#36) August 2005
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: August 2005
August 1 Flanked by Les Weidman, co-workers and members of the Rocha family, Birgit Fladager formally announces her candidacy for the office of Stanislaus County district attorney. Beginning at noon, she and others speak from the courthouse steps to a crowd of about 125. “I am not a politician,” she tells onlookers. “I am not seeking this office as a stepping stone to some other position. I am a prosecutor.” Weidman praises her, saying, “There is no better person for this job than Birgit Fladager.” Ron Grantski calls Fladager “a major force in seeking and getting justice for our family and for Laci.” Sharon Rocha also gives high marks to the candidate. “Not only is she compassionate about her work, she has great compassion for victims and their families,” she says. In Stanislaus County Superior Court, Scott Bernstein pleads no contest to one felony count of impersonating a police officer, after prosecutors agree to drop four other felony counts and five misdemeanor counts. He is sentenced to three years of probation and is ordered to pay a $2,500 fine. “He probably wouldn’t have received much jail time anyway,” says David Radford. In a Newsday article about so-called “celebrity” magazines, People magazine’s Larry Hackett says that, in addition to glitzy young stars such as Paris Hilton and Kate Hudson, the magazine “would have Julia Roberts, and we’d have someone like Kirstie Alley, Laci Peterson…Natalee Holloway, John Ritter, Johnny Carson, the pope.” After amending House Bill 3037 with part of Senate Bill 712, the Oregon Senate passes the measure, which, if signed into law, would make it a capital crime to murder a pregnant woman. Nevertheless, Charles Deister, speaking on behalf of Speaker Karen Minnis, says she is “not supportive” of the amended bill.
August 2 An editorial on the Men’s News Daily web site offers a new twist to the ongoing debate about media imbalance in missing-person cases. The story says the real reason that persons of color are underrepresented is that cable news is designed for “white people” and that “white people like it when bad things happen to other, preferably better-looking white people.” To make the case, the article notes that “Laci Peterson was the cheerleader who married a guy who looked like the human embodiment of Varsity Blues…and most Americans love to whisper when those fantasies go tragically wrong.”
August 3 The Oregon House rejects the Oregon Senate’s modification of House Bill 3037, apparently ending the campaign for a fetal-protection law in that state. An editorial column in the Canton Repository again bemoans the lack of coverage given the LaToyia Figueroa case as compared to the Laci Peterson case.
August 4 Catherine Crier appears on Today to push Scott Peterson: A Deadly Game. She also appears for an interview on Court TV. The documentary premieres at 8:00 p.m. on Court TV. The web site Blue Oregon states, “On the heels of the Scott Peterson case, new legislation swept the country defining as separate crimes the injury to or killing of both a woman and her fetus.” The site claims that variants of “Laci and Conner’s Law” were passed by 30 states, but praises John Kerry for standing up to Sharon Rocha’s pleas for support of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. A Kansas City Star editorial examines the seeming disparity of media coverage given missing-person cases, noting that the Laci Peterson case coverage snowballed, ironically, because of the “smarmy actions of her husband, now better known as her convicted murderer.” The article urges readers to “raise a prayer for LaToyia Figueroa and her family.”
August 5 Kevin Seibert, on behalf of client Carl Jensen, files a $34,780 breach-of-contract civil suit in Stanislaus County Superior Court against Mark Geragos, claiming the attorney did not pay out all that was owed Jensen for his work in support of the Scott Peterson case. According to the suit, Geragos agreed to pay Jensen $12,500 to start and $6,000 per month thereafter, but stopped after paying out $42,400. Scott Bernstein returns to to return to Stanislaus County Superior Court to discuss the terms of his probation. LifeSiteNews reports on the case of Susan Torres, who was kept on life support to allow her unborn child to be born. “People are really tired…of reading about Laci Peterson and her baby just being thrown away,” says Sonny Torres, the father-in-law of the woman. “And it’s nice to see somebody that’s going the other direction” in fighting for a child’s life. Dateline NBC examines the seeming disparity of coverage among missing-person cases, quoting from statistics compiled by Andrew Tyndall: in 2004, the morning news broadcasts on NBC, ABC and CBS aired a combined 941 minutes on the Laci Peterson story, yet would not return calls made by Rebkah Howard, the aunt of missing Tamika Huston.
August 8 Beginning at approximately 7:00 p.m., Amber Frey appears at the Hotel Circle in San Diego to give a “life-changing seminar” entitled “An Evening with Amber Frey: Caught in Scott Peterson’s Web of Lies.” A small group of people attend the class, which is sponsored by The Learning Annex.
