Presumed Guilty  

 Murder, Media and Mistakes in Modesto 

Case Evidence


"This is a compellingly strong case.
I would call the odds slam-dunk
that he is going to be convicted."

-- State Attorney General Bill Lockyer
on CNN's "Larry King Live"

Distaso and Harris

Known Issues:
wiretaps, satellite tracking devices, dog tracking evidence, hypnotized witnesses, the "there but for the grace of GOD" factor

READ the Criminal Complaint
"on or about and between"

DA James Brazelton said the evidence
was "quite voluminous" and was
"both direct and circumstantial."

Defense attorney Mark Geragos judged
the evidence to be "feeble."

consciousness of doubt

David Harris

trust me

Between what we know for certain and what we certainly doubt, are the obvious things we can infer -- things which become evident, having been established by immediately collateral facts.

There is a tremendous amount of indirect evidence against Scott Peterson, but as it was painfully demonstrated in the O.J. fiasco and Peterson East, first-hand authentication of facts is far more reliable in a courtroom than conjecture from cops and implications from investigators.

Collateral facts are only as trusted as the fact-finders -- who are direct witnesses to nothing and have a clear bias.

Although some may wish it were so, when the trial begins, Redwood City jurors will not sit in judgment of Scott Peterson. He hasn't yet been found guilty and is therefore still innocent. Police and prosecutors -- not Scott Peterson -- will face a skeptical audience and be doubted, debated, scrutinized and judged.

Modesto's mountain of evidence

In my poetic opinion, the proof in Peterson West is worse than weak, it's actually compelling evidence of the doubts and chaotic circumstances surrounding the investigation. Except Peterson's suspicious words and cagey behavior -- driven by suspicious and cagey police -- nothing in Modesto's mountain of media-hype exclusively connects Scott Peterson to his wife's homicide.

The problem isn't that there's not enough evidence -- there's too much. Characterizing it as "quite voluminous" is probably the only understatement D.A. Brazelton has made during this entire, tragic affair. Nothing in those volumes of evidence place Laci Peterson at the Berkeley Marina on or about and between December 23 and 24.

twisted logic

No physical evidence points to Peterson's motive or method.

Finding a man's blood on a panel of his own truck isn't proof of murder. The blood could've been there for days or weeks prior to the crime. Furthermore, unless police found a knife or other sharp object with Laci Peterson's blood on it -- circumstantial proof that the defendant cut his finger at some point is worthless.

Similarly, finding a woman's hair in the toolbox from her husband's boat doesn't point to murder. Hairs, fibers and other isolated items point to
Locard's Principle of Exchange which dictates:

Anyone who enters the scene, both
takes something of the scene with them
and leaves something of themselves behind.

NOT finding Laci Peterson's hair near her husband's belongings would actually be more suspicious.

And there is nothing odd about the single strand being found twisted in a pair of pliers -- that explains how it managed to stay in the box and not fly away. Prosecutors cannot establish whether Laci Peterson's hair had been twisted in those rusty pliers for a few hours or a few months. Even if they could -- without proof of HOW the pliers were used in the commission of the crime, the pliers are irrelevant.

Rick Distaso

fruit from a poisoned tree

Most of the bizarre circumstantial evidence was uncovered through the bizarre circumstances of the Modesto investigation.

Detective Brocchini admits he secretly instructed family and friends to try and trick Peterson into implicating himself. Whatever lies the fertilizer salesman told couldn't possibly be as smelly as the deception used to trap him. Authorities can't reasonably argue that their lies are an acceptable tactic -- but the defendant's lies are solid proof of guilt.

The phone bugging began less than two weeks after Laci Peterson went missing. When police secretly wire up a confidant of the accused to get a confession on tape -- they're solving a crime. When police indiscriminantly record hundreds of calls, including conversations with reporters and attorneys -- they're invading privacy.

busy signal

The only considerable circumstantial evidence in this case is Amy Rocha's unanswered telephone call to Scott Peterson on the afternoon of December 24.

