Presumed Guilty  

 Murder, Media and Mistakes in Modesto 

Comments - 3


"I knew it was going to deteriorate to this. I had a sinking feeling. We're going to conduct this in lawyerlike fashion -- not like bickering children. Let's get that straight right now."
-- Judge Delucchi

One Step Forward,
Two Steps Back


Experts say prosecutors hurting Peterson case

Unimportant witnesses in Peterson trial may cloud focus

The Argus Online
Monday, July 12, 2004

Despite recent victories by prosecutors in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial, their practice of calling witnesses to the stand who have little or no evidence to share with the jury is hurting their case, legal experts say.

Judge Scolds Prosecution In Peterson Case

Defense Did Not Receive Evidence

Monday, July 12, 2004

A judge had angry words for the prosecution in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial Monday.

Judge Al Delucchi reprimanded prosecutors for not providing the defense with evidence before Monday afternoon's court session.

On the stand, a Modesto police detective in charge of searching for the 300 sex offenders living near the Peterson home.

When he talked about a master list of the names the defense told the judge they never got the list.

Peterson Trial: Tuesday Update

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

FOX 40
The Associated Press

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

An evidence technician who examined Scott Peterson's body for scratches or bruises shortly after his pregnant wife vanished testified Tuesday he found nothing unusual.

Doug Lovell of the Modesto Police Department said he wanted to see whether there was evidence Peterson had been involved in a struggle, as police became increasingly suspicious he was responsible for Laci Peterson's disappearance.

"He was asked to strip down to his shorts," Lovell said.

"Did you notice any scratches or marks or anything on his body?" asked defense lawyer Mark Geragos.

"No, I didn't," Lovell replied.

Jury told of weights, hair, blood spots

Fresno Bee
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Testimony in Scott Peterson's double-murder trial centered Tuesday on collection of crucial evidence: blood, hair and concrete.

The blood, jurors already had been told, came from the defendant and not his pregnant wife, murder victim Laci Peterson; the hair might have been hers; and authorities suggested her husband forgot to clean up after making concrete weights to sink her body in San Francisco Bay.

Detective quizzed on bay searches

Modesto Bee
Thursday, July 15, 2004

Multiple law-enforcement agencies using state-of-the-art sonar and dive equipment failed to find Laci Peterson or concrete blocks weighing down her remains in San Francisco Bay despite months of searching, a detective acknowledged Wednesday.

That's because there wasn't anything to find, Scott Peterson's attorney seemed to suggest on Day 23 of testimony in his client's double-murder trial.

Peterson dismissal or mistrial requested

San Mateo County Times
Thursday, July 15, 2004

The judge in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial will decide in two weeks if a mistrial should be granted or if Peterson should walk free because of the alleged prejudicial testimony of a detective.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos filed the mistrial and dismissal requests, charging prosecutors with a pattern of misconduct, including the alleged misstatements by Modesto Police Detective Al Brocchini, one of their key witnesses.

"One is a better person, one is a better lawyer... Rick is such a nice guy."
-- Stan Goldman, Loyola Law School professor who taught both attorneys

Halftime Show
in the
Slam-Dunk of the Century

While cross-examining Modesto Police Detective Ray Coyle, Mark Geragos asked to see a copy of the master list of area parolees and registered sex offenders mentioned on direct. Shortly after viewing the document, Scott Peterson's lawyer dramatically began launching complaints about withheld evidence.

Judge Delucchi asked what new information the list contained and Geragos cracked, "Who knows? They just make stuff up as they go along."

When the discovery violation became clear, the normally warm and witty Judge -- grew furious. In open court and
in full view of the jury , Delucchi scolded and belittled the People's prosecutors. "This is a common problem in this case, and it's aggravating," the judge angrily told Distaso. "This case is how many years old?"

Laci Peterson

Distaso's Direct Hit

July 9

The moment must've been electrifying. Unable to locate any first hand accounts of Rick Distaso's big day in court on Tuesday, I can only imagine the impact of the prosecutor's sharp and shocking shift of focus.

For over a month, Distaso has slowly, steadily, stiffly moved through his case in a strict chronological order. Similar to the made-for-TV movie about the Peterson case, the Stanislaus DA chose to begin his story on Christmas Eve -- just after Laci Peterson went missing. Just like the television audience, jurors were carefully being walked through the sequence of trifling and troubling events as they unfolded day by day.

Of course, other than the defendant's oddly cold behavior and bizarre revelations in sordid private conversations caught on tape, the tale holds few surprises. More like the hapless happenings of "The Young and the Restless" than a tense episode of "Law and Order," Distaso nonetheless trudged on through the thin plot, and had finished his last week with three witnesses who testified -- in no uncertain terms -- that Scott Peterson was a sex-obsessed, fertilizer selling, "horny bastard."

Trial trackers and legal analysts were all in agreement that the People's prosecutor was setting the stage for the entrance of his star witness: Mistress Amber Frey. So on Tuesday, when court resumed after the holiday, no one was paying much attention when Joseph "Rick" Distaso made his surprise move.

Using a tried and true technique known to every good Hollywood director, Distaso did a dissolve on the sordid situation in Modesto at Christmas and quickly cut away to a very disturbing scene that takes place 90 miles and four-months away -- the discovery of the victim's remains near the San Francisco Bay.

No doubt, lured into the lull of Distaso's dull recounting of the minute by minute minutiae that make up Modesto's mundane soap opera, Redwood City jurors were jolted out of their stupor and sent scrambling for their notebooks.