August 9 A Chicago Sun-Times editorial about media disparity in missing-person cases adds a new twist. Examining the life of the recently deceased John H. Johnson and his success in pioneering black-oriented publications such as Ebony and Jet, the column suggests that persons of color follow Johnson’s maxim, “It is better to get smart than to get mad,” and quit campaigning for equal time in a white-dominated media. “It’s foolish for young black people to waste energy worrying about news coverage,” the article states. “One of them will do what Mr. Johnson did.” The editorial also states the obvious: “News channels, magazines and newspapers couldn’t get enough of the Laci Peterson disappearance story.” Similarly, the death of Peter Jennings finds The Orange County Register musing that the amount of media coverage given Laci Peterson case resulted from “questionable priorities.”
August 10 In a San Francisco Chronicle article, Jeff Denham states that Stanislaus County officials will be reimbursed $1.8 million by the state of California for expenses related to the Scott Peterson case. He says that, following a review of expenses—which he estimated would take at least two months—the county will receive payment. Before a “very small group,” Amber Frey gives her lecture at the Pan Pacific San Francisco Hotel. When asked if she is still in love with her former suitor, she replies with a resounding “absolutely not.” She says that Scott Peterson has not tried again to contact her. The class, scheduled to run from 6:45 to 9:30 p.m., begins late and ends early. “I think there are a lot of sociopaths out there, and she has a lot to share with women who run across unsavory characters,” says attendee Marti Gallagher. “I feel there’s something I have to share and I feel almost like I need to,” Amber Frey says in a KRON report. “There are so many women who can relate. They’re questioning how I got through this to where I am today.” The Modesto Bee investigates the suit against Mark Geragos, contacting him and Kevin Seibert, the attorney who filed on behalf of investigator Carl Jensen. “He sent invoices, but they stiffed him,” Seibert explains. “I just don’t understand why the guy is blowing us off. We sent him a letter so he could avoid this kind of publicity, as a courtesy, but he didn’t offer any money.” Geragos cannot be reached for comment. An editorial in the Providence Journal continues to bang the drum for equal rights among the missing. “I’m convinced that a black middle-class suburbanite who was pregnant and found murdered would not receive nearly the attention showered on Laci Peterson,” the column states. “And she should.” Nevertheless, the story admits that “race is just one element in the kind of story that excites the cable channels” and that what was most engrossing about the Laci Peterson case was “the deep suspicion, later conviction, that Laci’s husband had murdered.”
August 11 The Stanislaus County Office of the District Attorney reports concerning tests on the knife turned over by Gerry Roberts, saying there was no evidence of human blood or tissue. “It’s exactly what we expected,” says Birgit Fladager. Rick Applegate disputes speculation that the knife was planted as a result of tabloid stories that Laci Peterson may have had her throat cut, noting that witnesses saw the knife months before the story ran and Roberts contacted the Modesto Police Department. The Modesto Bee breaks the story about Carl Jensen suing Mark Geragos. According to the story, Kevin Seibert says Mark Geragos wrote in a letter that Jensen’s claim was invalid because “some of the bills were after the trial,” and that Matt Geragos had argued that Jensen had agreed to work pro bono if the law firm was unable to secure money from Stanislaus County to pay expert witnesses. “I don’t think they’ll be successful arguing that a retired FBI guy volunteers his work,” Seibert quips in the account. The alternative web site What the Huck releases the name of a second person it says could have knowledge of how Laci Peterson was murdered: Vonnie Labord. Its report claims that Scott Peterson was not present at the scene when his wife was killed. Moreover, the article asserts that there is a witness to Laci Peterson being alive after December 24, 2002, and that this witness reported Laci Peterson’s whereabouts to the Modesto Police Department before she was murdered. The report further states that, sometime around January 10, 2003, the California Highway Patrol received a tip on the case via teletype and followed up on that tip with a search, but that the teletype—with information that could potentially exonerate Scott Peterson—has now “disappeared.” The site’s authors note that they are “still investigating information received regarding Ernie Sierra,” the other person of interest in the case, and that information suggesting that Sierra and Labord having ties would be “extremely interesting.” Court TV and People magazine announce plans for an original television special, “From the Files of People Magazine: 50 Crimes That Captivated America.” According to the announcement, the program will premiere on Court TV on August 21, 2005, in the 10:00 p.m. slot and will be based on the upcoming book, True Crime Stories: Cases That Shocked America. According to a press release, the book and the special will include information concerning the Laci Peterson case. “When two of the most powerful brands in this genre join forces, the result is a compelling show which will appeal to both audiences,” brags Marc Juris, General Manager of the Court TV Networks. “We hope this will be the first in a series of ongoing specials with People.” The nearly daily article on the racial imbalance of media coverage appears, as the Amsterdam News headline complains, “Missing Blacks Get Second-Class News Coverage.”