Although Detective Brocchini lied during the (leaked) Christmas interview and insisted on 12:30 PM -- Peterson in fact called his home around 2:30 PM on Christmas Eve. Laci Peterson did not pick up the phone. Peterson claimed her absence troubled him so he later dialed the number again, but again -- Laci Peterson did not answer.

It's reasonable to conclude that if Peterson was concerned about trying to reach his wife -- he would've responded when her sister phoned. No matter. Prosecutors are alleging Peterson murdered and disposed of his wife in the San Francisco Bay some time during the night before his afternoon fishing trip, eliminating the inference that his actions were a disguise during his horrific deeds.

guilt by default

No prosecutor can convince a jury to put a man to death simply because his actions were strange and police found no other suspects. There are plenty of suspects, including some of the prosecution's key witnesses.

After slogging through the muddle of mistakes, miscalculations and misrepresentations made by Modesto authorities, Scott Peterson's peculiar behavior will need no explanation.

"Hey, Beautiful. I just left you a message at home. It's 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley. I won't be able to get to Vella Farms to get the basket for Papa. I was hoping you would get this message and go on out there. I'll see you in a bit, sweetie. Love you. Bye."
-- Peterson's 12-24 phone message

  Criminal Complaint

evidence of doubt

DEC 28, 2002:
Authorities search water near Berkeley Marina for the first time.

JAN. 3, 2003: Police spend hours combing waters near marina.

JAN 9: Sonar search in water near marina reveals object authorities think is a body. It turns out to be an anchor.

MARCH 12: Authorities search San Francisco Bay again.

APRIL 14: The body of a woman and a male fetus that washed ashore in Richmond, Calif., are found.

APRIL 18: Scott Peterson is arrested.

MAY 22: Police search San Francisco Bay again.

just (be)cause   Modesto Chief Roy W. Wasden
Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden refused to describe the
evidence or say how Laci Peterson died, but he said it
appeared she was killed the day before Christmas
no "credible witness" saw or heard from her after that.

missing information

t i m e l i n e

24 hours

On December 23, 2002 -- 5:45 PM Scott and Laci went to the salon where Laci's sister Amy works.

Amy Rocha:
"She was sitting next to us, just talking to us . . . she was really tired . . . she just seemed exhausted from like the pregnancy."

Later that night at
8:30 PM, Laci Peterson spoke with her mother.

Sharon Rocha:
"She had called -- I had asked them on a couple of different occasions to come to our house on Christmas Eve, and she called about 8:30 Monday evening to tell me that they would be coming to our house for dinner . . . It was only a couple of minutes because I was on another line . . . she sounded very tired and I asked her if she was feeling all right, and she said that she was just really tired."

Presumably, the Petersons ordered pizza and a movie, then watched the film, "The Rookie" on TV, and went to bed some time around 10 or 11 PM.

13 hours missing

Steven Wayne Todd and Donald Glenn Pearce were burglarizing a nearby home and say while they were committing their crime, they saw Scott Peterson "doing something suspicious" around 3:00 AM.

According to a truck driver, Scott Peterson's truck and boat are seen 90 miles from Modesto near the Berkeley Marina at about 3:30 AM.

Scott Peterson told investigators that the next morning,
December 24 , his wife was very active. She was going to mop the kitchen floor and take their golden retriever, McKenzie, for a walk. Neighbor Susan Medina at 8:55 AM, observed Peterson loading something wrapped in a blue tarp into his truck.

Peterson says he loaded some umbrellas into his truck and left home at 9:30 AM, to get his boat from a warehouse and go fishing.

Peterson may be telling the truth about his wife's sudden burst of energy, but his timeline seems off. Records show at
10:08 AM Peterson's cell phone was used from -- or near -- 523 Covena Avenue.

According to Connie Fleeman, about 10:00 AM she notices Scott Peterson's truck and boat in a market parking lot and notices no fishing gear. He flashes her a big grin and drives off. Fleeman catches up with him and rolls down her window to tell him the box in his truck is open. Fleeman says Scott Peterson grimaced with a "horrifying, scary look" and sped away.

Around 10:15 a woman residing on the edge of East La Loma Park hears screams.

At 10:18, neighbor Karen Servas finds the Petersons' golden retriever, McKenzie, leashed but wandering outside alone. Servas puts the dog in the Peterson's yard -- and leaves.

