#26) October 2004
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: October 2004
October 4 Visitors to the courtroom include Gloria Allred and Rick Distaso’s wife and parents. Allred tells reporters she is there simply out of “interest” in the proceedings. She says that Amber Frey does not have a book deal. In the morning, Ralph Cheng returns to the witness stand. He testifies that he had located a quarter-mile grid that had the highest probability of holding the anchors used to weigh down the body of Laci Peterson. “It’s right in the middle between the Berkeley Marina and Brooks Island, roughly,” he tells the court. The scientist admits that, although he had calculated the a probable location for where Conner Peterson’s remains would be washed up, it did not square with the location of Laci Peterson’s body. In a cross-examination that the Modesto Bee characterizes as “feisty,” Mark Geragos makes a statement as a question, “Your final conclusion is that all of this is largely uncertain?” Prompting laughter from some observers, Cheng replies, “That is not correct.” Randy Griffin, a postal inspector, then takes the stand. He testifies that he was not aware of any mail thefts from Scott and Laci Peterson’s home or from the Tradecorp Warehouse. After the lunch break, Mario Ruvalcaba tells the court about negotiations he had with Scott Peterson concerning the sale of a 1990 Saab, and Mike Griffin talks about the sale of his Mercedes. On both occasions, the witnesses state, Scott Peterson used the name “Jacqueline Peterson.” Mike Griffin recalls that the defendant claimed that was his real name, a statement that draws laughter from some members of the courtroom. Mike Richardson then takes the stand. He tells the court that Scott Peterson confided that he was being followed by law enforcement officers and suspected that a satellite tracking device had been placed on his vehicle, contradicting the defense assertion that he thought he was being followed by journalists. Richardson also notes that the defendant had blamed the lightening of his hair on using the pool at the home of Aaron Fritz. Fritz testifies next, saying that he has a pool, but was not aware that Scott Peterson went swimming in it. Fritz acknowledges that one time, Scott Peterson stayed at the home when Fritz was gone.
October 5 Kris Buelna testifies concerning the collection of debris at East Bay Regional Park. Det. Jon Buehler takes the stand as the 174th and final prosecution witness, ending nearly 19 weeks of testimony against Scott Peterson during which the prosecution presented 294 pieces of evidence. During one exchange, Mark Geragos accuses the Modesto Police Department of supplying evidence photographs to the National Enquirer. Buehler counters that all photographs held as evidence were accounted for. Geragos hands him an envelope that was marked to indicate it contained nine photographs; when the envelope is examined, it has only seven. The witness states he cannot say whether the tabloid used a photograph from that envelope, but adds that he could probably determine whether it did if shown the publication. “I’ll be happy to,” Geragos promises, “when I recall you as my witness.” The detective replies, “I’ll be looking forward to it.” Outside of court, neither Jackie Peterson nor Susan Rocha will comment to reporters, but Susan Caudillo offers some sound bites. “It’s been a very long four months, and they haven’t proven a thing,” she notes. “We can’t wait for Scott to walk out with us and be with his family.” Adam Stewart states that the prosecutors’ case was “logical, confident and convincing,” and that “all the questions have been answered—at least, all the questions that the jury needs answered to convict him.”
October 8 Cyril Wecht states that he has been in contact with Mark Geragos and may testify for the defense. “It’s a distinct possibility,” he tells a reporter for the Modesto Bee. “Have I been told definitely? No. Is it something that could happen? Yes.” In the article, Jim Hammer predicts Scott Peterson will not take the stand. “If he’s on the stand and just once got caught lying in front of the jury, the case is over,” he says. The story also reveals that a man named Nicholas Clinton says his friend saw two men put a boat into the water at Berkeley Marina on December 24, 2002.
October 11 The Modesto Bee runs an article focusing on Scott Peterson’s defense. The story opens, “Scott Peterson’s attorney might be many things. Perry Mason isn’t one of them.” The statement is a reference to the defense team’s early proclamations that their client not only would be found not guilty, but would be proven “factually innocent.”