August 12 The Associated Press picks up the story about Amber Frey’s transition to “motivational speaker,” although she has made only two small appearances in the role. The story says that she “cashed in on her experiences before a small group of women willing to pay to hear about her transition from gullible girlfriend to teary murder trial witness to self-help instructor.” Arizona’s own “Laci Peterson Law” goes into effect. An editorial in The Globe and Mail states, “Peter Jennings went to his grave proud of the fact that the Laci Peterson murder had never been mentioned on World News Tonight.” Christopher Hampton is arrested and charged with murder in the death of Tamika Huston. Hampton leads law enforcement agencies to what is presumed to be the body of Huston, ending the search for the woman who became a rallying point for critics who decried media attention as focused only on those missing persons who were “young, attractive, white women” such as Laci Peterson.
August 14 The alternative web site What the Huck states, “Scott Peterson made some bad choices. But the worst choice Scott Peterson made was picking a loser like Mark Geragos to represent him. For those of you that missed it, Mark Geragos lost another case and his client was once again convicted. I think Mark Geragos’ new advertisement should read: ‘I guarantee I can get you convicted and put on death row.'”
August 15 Jossip reports that Todd Gold, recently accused of sexual harassment, is taking leave to pen a “tell-all” book with Sharon Rocha. Keith Ablow’s book, Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, is released by St. Martin’s Press (according to some reports, it is released on August 1, 2005).
August 16 CBS publishes an excerpt of Keith Ablow’s Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson. In the book, Ablow says that he is “convinced that Laci and Conner lost their lives to a psychological ‘perfect storm’ that began gathering over the Peterson family over five decades ago and reached hurricane strength in the psyche of Scott Peterson.” Ablow notes that the orphanage that took in Jackie Peterson many years ago has been called “a cesspool of pedophilia” since that time. Hannah Storm interviews Ablow on The Early Show. He says that Mark Geragos should have floated an insanity defense. A judge denies a request by California State University, Stanislaus, to postpone Stephen Schoenthaler’s demotion hearing for a third time. Representatives of the university stated that the ruling was based on a technicality and that there would be a suit filed seeking to overturn the decision. The Dallas Morning News publishes a letter from Peter Bargmann in which he points out the error of arguing that racism was behind the “white” Laci Peterson getting more media coverage than the Hispanic Evelyn Hernández or LaToyia Figueroa, pointing out that Laci Peterson “also was Hispanic.” A NewsMax report suggests that Laci Peterson and others are being selected for wider coverage as part of a tail-wagging-the-dog business in which being a “telegenic victim” means potentially greater audiences for the docudrama of tomorrow.
August 17 In reporting on Amber Frey’s seminar, the San Francisco Weekly says it was “toted” [sic] as a self-help event. The satirical article calls her “the Harriet Tubman of bland, predictable advice.” In an Associated Press report, Stephen Schoenthaler’s sister, Susan Cooney, reacts to the news that her brother will not be disciplined, at least for the time being. “The university had the burden of proof and was not prepared to go forward,” she explains. “As a result, the administrative law judge ruled all charges against him withdrawn and any disciplinary action against him withdrawn.” An editorial in Arbiter Online contends that “the ruling in the Scott Peterson case was a victory for anti-abortion activists across the globe” because Conner Peterson was viewed as the second life taken in the crime, opening up the defendant to a death-penalty case. In the column, the author wonders aloud why “abortion activists didn’t make a stand against this ruling,” apparently not cognizant of the fact that California law on the matter preceded Scott Peterson’s arrest and conviction.
August 18 Bob Costas refuses to appear on Larry King Live after learning that the topic would be Natalee Holloway’s disappearance. Chris Pixley fills in. The gossip site Jossip suggests that Todd Gold will be “telling Laci Peterson’s mother Sharon Rocha to shut the hell up so he can write the murder scandal tome himself.” The Tucson Citizen reviews Keith Ablow’s Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, calling the book “a fascinating look at the inside of Peterson’s head.”
August 20 In Chester, Pennsylvania, investigators discover the remains of LaToyia Figueroa. Law enforcement officers arrest Stephen Poaches for her murder. In discussing the Figueroa case and others, The Argus becomes the latest newspaper to cry aloud against apparent racism in missing-person stories. “Why wasn’t the story of this missing pregnant woman as compelling as that of Laci Peterson?” the editorial asks. Blasting media executives who insist that they are only responding to the market, the opinion piece says they are “reminiscent of the store owners who said they didn’t have a problem accommodating Negro customers; it was their white customers who didn’t want Negroes in the store.” An editorial in the Kansas City Star proclaims that the news media’s record is “abysmal” in terms of keeping viewers informed about important events, citing the Laci Peterson case as an example of misdirected coverage.