At 10:30, neighbor Amie Krigbaum is awakened by barking from two dogs, one of whom may have been McKenzie. Other witnesses, including Homer Maldonado and Bill and Vivian Mitchell claim to have heard dogs or seen Laci Peterson in the area at various times.

Scott Peterson had not yet headed for the Berkeley Marina 85 miles away. The
computer at his warehouse was used until nearly 11:00 AM. Berkeley Marina workers [gardener Mike Ivesta?] apparently say they saw Peterson struggling to launch his boat around 12:30 PM, and a parking stub reportedly puts Peterson at the marina some time near 1:00 PM. Many other witnesses claim to have seen Scott Peterson or his boat at various times.

5 hours missing

That afternoon, Peterson makes several cell phone calls, including one to his wife at approximately 2:15. Calls made to Peterson went unanswered.

Ron Grantski got an answering machine when he tried to call his stepdaughter at 4:00 PM.

At 4:30, Scott Peterson says he returned home, ate and washed his fishing trip clothes. Forty-five minutes later at 5:20, Peterson calls Sharon Rocha saying Laci is "missing."

Modesto Police are called on
December 24, 2002 at 5:48 PM and notified of the disappearance of Laci Peterson, twenty-four hours after the last person besides Scott Peterson saw her alive.

Prosecutors contend Scott Peterson suffocated or strangled his pregnant wife in their home some time during the early hours of December 24. Under the cover of darkness, he then wrapped her corpse in a tarp. They claim he transported the body to the San Francisco Bay using a truck and a boat, weighed it down with concrete anchors, and dumped it in the water. He then went back home and cleaned up his murder.

It has not been made clear if the State will suggest Peterson returned to the bay again that afternoon.

Prosecutors will say nearly every eyewitness is wrong about seeing Laci or Scott Peterson on December 24 and that the crime went practically unobserved.

advanced state of decay

Modesto Bee (AP)

Forensics experts say it will be tough for investigators to recover from the decomposed remains any hard, physical evidence that will convict Scott Peterson of charges that he killed his wife and their unborn baby.

The corpses, recovered from a beach just a few miles from the Berkeley Marina where Scott Peterson told police he was fishing on the day he reported Laci's disappearance, may have spent up to four months in the cold San Francisco Bay waters. And while Laci's unborn son washed ashore with his umbilical cord still attached, her remains were reportedly in an advanced state of decay, with only the torso intact.

cause of death

The remains of Laci Peterson were so ravaged by the sea -- her head, neck, forearms, and part of a leg, as well as most of her internal organs, were missing -- that there was no discernible cause of death. Three ribs were broken, but a pathologist couldn't tell if the fractures preceded her demise or were the result of being roughed up by tides in San Francisco Bay.

Prosecution pathologist Dr. Brian Peterson (no relation) testified at the prelim that he could not determine Laci Peterson's cause of death.

Laci Peterson had caffeine in her system when she died, a toxicology report shows, while her unborn son, Conner, did not. Toxicology documents also show that police specifically asked medical examiners to test Peterson's remains for the "date rape" drug GHB, and that none was found.

Information from news reports revealed "the fetus was found with plastic tape around neck and major gash on torso."

cold and miscalculating

Scott Peterson said he scrapped golf plans on Christmas Eve because it was too cold, choosing instead to go fishing out on the cold San Francisco Bay.

He cut the fishing trip short he says, because it started raining and... he got cold.

His temporary fishing license was bought the previous day, shortly before announcing his plans to golf.

Along with his fishy alibi, investigators were struck by Peterson's flat, uncaring manner and say he seemed strangely detached and... cold.

Peterson West includes
hundreds of thousands of police
reports, new items, tips and rumors.

CBS News -- December 31, 2002

Police are examining a possible connection between Peterson's disappearance and a burglary across the street from her home, reports John Lobertini of CBS affiliate KPIX-TV.

Susan Medina was burglarized sometime between Christmas Eve morning and late on December 26, and she thinks that maybe Peterson saw something that put her in danger.

"It's just too much of a coincidence," said Medina.