October 12 At about 9:00 a.m., Al Delucchi and attorneys for both sides meet in the judge’s chambers. After about 35 minutes, the group emerges. Delucchi addresses the jurors and apologetically notifies them that the trial will be delayed until October 18, 2004. “This is like pulling teeth,” he sighs. “I know your time is important. This case is important, too. I hope you’ll bear with us and understand that this is not being done in a frivolous way.” The judge cites no specific reason for the postponement, saying that some delays “we can’t anticipate until the last minute” and are unavoidable in a long trial with so many witnesses. He tells them that “the integrity of the trial requires” a delay. “We’ve got some problems that have arisen here,” he tells the group, “It’s going to take some time to sort these matters out.” Delucchi wishes the departing jurors well, stating, “Enjoy this next week because then you’re going to be really busy.” Leaving the courthouse, Janey Peterson speaks to reporters. “Any delay is a disappointment,” she says. “We’ll be back next week.”
October 13 The Modesto Bee runs an updated story on the request by Scott Peterson’s defense team to have their client declared indigent and eligible for public money. The article reports relatively little, and seems to be in response to the delay in Scott Peterson’s defense presentation. Mike Tozzi offers a terse “no comment,” and Larry Haugh states, “I received a court order that prevents me from confirming or denying.” The newspaper reports that closing arguments are scheduled to begin November 1, 2004. A separate article in the Modesto Bee reports that at least six Scott Peterson supporters had journeyed to California expecting the defense phase of the trial to begin the previous day. That same article quotes Gloria Allred as stating, “It’s ‘let’s-pull-rabbits-out-of-the-hat’ time for Geragos.” California State University, Stanislaus, completes a report on the discipline action taken against Stephen Schoenthaler, in which a three-member investigation committee (two professors from California State University, Stanislaus, and a third from California State University, Sacramento) find him guilty of committing academic and scientific misconduct. According to the findings, Schoenthaler “seriously deviated from the professional standards and accepted practices of the relevant research community,” particularly in testifying to the validity of the survey after he had reason to believe the results were fabricated. The report is sealed from the media, and will not be released until a request by the Modesto Bee forces its disclosure on January 24, 2005.
October 14 The Modesto Bee reports that Scott Peterson’s trial is being delayed because the defense team only recently disclosed pertinent information about a scheduled witness, following up on an Associated Press report citing sources who said prosecutors asked the judge for time to prepare a rebuttal to photographs being presented by the defense. In a Modesto Bee article, Jim Hammer opines that the delay stems from a “quirk” of California law that allows defense attorneys to reveal expert witnesses only at the time they are called, and some resulting “gamesmanship” by Mark Geragos, who was using that loophole in an attempt to catch prosecutors flat-footed. In the same article, Gloria Allred echoes that opinion, saying, “It’s hide-the-ball time.” Michael Cardoza predicts the defense will call a concrete expert, an obstetrician, a pathologist and a scent-dog expert.
October 15 Glen Pearce gives a media interview—his first since being charged with the burglary of Rudy and Susan Medina’s home. Pearce states that he passed a polygraph test given to him shortly after Laci Peterson’s disappearance. Refuting defense suggestions that she could have met foul play when interrupting the burglary, he states, “My answer to that is I didn’t have nothing to do with it. I never knew she was gone. I never even heard of her till all this shit happened.” Responding to the oft-asked question about how he and accomplice Steven Todd could have hauled off a safe during a time when the media had already descended on Covena Avenue, Pearce recalls that he saw bright lights that could have belonged to satellite trucks parked at the end of the street, but contends that there were no journalists near the Medina’s home. Pearce says that investigators did not encourage him to change his story to fit the timeline they had developed for the case.
October 17 Michael Cardoza conducts a mock cross-examination of Scott Peterson as a “courtesy” to Mark Geragos. The Modesto Bee runs an article recounting the October 15, 2004, interview with Glen Pearce.
October 18 Al Delucchi receives a letter from one of the jurors and discusses it with attorneys from both sides in chambers. He orders the letter sealed to “protect the privacy of the juror.” Delucchi also speaks with Michael Cardoza, apparently concerning his previous day’s interview of Scott Peterson. Delucchi denies a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Scott Peterson. The judge does, however, agree to allow testimony from a defense expert concerning concrete, despite prosecutors’ arguments that defense photographs and samples were taken after the trial had begun and therefore did not accurately show the condition of the area at the time of Laci Peterson’s disappearance. Carl Jensen takes the stand as the first defense witness. He testifies concerning Laci Peterson’s ability to walk while in Carmel, having conducted measurements from her hotel to the beach area. Steve Gebler then testifies concerning concrete samples, and confirms that he is being paid by the state. James Cavallero answers questions about stolen checks from Britz Fertilizer made out to Tradecorp. Marty Laffer testifies concerning Scott Peterson’s finances, stating that the defendant did not appear to be in financial straits and that an impending inheritance meant that, “from a financial standpoint, he would have been better off” if his wife had remained alive. The Modesto Bee runs an article about persons falsely accused after being framed by the actual perpetrators.
