. “Sometimes it gets lost in all the hoopla and Geragos and all the reporters,” he states. “We still have memories and sorrow and things we have to deal with on a daily basis.” He notes one of those is the trip to the courthouse and back. “Crossing over the San Mateo Bridge every Thursday coming home, and looking off to the left knowing that’s where Laci and Conner washed up…There’s a little more to this than all the hoopla. I think sometimes people tend to forget that.” He points out an example of a personal struggle—when the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson were released to the coroner’s office, they were within blocks of the home he shares with Sharon Rocha. “We would go to bed at night knowing just on the other side of Oakdale Road is Laci and Conner,” he laments. “Things like that go through your head when you’re getting ready for court.” The Modesto Bee runs an article detailing the controversy surrounding reports that Karen Servas has obtained new information that could possibly affect the key timeline in the case against Scott Peterson. According to the article, Richard Cole broke the story on Larry King Live that Servas “contacted the court” to change her story about events of December 24, 2002, after reconsidering a cellular telephone call made that morning—a report Servas called “a lie” and that Cole later modified to say she called “people in the case” after obtaining an automated teller machine receipt: “It could be seen to be contradicting her earlier scenario,” Cole says. “That was my speculation.” The story further states that Greta Van Susteren had aired a “clarification,” saying Servas had not changed her account.
September 2 Court is scheduled to start an hour late, which poses a problem for some jurors, unable to find parking after jury parking spots had filled with prospective jurors summoned for two other cases. Six minutes after the scheduled start time, court begins. Mark Weiglein returns to the stand. He is followed by other agents and officers who were involved in the surveillance of Scott Peterson in January 2003: Brian Cardwell, Chris Perry, Bill Pooley, Thomas Chaplin, Jill Henry and Tera Faris. “For a period of an hour and a half, two hours, Mr. Peterson would do odd driving,” Perry tells the court. “He would get on the freeway, get off, make U-turns, go back the same way he came, get off, get on another freeway, take the first exit, stop. It just got pretty busy for a while.” Chaplin notes that the surveillance team was working on “lose it before you burn it” orders, meaning they were to break off contact with the target if in danger of being detected. The seven witnesses take just 75 minutes.
September 7 Eric Beffa and Paul Mears testify concerning the investigation into a tip that Laci Peterson was being held in Tracy. Rejecting prosecution suggestions that investigators thought little of the tip, Mears tells the court the search lasted four days. Terri Western takes the stand, beginning to cry when speaking about the last time she saw Laci Peterson—a holiday party that she attended unaccompanied while Scott Peterson in Fresno with Amber Frey. In the audience, Sharon Rocha also starts crying. Al Delucchi offers a box of tissues to Western. She recounts her January 14, 2003, conversation with Scott Peterson during which he spoke to her concerning selling his home. Roger Content tells the court about Scott Peterson’s visit to Roberts Auto Sales on January 29, 2003, to trade in what was Laci Peterson’s primary vehicle. Criminalist Sarah Yoshida discusses forensic evidence. She states that she twice ran a series of tests on the pliers found on Scott Peterson’s boat. During the second test, she says, she noticed that the pliers had more rust on them, even though they had been kept in an evidence bag. Court adjourns for lunch break. After lunch, Geoff Baehr and Kevin Bertalotto testify. Delucchi tells jurors there is light at the end of the tunnel: Prosecutors plan to wrap up their case by the end of September 2004. Lee Peterson and Ron Grantski exchange words.