August 21 BlackAmericaWeb runs an editorial in which it asserts, “We hold a special repulsion for homicide cases about a relationship that even pretended love and which, by nature, involved a level of trust.” The story asks readers to picture Laci Peterson “resting her tummy against Scott’s back” at some point in their relationship. The right-wing weblog Red State asserts that, despite the protests of the Rocha family, there is a logical fallacy in supporting both the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and the right to a legal abortion, saying that to do so is “the equivalent of saying that a fetus is a human life only if the mother desires that it is a human life.”
August 23 The News Journal praises Bob Costas for taking a stand against tabloid journalism, citing his refusal to appear on Larry King Live after discovering the topic was to be Natalee Holloway’s disappearance. The piece calls Greta Van Susteren the primary offender in pushing the Holloway case, saying she “has been floundering about for a topic since Laci Peterson’s murderous husband was convicted and put away.”
August 24 The Bakersfield Californian reports on the murder trial of Conroy Hayes, charged with murdering his pregnant girlfriend, Rochelle Mackey. In the article prosecutor John Somers says he decided to try Hayes for just one count of murder because Mackey was only eight weeks pregnant. The American Journalism Review heaps praise on Bob Costas for turning down Larry King Live. The op-ed piece calls the Laci Peterson case “essentially a local crime story that, thanks to the alchemy of cable, became the journalistic equivalent of World War III.” The New York Times also runs a story on Costas and the battle over stories such as the Laci Peterson case, which it says are shown only for ratings. An editorial in The Daily Telegram notes that the “feeding frenzy around Laci Peterson’s disappearance” is now being rivaled by the coverage of the Natalee Holloway case. The Futon Critic reports that Chris Levinson and Dick Wolf are collaborating on a new television series in which a “Laci Peterson-esque” trial descends upon a small town. An editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News expresses outrage over a recent letter to the editor suggesting LaToyia Figueroa was at least partially responsible for her own death because she was killed by her boyfriend. “I wonder if those who blame Figueroa for her untimely demise felt the same lack of compassion when Laci Peterson was murdered by her husband in 2002?” the story asks.
August 25 Larry Hackett of People magazine appears on Today to promote a new article about Scott Peterson’s life in prison. Speaking with Matt Lauer, Hackett reveals little surprising information. “He has a small 13-inch TV, eight CDs, six books,” Hackett notes. He says the inmate spends much of his time alone, having gone outside only a couple of times, and was recently reading a book by Raoul Dahl. Hackett describes Scott Peterson as many others have—polite, but with an eye for the ladies. “The warden says he’s flirtatious with the women and lights up when he sees female correctional officers,” Hackett tells Lauer. Hackett reports that the fan mail volume had become lighter until the new web site went up, and that one correspondent had given the inmate the nickname “Scottie True Hottie.” “He lets people know what he is called,” Hackett asserts. According to Hackett, Lee and Jackie Peterson drive up from San Diego about once a week to see their incarcerated son. Hackett also provides a tidbit about Amber Frey, saying she has bought land near Fresno on which to construct a spa.
August 26 An editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News takes aim at “every self-righteous idiot” who blamed LaToyia Figueroa, at least in part, for her own murder—in particular a local host who opened his August 23, 2005, show “with the provocative point that this victim didn’t deserve the public attention that Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway got because she wasn’t a ‘good girl’ like them.” An editorial in the Greensboro News-Record, praising Bob Costas for refusing to host Larry King Live when it was scheduled to feature the Holloway disappearance story, suggests that the Laci Peterson case was like the Holloway case in that it filled the bill when viewers had tired of a seemingly distant war: “TV viewers could identify with California much easier than Iraq.”
August 27 The Sacramento Bee jumps on the bandwagon for Bob Costas, noting that in cases such as Chandra Levy’s, Laci Peterson’s, and Natalee Holloway’s, cable news networks “have turned endless coverage of personal tragedies almost into a grotesque art form.”
August 28 RedNova, in a review of the changing news-entertainment landscape, cites the “Hall of Fame” of cable news darlings: “Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, JonBenet Ramsey, and now Jennifer Wilbanks.”
August 29 The Hilltop runs an editorial on the disparity in reporting among missing-person cases. “When searching the names of missing persons on CNN.com, 50 relevant articles appear for Natalee Holloway, 16 appear for Jennifer Wilbanks and 233 appear for Laci Peterson,” the story reports. “When searching the names Tamika Huston or LaToyia Figueroa, one appears.”
August 31 An article in the Des Moines Register, recounting the case of Tina Conde, asserts, “Missing women favored for network attention, including Holloway, Laci Peterson and Jennifer Wilbanks, tend to be attractive, innocent-looking white victims from well-to-do backgrounds.” Another editorial about media bias is run by the Northern Star. “Nor can I forget about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of Laci Peterson,” the story states. “Yet what about the people of color all across this nation who go missing?”