Some of the items taken from the Medina home included a safe containing $50,000 in jewelry.

Drapes Unopened
Modesto Bee

January 18, 2003

One of Laci Peterson's family members believes that whatever happened to her may have occurred sometime on Dec. 23, after she spoke to her mother.

Laci Peterson opened the drapes in her home every morning, said the family member, who asked not to be identified.

"I don't think she made it through that night," the family member said. "If she was alive that morning, she would have opened up her drapes. I know that's something minor, but maybe it was overlooked."

ABC News -- November 14, 2003

A Modesto police detective testified Friday he received a tip from a woman who claimed to have seen a woman who resembled Laci Peterson walking with two men in a park on the day she disappeared, but didn't follow up on it.

Under cross-examination by attorneys for Scott Peterson, Detective Philip Owen said he didn't pursue the tip because he didn't think it was "going in the right direction."

one hair out of place        Pliers

Laci Peterson had presumably never been in her husband's boat and probably didn't know even know he had purchased one. In Peterson's boat was a pair of pliers. In the pliers was a strand of hair likely belonging to Laci Peterson. (The single hair may have been broken into two after police collection.)

yellow pliersPliers in Peterson boat

         umbrellas of suspicion        

Around 9:00 on December 24, Peterson was seen putting something large into the back of his truck. He would later claim he was loading two, 8-foot, outdoor "market" umbrellas.

a leaky mess    

Rumors of a bloody mop, a misplaced bucket and a strong smell of bleach found in Peterson's home -- all proved to be dirty lies.

the crumpled carpet

A suspiciously "scrunched-up" rug
tested negative for blood or trace evidence.

         blood in the truck        

Prosecutors indicate they'll introduce photos of blood found on the visor and door of the defendant's truck. Apparently the blood in the photos was traced back to Scott -- not Laci Peterson. During a TV interview, Peterson said there might be "plenty of blood in there from me" explaining that he sometimes cut his hands while working.


the pickup

ABC News (AP)
December 2, 2003

Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton said he wants jurors to view the pickup truck as part of the crime scene because it was used to haul Laci Peterson's body to her husband's fertilizer warehouse and then to San Francisco Bay.

The revelation in the court papers is noteworthy because prosecutors never previously indicated that Scott Peterson wounded his hands during or after the killing and they have never publicly revealed where Laci Peterson was killed.

The mention that her body was trucked to Peterson's warehouse indicates she was probably killed at the couple's home, explaining why lawyers grappled at the preliminary hearing over a mop and bucket used to clean up the kitchen area in the couple's house.

During a preliminary hearing that included 11 days of testimony prosecutors never said where Laci Peterson was killed, how she was killed, when she was killed or why she was killed.

golden retrieval

The Peterson's dog did not think anything was wrong on December 24 and saw no reason to be alarmed. The dog did not indicate to neighbors that anything was amiss and family members said the dog did not behave in an unusual manner at all that day.

On Thursday December 26 at 5:00 PM when a specially trained bloodhound was released in front of the Peterson home, the dog did not go toward the park as expected. Instead, it went around the block and south to Yosemite Boulevard toward some dumpsters.

Later, the dog led its handler from the Peterson home to Maze Boulevard.

"I had seen Laci walk by the house several times before. When she walked by on Christmas Eve, I hollered to Bill, 'Oh, look, it's the lady with the golden retriever.'"

"She must have come from Kewin Park. The dog wanted to head toward Yosemite Boulevard. She circled the dog around, and they headed the other way."
-- Vivian Mitchell

On December 30, bloodhounds indicated that Laci Peterson had left the home by car.

Modesto PoliceModesto Police

concrete proof

Bruce Peterson -- no relation to Scott Peterson -- sold the defendant his boat in early December. Police asked him to inspect it, and afterwards, Bruce Peterson told television reporters he saw what "looked like cement residue -- powdery stuff that would come out of the bag. I just know it wasn't that way when I sold it to him."

Police say rings of concrete dust were found on Peterson's warehouse floor where he may have been making anchors.

         non-smoking gun        

A .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol was found in the cab of Peterson's pickup. Also discovered in the truck were two fishing lures in unopened packages, and Detective Al Brocchini's keys.