September 8 Having been notified by Al Delucchi that much of the day would involve testimony about DNA, the usually filled courtroom has more than the usual number of empty seats. Mark Purdom of AIM Property Management is called to the stand to testify about the Tradecorp Warehouse lease agreement. Then, three members of the FBI’s Trace Evidence Unit—Karen Korsberg, Kim Reubush and Connie Fisher—testify concerning the mitochondrial DNA testing. Nils Myers testifies concerning Scott Peterson’s eBay dealings. Chris Van Sandt talks about his sighting of a pregnant woman in Dry Creek Regional Park on December 24, 2002, and the subsequent investigation by Det. Al Brocchini. Marty Dempewolf testifies that his pregnant wife, Kristen Dempewolf, went for a walk on December 24, 2002. Jordan Visola-Prescott testifies that, although she was probably not walking that day, she was pregnant and walked regularly with her dog during December 2002. A photograph of how she looked around the time of Laci Peterson’s disappearance is displayed for the jurors—a photograph that the Modesto Bee will later say bears a “remarkable” resemblance to Laci Peterson. Elizabeth Guptill and Jill Lear also testify that they were pregnant and walking regularly during the same period. Guptill admits she had no dog at the time, but walked with a baby stroller. Geragos counters the testimony by comparing photographs of McKenzie to Visola-Prescott’s dog and then, to a round of laughter, to Guptill’s stroller. Scott Bernstein turns himself in to authorities, but is not arraigned. Ricardo Córdova grants a three-week delay to H. Ronald Sawl, allowing him time to investigate the allegations in the criminal complaint.
September 9 Kevin Bertalotto is questioned by Pat Harris to begin a day with nine witnesses taking the stand. The defense attorney points out that, although Scott Peterson drove a long way to go fishing on December 24, 2002, the closer boat launch ramps that Bertalotto visited were all to freshwater bodies. The prosecution then calls a series of witnesses who walked the La Loma neighborhood with their dogs in December 2002: Kim Westphal, Patricia Mewhinney, Brian Lee, Joan Lee, Dianne Merenda, and Melba Martinez. At about 11:00 a.m., after the morning recess, Amy Neumann is called. She gives testimony concerning Laci Peterson’s complaint to the city of Modesto. She also says that she did not see Laci Peterson out walking the morning of December 24, 2002. The prosecution then calls Lee Peterson. Wearing a striped golf shirt, a beige sweater and khaki pants, he smiles at Scott Peterson, and opens with, “I’m proud to say that Scott’s my son.” Rick Distaso asks, “How often do you think you talked to your son on the phone?” The witness replies, “Probably twice a week,” at which point Distaso challenges him by producing a statement he made to Det. Craig Grogan wherein he stated the two spoke nearly every day. “No, I don’t recall that,” the witness says when show a copy of the report. Distaso asks how many times the two of them spoke on December 24, 2002. “Just one time, I believe,” the witness answers. Again, Distaso challenges the answer and shows the witness telephone records indicating two calls. “I actually only remember one,” the witness insists. During that call, he says, he spoke with his son about plans for Christmas. According to Lee Peterson, he had no knowledge of Scott Peterson’s boat at the time of that call and Scott Peterson did not mention fishing or taking out a boat. The witness also states that he did not know that his son was having an affair or had joined the Del Rio Country Club, but does say he provided “about $30,000” that was used for the membership fee. Distaso questions Lee Peterson about vacation, hunting and fishing trips he took with Scott Peterson in 2002. Pat Harris handles the cross-examination in which he makes the argument that Scott Peterson also did not inform his father about the purchase of a truck and that the two regularly engaged in discussions about golf—both had an interest in the sport—but not fishing. Countering earlier testimony that Laci Peterson was having trouble walking during the latter stages of her pregnancy, Pat Harris makes the argument that she did a lot of walking and shopping when she was with the Peterson family in Carmel during December 2002. Scott Peterson sits back, focusing completely on his father. After roughly 40 minutes on the stand Lee Peterson steps down. Al Delucchi excuses the jurors until the following week. The Modesto Bee characterizes Lee Peterson as “unruffled” and “self-assured” during his testimony.