October 19 Court starts about 95 minutes late for unreported reasons. Al Delucchi meets in chambers with attorneys from both sides. According to some sources, “Citizen Q” appears incognito in the courtroom. There is only about 70 minutes of testimony. Marty Laffer continues his testimony from the previous day, repeating his assertion that Scott Peterson appeared to be in relatively good shape financially. “There was nothing to lead one to believe Scott Peterson was better off financially if Laci Peterson were out of the picture?” Mark Geragos asks. “That was my conclusion,” Laffer replies. Under cross-examination by Dave Harris, Laffer admits he was unaware the couple had pawned jewelry, but dismissed its importance to their financial picture. “Maybe they didn’t like the jewelry,” he speculates. Dave Harris also questions the assertions Laffer made concerning the willingness of Tradecorp’s parent company to lose money on the venture, noting that the defendant was ordered to increase sales tenfold. Laffer admits he is being paid as an expert witness by Stanislaus County, but says he has not yet submitted a bill to Geragos. During testimony, one juror passes a note to Delucchi. The judge shares the note with attorneys from both sides. Tim Phillips takes the stand to discuss the fabric and tarp found near the remains of Laci Peterson. Al Delucchi dismisses the proceedings about 15 minutes early after one alternate juror complains of flu-like symptoms. “We’re concerned if the flu will spread to other jurors, then we’ll really be in a pickle,” he tells the court.
October 20 Court starts late, reportedly because Al Delucchi is working through a dispute over recordings that investigators made of Scott Peterson’s phone calls or because the judge is considering putting Michael Cardoza under a gag order, which is then announced. “The court is of the opinion that an attorney-client privilege was indeed created by the arrangement between defense counsel and Mr. Cardoza,” Delucchi states. “So the court has imposed the gag order on Mr. Cardoza.” Tim Phillips continues his testimony, telling the court that plastic found at the recovery site of Laci Peterson’s body had a smell similar to the remains. When questioned by Dave Harris, however, Phillips concedes that the cadaver dog seemed to show no interest in the plastic. Ron Seitz takes the stand. Kevin Bertalotto testifies. Mark Geragos suggested that transients camped by Interstate 580 could have dumped Laci Peterson’s body in Hoffman Channel. The Modesto Bee breaks the story that Cardoza spent part of the weekend performing a mock cross-examination of Scott Peterson. “I did not advise them on what to do,” Cardoza reports. “To put him on or not to put him on.” He acknowledges that he may be washed up as an analyst for the trial. “Some of you may now not want to quote me anymore,” he states. Gloria Allred openly questions the ethics of using media analyst Cardoza. “Since all witnesses are under a gag order, how is it that Mr. Peterson can speak to Mr. Cardoza without violating the gag order?” she asks.
October 21 Kevin Bertalotto continues his testimony. Ricardo Córdova testifies concerning sandals seen in December 2002 near the street by Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. He also tells the court about an encounter he had with a suspected burglar. He is cross-examined by Birgit Fladager. Charles March testifies concerning the gestational age of Conner Peterson, telling the court that the child most likely lived until December 29, 2002. Al Delucchi announces plans to sequester the jury.
October 24 Scott Peterson turns 32. In a Modesto Bee article, Mike Tozzi reports that Stanislaus County has been billed $156,000 by San Mateo County for trial costs.