Modesto police admit that an astounding 4,000 telephone calls were "intercepted" by wiretaps in the Peterson investigation, including calls from reporters and defense lawyers.

"It would be unfathomable that in the year 2003 any law enforcement agency would listen to conversations between a client and his attorney or defense investigator."
-- Mark Geragos, defense attorney

"The police were saying for four months, including Chief Wasden, that (Peterson) was not a suspect, and at the same time they were surreptitiously wiretapping him. If they're lying to the public, what else may we expect of them?"
-- Kirk McAllister, defense attorney

"I do not share Mr. McAllister's opinion. The police were also careful to say they had not ruled out anybody (as a suspect) anytime they were asked."
-- John Goold, Chief Deputy District Attorney

a thousand words

Peterson, Frey -- Dec. 14

On January 6, 2003 Peterson's secret girlfriend,
Amber Frey, secretly recorded a phone call for the police.
Who knew which secrets weren't secret -- is still a secret.

PETERSON: I never cheated on you. I never did.

FREY: You are married. How did you figure you never cheated on me? Explain that one to me.

PETERSON: I want to explain Amber. ... I will, no, no I will.

FREY: When?

PETERSON: I hope ...I -- God. I hope to hell that you will listen to me and that I can. I want to explain it to you so badly but I can't, now. And I, I hope and I can never ask you to ... to trust me or to even listen to me again.

FREY: There's no way ... there's no way I possibly can.

PETERSON: I know it. I can never ask you to do that for me. And I, I just hope that sometime in the future you will let me tell you the whole story. And I cannot ask you...

FREY: You know that -- that makes a lot more sense to me now, Scott.

PETERSON: What's that?

FREY: Of course you couldn't tell me the whole story about your wife because it hadn't happened yet! And you were hoping to resolve, in January, that it would be resolved and you'd have a story to tell me.

PETERSON: Sweetie, you think I had something to do with her disappearance? Amber, do you believe that?

FREY: Well, let's see how I can believe that. How can I believe that? How can I believe anything from...?

PETERSON: I am not evil like that.

FREY: I would hope not.

PETERSON: I am... Oh my God.

FREY: You know you've lied to me now... and, you know, know, uh ...actually, you know, I was thinking um ... Do you know how many people I've given your picture to -- or of us, in Christmas cards? So you're telling me ... that you want to keep me out of this and Ayianna and you want to protect me from that? How? I'm, I'm just ... I'm just so at a loss.

two confessions

In late December 2002, Modesto detectives were looking for the lost Laci Peterson, and instead -- found Shawn Sibley and her friend, Amber Frey.

They also found out that -- earlier in the month -- "H.B." Peterson got caught lying to Sibley about being single and told the matchmaker he was in fact married but had "lost" his wife. Peterson said those very same words to Frey: "I lost my wife."

Detectives quickly decided Mr. Peterson's twin lies went beyond suspicious coincidence to hard evidence. They concluded the liar had confessed as early as December 9 -- to a murder he didn't truthfully commit until December 24.

DA Rick Distaso will now parrot the MPD's contention in front of a judge and jury, arguing that the defendant's two statements about a "lost" wife constitute credible proof of a premeditated kidnapping.

Heading back to the future, Modesto detectives didn't know then what they know now:

Years before meeting Scott Peterson -- during one of Amber Frey's previous lousy love triangles -- her lying lover used the very same line to wiggle out of the very same type of wife-trouble. Frey uncovered that man's morbid lie one afternoon, when she saw the supposedly dead wife shopping at a mall.

Surely in retrospect, Modesto investigators realize that in the future they must remember: If something is too bad to be true -- it probably isn't.

"She says that at first Scott said that he was not married. She made some inquiries about Scott and found out that he was married and told this girl. The girl then asked Scott about it on December 9th -- uh -- Scott told her that he had lost his wife. That concerns me. I wanted you to hear it from us. This information is very concerning, if Scott told this girl before -- weeks before Laci disappeared."
-- Det. Grogan (1/15/02) to Peterson's father, Lee Peterson

"That sure isn't proof that my son was involved in this thing and I'll stake my life that my son was not involved in his wife's disappearance."
-- Lee Peterson to Grogan

During the investigation,
it was widely rumored that
Amber Frey was pregnant.
Reportedly, Scott Peterson
was not the father.