September 13 Lee and Jackie Peterson are the targets of a threat. They are escorted into the courtroom and, because Al Delucchi has concerns about an altercation they had with member of the Rocha family the previous week, they are initially directed to sit in the sixth row (by some accounts, the seventh row). About a minute later, though, a bailiff tells them that Delucchi will allow them to move to their usual seat in the first row. The Rocha family members are not in court. Although there is some speculation it has to do with the altercation with the Peterson family or with a traffic ticket received by Ron Grantski, Adam Stewart reports that they decided not to attend because of the nature of the testimony. Birgit Fladager also returns to her usual seat in the front row after having filled in for the ailing Dave Harris. Matthew Laolagi takes the stand, presumably to counter suggestions by the defense that “dark-skinned” men seen by Diane Jackson could have had a role in Laci Peterson’s disappearance. Laolagi, a Hawaiian-Samoan, provides documents showing he was at work during the time Jackson saw the men. Peter Loomis and Hugh Roddis testify concerning the GPS navigation system. Loomis admits that the devices malfunctioned at times, but insists, “This particular data is very, very good.” Rudy Skultety then takes the stand, followed by Pin Kyo, a criminalist from the California Department of Justice lab in Ripon. Kyo disputes what has been one of the recurring defense themes, saying the plastic twine found around Conner Peterson’s neck was tied in a loose bow that was easily undone. Under cross-examination, she admits that a tight knot was near the center of the bow in one evidence photograph. Among the trial observers is Ron Frey and his attorney, Eddie Ruiz.
September 14 Pin Kyo continues with her testimony, being cross-examined by Mark Geragos. At one point, he seemingly makes light of her previous day’s testimony that “concrete chunks” were found on Scott Peterson’s boat cover. He first shows jurors a small piece of paper with what appears to be large grains of sand on it. Then, to contrast that picture, he brings out the concrete anchor that Scott Peterson made and asks rhetorically, “Now that’s a chunk of concrete, right?” Kyo is followed on the stand by criminalist William Hudlow and Galen Nickey, a latent print expert. Nickey is witness 151 for the prosecution, exceeding the estimate of 150 given by Rick Distaso in February 2004.
September 15 The questioning begins with the testimony of obstetrician Ester Tow-Der. She states that the unborn Conner Peterson appeared to be healthy when examined during Laci Peterson’s December 23, 2002, appointment. Tow-Der is followed by Target Products representative Richard Atkinson. Cement expert Robert O’Neill tells the court that concrete chunks and powder found in the Target Warehouse and in Scott Peterson’s living room, pickup truck, boat, boat cover and a plastic pitcher matched the material in the single anchor he said he made, but none of these matched a concrete sample from his driveway. Mark Geragos begins cross-examination of O’Neill just before the lunch break. The attorney asks O’Neill if the driveway sample could have been compositionally different because the defendant poured the new mix over previously laid concrete, but the witness holds his ground. “That’s not likely from the sample that I have,” he answers. “The sample that I have shows it was intermittently mixed together.” Pathologist Brian Peterson testifies during the afternoon session. Noting that Laci Peterson’s remains were missing the head, several limbs and nearly all internal organs, he states the obvious: “That to a certain degree limited my evaluation.” He tells the court that he was unable to determine why two ribs on the left side of the body were fractured, or whether the damage was done before or after she died. He states that there was no evidence that Conner Peterson was born alive, noting that Laci Peterson’s uterus had not returned to a normal size. “I determined the baby had exited from the top of the uterus,” he says. As the grisly autopsy photographs of Laci Peterson are projected, Richelle Nice begins to cry, and Fairy Sorrell looks away from the screen. Scott Peterson looks down at the defense table in front of him, Lee Peterson looks away and Jackie Peterson shields her eyes with a notebook. Members of the Rocha family, aware of what was to be shown, are not present.
September 16 Brian Peterson continues his testimony. He speculates that Laci Peterson was either smothered or strangled, but confesses he cannot ascertain a cause of death because of the condition of the body. “Certainly smothering is one of the ways not to produce blood or fluid outside the body,” he explains, but says he cannot rule out other means. “Could there have been damage to her neck? Sure, but the problem was her neck and her face were missing.” He contends that the absence of limbs was consistent with weights being used to anchor the body underwater. He indicates his findings were that Conner Peterson was born alive, noting that the umbilical cord had not been cut, and that there was no food in his stomach. Before the prosecutor, the witness seems to state unequivocally that the unborn child died as an indirect result of the murder. “Truly, I believe that for whatever reason Laci met her demise, it was her death that caused Conner’s death, that he was still in her uterus,” he says. The doctor opines that the mother’s body preserved that of her child’s for some time. “If he would have spent substantial unprotected time in the water as Laci did,” he tells the court, “he simply would have been eaten.” On cross-examination, however, he hesitates to state his opinion as fact and admits that the baby appeared to be about 9 months old. Concerning the controversial tape found around Conner Peterson, he dismisses the defense suggestion that it could have been used to strangle the child after birth. “I could see neither external nor internal damage that could have been caused by this material,” the witness tells the court. As Conner Peterson’s autopsy photographs are shown to the courtroom, Scott Peterson dabs his face and eyes. According to a later account in the Modesto Bee, the defendant also appears to “gulp repeatedly for more than an hour.” The jurors also react—some with tears, some with obvious discomfort. Forensic anthropologist Alison Galloway takes the stand, stating she believes Laci Peterson was submerged for three to six months. Galloway estimates Conner Peterson’s gestational age at 33 to 38 weeks when he died.