October 25 The defense calls Det. Craig Grogan and Det. Jon Buehler, who had earlier testified for the prosecution. Buehler concedes that witnesses at Salon Salon recalled Laci Peterson in different types of clothes. Mark Geragos, in questioning Grogan, points out that it was only after Scott Peterson’s affair was revealed that Sharon Rocha mentioned she found it odd that he used the work “missing” during his first call to her on December 24, 2002. Geragos calls both parents of the defendant: Lee and Jackie Peterson. Lee Peterson contends that it was his idea for Scott Peterson to borrow his brother’s identification to get a golf discount. “I told him to borrow it to save money on greens fees,” the elder Peterson tells the court. “Because I’m cheap.” Jackie Peterson says that she had given her son between $16,000 and $18,000 in cash because of a bank account mix-up. She also takes responsibility for Scott Peterson using her name to purchase a vehicle “because he kept losing cars” registered in his own name to police seizure. At one point, Geragos facetiously questions her about a museum visit she made with her son the day before his arrest. “Were you taking Scott to the San Diego Museum of Art so he could get some Mexican culture before he fled to Mexico?” the attorney asks. Closing out the court day is the tenth and final defense witness, Mike Hicks of the Modesto Police Department. He testifies concerning the burglary at Rudy and Susan Medina’s home. Outside of court, Gloria Allred again blasts Geragos, saying, “This is really pathetic and desperate, when you have to try to undermine the mother of the murder victim.”
October 26 Mike Hicks continues his testimony, speaking for about 14 minutes about a few minor details associated with the robbery of Rudy and Susan Medina’s home. The defense then startles many observers by resting its case. Not appearing, along with many others from the original defense list of 65 persons, are Henry Lee and Aaron Fritz. Al Delucchi tells jurors that there are no more witnesses, and that rebuttals will start the following day. According to an article in the Modesto Bee, some jurors smile at the news. “It might have been wiser not to put on a case,” Jim Hammer tells reporters.
October 27 Among those in the audience are Karen Servas, Rudy Skultety, Kathleen Monkman and Genna McCallie, all likely scheduled as rebuttal witnesses. Attorneys from both sides agree to a number of stipulations, removing the need for eight rebuttal witnesses that had been scheduled to testify. Among the stipulations are that Vladimir Rodriguez had no concrete work done on fence posts between his property and Scott and Laci Peterson’s property, that an investigator found three pages of Yahoo search results for a San Francisco Bay map on Scott Peterson’s computer, that investigators recovered an e-mail message—apparently indicating that Tradecorp found no evidence that he was embezzling—on Scott Peterson’s dining room table, and that a “no sale” receipt from “Austin’s Christmas Store” would be put into evidence. The stipulation concerning the concrete seems to help the defense’s argument that its sample could not have been contaminated by work commissioned by Rodriguez. The stipulation also clarifies that cement bags seen sitting for weeks in Scott Peterson’s driveway actually belonged to Rodriguez. Photographs of the cement bags, downloaded from the Internet, are also moved into evidence. “You’ll be glad to know attorneys stipulated to all this testimony, Al Delucchi tells the jury. He notes that closing arguments will begin November 1, 2004, and informs the alternate jurors that they, too, will be sequestered. Gloria Allred states that she had been retained by two of the female witnesses previously scheduled to testify concerning the photographs of Scott Peterson’s driveway. Jackie Peterson, irritated by commentary suggesting that she was untruthful while on the witness stand, lashes out. “There should be accountability,” she states. “You can’t just go out and lie about people. I don’t take this stuff lying down.” Janey Peterson restrains her and steers her away from media representatives.
October 29 Court is in session as arguments are heard concerning jury instructions. Al Delucchi rules that jurors can consider the charge of second-degree murder in the case against Scott Peterson. Mark Geragos argues vehemently against the decision, saying that prosecutors had spent five months trying to prove premeditation. “You spent five months disabusing the jury of the notion that this was premeditated murder,” Delucchi replies. “They might say, ‘That’s right, but I still think he killed her.'” The judge denies a defense request that the jury be told that prosecutors had violated evidence rules, saying that he had already taken appropriate action by striking the entire testimony of one prosecution witness. The judge excused the prosecution’s evidentiary delays as inevitable in a case with such magnitude. “I think that’s enough,” he tells the attorneys. Experts comment that both rulings seems favorable to the prosecution, but the judge does rule against them in one area, saying he will not instruct the jury that Scott Peterson’s television interviews and recorded telephone conversations were potential admissions of guilt. In a blow to the media, Delucchi reverses his earlier decision to allow video cameras in the courtroom to record the verdict. The judge offers that “morbid curiosity” would be the primary reason for the presence of cameras. “I don’t want to expose the families to further scrutiny and turn this into some sort of a spectacle,” he explains.