Prior to trial, Frey gave birth
to a second child.

"If you are not serious about a relationship, don't call Amber. She's been through too much already."
-- Amber Frey

Mr. Brady Goes to Washington

Evidence rules based on the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland require prosecutors to turn over to the defense all evidence that is favorable to the accused.

worst case scenario

Investigators know that damning circumstantial evidence -- evidence based on inference rather than personal knowledge or observation -- cannot be as easily hidden, destroyed or explained away as direct evidence. Many cases have been won without a murder weapon, eye witnesses or a corpse. In their place are phone and financial records, carpet fibers, insects and any number of other odd things that pin down a place and a time.

Modesto detectives discovered plenty of evidence against Scott Peterson -- but failed to find the circumstances of Laci Peterson's death. Evidence without circumstances is as useless in a courtroom as circumstances without evidence.

If reasonable, innocent explanations and alternate theories that counter guilty inferences are possible -- the jury is required to find reasonable doubt.

It's often argued -- mostly by desperate defense attorneys -- that things aren't what they seem to be. Curiously strong smells of bleach are from a late-night cleaning binge. The hookers were a side activity. The desperate financial crisis wasn't really a problem. Calls to professional hitmen were part of an AA program. The gloves were planted by corrupt police. The large, recently purchased insurance policy is an unfortunate coincidence -- and the 7,000 deleted computer files were research for a novel.

Prosecutors are quick to point out that individually the evidence can be explained, but finally no one person can be so unlucky, and that taken in its totality -- the mountain of evidence is ample proof of the circumstances of murder alleged.

Interestingly, prosecutors in the Peterson case -- realizing that the totality of their evidence is a hair and an affair -- have apparently chosen to focus instead on individual, discrete bits of condemning facts.

The tactic rarely works for defense lawyers, finally forced to argue at closing that nothing is what it simply seems to be and no one, except the defendant, is to be trusted. Jurors flatly reject such nonsense, and will likely reject a wholly circumstantial case from a prosecutor that concludes -- everything is simply what it seems to be and everyone, except the defendant, is to be trusted.

the secret boat
Scott Peterson did not want his wife to know he had bought himself a boat and other items. Peterson had been
planning his wife's watery
grave for a month.
the lies about a
dead wife
Peterson told lies to his wife and the women he was having affairs with. Peterson wanted his wife
dead and spoke about it
the concrete bags
and concrete dust
Prior to his wife's disappearance, Peterson
was using concrete.
Anchors were being built
to sink the corpse.
the computer
Peterson's computer was used to view various websites near the time his wife went missing. Defendant was planning and researching his crimes.
the hair evidence At some point, a strand of Laci Peterson's hair was transferred to Scott Peterson's boat by somebody in some fashion. After killing his wife,
Peterson put her in his boat.
the morning cell
phone call
At 10:08 AM on the day his wife went missing, Peterson was near his home. The Peterson's dog was seen at 10:18, so Laci Peterson must already have been murdered.
the beige pants The victim's body was recovered in April, dressed in something other than what Peterson remembers last seeing her wearing in December -- at some point, her clothes were changed. Peterson lied about the black pants because he knew his wife was seen wearing beige the day before he killed her.
no signs of a
struggle in the
There probably wasn't a violent struggle in the Peterson home. Kidnappers didn't do it. They
would have struggled with
Laci Peterson in her home.
the alibi and
recovery location
At some point, somebody put the victim's remains in the San Francisco Bay. Inadequate searches simply
failed to find the body that
Peterson dumped Dec. 24.

Modesto Bee
NewsTrove - Headline Finder
ABC News
KTVU-TV (BayInsider)
Psyche's Knot
Observations of a Misfit
San Fransisco Chronicle
North County Times
San Mateo County Times
Modesto Police Online

Stanislaus County Sheriff
Department - pressupdate

The Scott Peterson Investigation





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