September 17 Heather Richardson tells a reporter that she and her husband have been subpoenaed and are scheduled to testify during the coming week.
September 19 The Modesto Bee runs a story that includes a brief interview with Paul and Dorothy Wieber, who state that, in summer 2002, they were verbal witnesses to a loud verbal confrontation coming from the home of Scott and Laci Peterson.
September 20 Demand for seats inside the courthouse reaches a low point, as only 30 people participate in the lottery. Det. Ian Frazer and Jeffrey Soler testify. Det. Craig Grogan then takes the stand, where he testifies off and on until the end of the month. He is seen by many observers to be the anchor man, “connecting the dots” for jurors who may already be overwhelmed with 159 witnesses in almost 17 weeks of trial testimony. He is questioned by Birgit Fladager, who displaces Rick Distaso at the prosecution table. Questioned by reporters, Distaso dismisses any notion of a shake-up at the Office of the District Attorney. Grogan tells the court that Scott Peterson was a key target of investigators “based on the fact that he is close to the victim; the fact he was the last person to see her; the fact that he discovered her missing; the fact that she disappeared when he was by himself on what appeared to be an unusual trip for him.” Grogan suggests that the defendant may have had time to clean up his home but not the Tradecorp Warehouse. Grogan notes that an officer was stationed to guard the business as a search warrant was prepared, and when Scott Peterson showed up, he was asked to leave.
September 21 Det. Craig Grogan continues his testimony. He states that the search for Laci Peterson’s body came down to simple arithmetic: He counted 41 reasons why her body would be in the San Francisco Bay, and only 10 why it would be in a Modesto-area body of water. According to a later account in the Modesto Bee, the detective lists his reasons for the court, and most jurors seem “attentive,” but “a few” appear to “react in disbelief” and two others become “emotional.” Grogan also lists some more impressive numbers about the case: 42,000 pages of documents, 10,000 phone tips, 300 reporting officers and 90 agencies participating in the investigation in some way. Grogan also seems to shoot a large hole in the defense rationale for Scott Peterson making return trips to the San Francisco Bay, noting that on at least one occasion, the defendant was already in the San Francicsco area by the time the detective called him to inform him of a search. Three of Scott Peterson’s television interviews are played. Richelle Nice wipes her eyes as she watches the clip. According to a later account in the Modesto Bee, John Guinasso seems to “express open disbelief at some of Peterson’s comments,” including the by-now infamous claim that Laci Peterson knew of his affair with Amber Frey, but that his infidelity “wasn’t anything that would break us apart.”
September 22 Obstetrician Greggory DeVore is the lead-off witness for the prosecution, and seems to be a powerful asset to them. He tells the court that he has scientifically calculated that Conner Peterson most likely died while still in the womb on December 23, 2002. DeVore explains that he considered the date of Laci Peterson’s last menstrual period, two sonograms done during her pregnancy, and thighbone measurements of the baby’s remains. DeVore concedes he might change his estimate if he positively knew the estimated date of conception was wrong, but added, “Unless you’re there, you can never really know,” prompting laughter from the courtroom. When Geragos suggests that using different numbers from another study could put the fetal death as late as January 6, 2003, the doctor counters that that study dealt with only diseased babies who later died, whereas Conner Peterson was shown to have been healthy. Alex Quick testifies to events on the day of Scott Peterson’s arrest, noting that the defendant was found with a list of vehicles and license plates numbers, appearing to reflect those of the undercover agents trailing him. Quick says he was the recipient of an obscene gesture by Scott Peterson. Quick also notes that the defendant grew a goatee and apparently dyed his hair during the time he was being trailed. Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand. Birgit Fladager, absent during the morning session, returns for the questioning. He tells the court that a false lead planted on the Peterson family’s tip line was never was shared with Modesto Police Department investigators.
September 23 Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand. Jurors see their first images of a living Laci Peterson as Grogan narrates some of the clips. Grogan says that intense media coverage of the case resulted in 193 sightings of Laci Peterson in 26 states, Canada, France, Italy and the Virgin Islands. The detective states that the defendant, at the time of his arrest, had not made contact with the Modesto Police Department in the days since the recovery of his wife’s body. Grogan also describes how Scott Peterson led agents on a 160-mile loop in Southern California. Grogan tells the court that he was the one to tell Scott Peterson that the recovered remains had been identified by DNA testing and were those of his wife and unborn child. Grogan recalls that Scott Peterson—not wearing a wedding ring at the time of his arrest—then took off his sunglasses, lowered his head and displayed a tear before wiping the left side of his face.
September 26 The Modesto Bee reports that Joshua and Kimberly Collier are mounting a “last-ditch effort” to search the bay for evidence that could help convict Scott Peterson.
September 27 Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand.
September 28 Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand. A powerful 6.0 earthquake, centered 200 miles to the south, shakes the courtroom at 10:22 a.m. Al Delucchi calls a 20-minute recess. After checking news reports, the judge returns and states, “Everything’s back to normal, so here we are again.” According to a Court TV report, the tremor provides “the lone moment of excitement in a day of dry, slow-paced testimony” that consists largely of Mark Geragos reading excerpts from Modesto Police Department reports, then asking the witness if the reports are accurate. Often, the defense attorney’s questions are met with the detective shuffling through papers, then giving a one- or two-word reply. Geragos asks about reports from those who believed they saw Laci Peterson out walking on December 24, 2002, including Tony Freitas, Tom Harshman, Homer and Helen Maldonado, and Grace Wolf. Grogan recalls efforts to find the purportedly “suspicious” van seen in the La Loma neighborhood, but concedes that they were unsuccessful in finding the vehicle that was variously described as being white, brown and blue. “I know we made some effort to try to locate that van or try to figure out what people were seeing,” he states. Reportedly, a few jurors continue to take notes, but others gaze around the room, and John Guinasso closes his eyes several times.
September 29 Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand. Ronald Schweitzer is then questioned before Grogan again returns to the stand.
September 30 Det. Craig Grogan returns to the stand. As an explanation for his client’s apparently last-minute change of plans from golf to boating on December 24, 2004, Mark Geragos offers up a simple thought: Playing golf in cold weather stings your hands. Geragos produces records indicating that, contrary to Grogan’s earlier testimony, Scott Peterson contacted the Modesto Police Department multiple times a day concerning the search for his missing wife. Cross-examination of the detective concludes just before the lunch break. The next five witnesses are California Department of Justice employees who were in involved in the surveillance of Scott Peterson: Kevin Kolbe, Peter Shear, Claude Jubran, Sonia Ramos and Ernie Limon. During the questioning of Shear, Mark Geragos asks a number of questions that are objected to by Rick Distaso. “Do you know a lot of guys who trade in their trucks to buy bright red Mercedes so they can go camping in Mexico?” Geragos questions. After that question is shot down by Al Delucchi, the defense attorney tries again, asking, “Do you see people who own these Mercedes make breaks for Mexico in their bright red Mercedes?” Jubran recounts for the audience the behavior of the defendant, saying that he once applauded when a trailing vehicle followed him on an exit ramp and when he immediately returned to the highway. Ramos tells the court that Scott Peterson showed concern after his arrest, apologizing for his sometimes erratic driving that nearly caused one following vehicle to have an accident. “He said he didn’t mean to cause any harm, and that he thought we were with the media,” she testifies. Limon’s testimony elicits laughter from the courtroom audience after he tells a questioning Geragos that five law enforcement officers were sent for the sole purpose of plucking sample hairs from McKenzie. The qualifications of research hydrologist Ralph Cheng are debated by the prosecution and defense attorneys. Al Delucchi rules that Cheng is qualified to render an opinion.