Instead of the expected photos showing an ambitious Amber Frey, grinning and giggling while perched on the lap of the defendant in a fluffy, red Santa hat, Distaso displayed gruesome pictures detailing the discovered remains of Laci Peterson and unborn baby boy, Conner.

It's been said that great movies aren't filmed, they're edited. Much the same could be said about great trials. The timing and order that a prosecutor chooses to introduce a piece of evidence is just as important as the evidence itself. It places the proof in a new context for the jury.

Director Distaso it seems, needed the first half of his epic to establish a steady drumbeat -- the dreary, eventless, hopeless situation following the story's inciting kidnapping incident. Week after week of questions, but no answers -- suspicions, but no proof.

It was a risky strategy, but the DA successfully dramatized -- in real time no less -- the entirety of the odd but uneventful circumstances in the first month of the LACI PETERSON STORY. Then, without warning, without so much as a voice-over or a title screen reading -- "FOUR MONTHS LATER -- the prosecutor perfectly spliced out months of MPD mistakes and media madness, and effortlessly, seamlessly, cut to the chase.

This widely known but rarely used "anti-suspense" building technique depends on the audience's lowering expectations of the movie itself, as a device to call enormous attention to the inevitability of the final, unexpected and often subtle surprise twist at the end. Perhaps the finest example of this technique is Orson Well's cinematic masterpiece, CITIZEN KANE.

Mark Geragos, lawyer to the stars, was blindsided by the DA's brilliant splice of life. On Wednesday, he filed a complaint with the judge who -- along with Geragos, the jurors and everyone else -- was anticipating some steamy sessions with Amber Frey when suddenly, two dead bodies appeared.

Peterson's defense attorney demanded a week's advanced notice of the order in which the prosecutor plans to call his witnesses. But it was too late. That part of the movie had come and gone. The damage was done, and in fact, while Geragos was busy trying to get the DA's dramatic license revoked, jurors were already watching Distaso's next dreadful scene.

The DA next cut to a montage of photos featuring a pregnant woman -- the same approximate height and weight as the victim -- placed in various positions. In one picture, the actress playing Laci Peterson is curled up inside the tool box on the defendant's truck -- in another, she is hidden inside Peterson's boat, lying in a fetal position.

To be certain, Distaso's photos aren't real, or even based on a real story -- no evidence was found in the defendant's truck, tool box or boat -- but coming after thousands and thousands of words -- the prosecutor's pictures take on a significant worth.

The general consensus among analysts and reporters is that Rick Distaso's quick edit was in response to their constant criticism. They may be right. Perhaps the prosecutor simply lost faith in his chronological case and changed course, but considering the effectiveness of the unexpected focus shift -- the reasoning behind it matters very little.

As for Mr. Geragos' complaints about being caught off guard by Distaso's crime-time warp, he really has no excuse. Geragos should have known it was coming. USA Network's TV movie, THE PERFECT HUSBAND, used the very same quick cut technique to bring their film to a satisfying conclusion.


The case was a Slam-Dunk. For months and months, investigators were certain they'd get a conviction against the accused man who was obviously 'guilty as hell.' So no one was very surprised when Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton was found guilty of having committed nine acts of misconduct and of repeatedly violating the county's workplace security and anti-violence policy.

DA Brazelton was accused of brandishing a gun in front of employees and making threatening remarks about reporters who were investigating his misuse of the county credit card to buy alcohol. He also apparently threatened to run over a reporter with his car and then tried to cover up the threat -- by threatening co-workers in the DA's office.

All along, Brazelton has denied any wrong-doing and still insists none of the events or the cover-up occurred. He refuses to talk to reporters. "I don't care to talk to you or any other media person because you cannot get things straight," Brazelton told the Associated Press.

The civil grand jury that found the DA guilty is an investigative panel and cannot hand down indictments, but it is recommending Brazelton be publicly rebuked.

Read the report.

What LIES Ahead?

Modesto Police

Devastating Testimony Ends Week Four

July 1, 2004

Finally, the continually criticized Peterson West prosecutor managed to generate some good press.

Sun Herald Online
Detective Boosts Peterson Prosecution

Modesto Bee
Distaso counters blow to testimony

San Jose Mercury News
Prosecution tantalizes jury with witness' story

New York Post
Scott's 'Perfect Murder' Fantasy

Fox News
Detective: Peterson Said He'd Sink Body

After days and days of the damaging cross-examination of Modesto Police Detective Brocchini, the DA knew he had to score a knock-out punch on re-direct. Joseph "Rick" Distaso came out swinging and elicited testimony that even dismissed Juror #5 admitted was shocking.

Brocchini said that during a conversation with a friend, Scott Peterson spoke of how he would dispose of a dead body.
"He said he would tie a bag around the neck with duct tape," weight the body down and toss it into the ocean and "fish activity would eat away the neck and hands and the body would float up, no fingers, no teeth," making it impossible to identify, Brocchini said.

For the first time since his long-winded opening statement, prosecutor Distaso got the jury's attention.

Just before court broke for the long Fourth of July weekend, jurors found out that the man who phoned police with his incriminating tip recalled the conversation happened in 1995 when the defendant was 21-years-old, that the tip came in AFTER news that Laci Peterson's body had been recovered, and that police did not find the tipster to be the least bit credible.

When court convenes next week, jurors will find out another devastating detail:
Detective Brocchini apparently made up that part about the duct tape.

Distaso's devastating testimony may well be cause for a complete dismissal of the case and Judge Delucchi's declaration of a mistrial.

"In a homicide case, the lead detective should be your No. 1 witness. He should be the one to connect the dots. He becomes like a narrator for the jury."
-- Dean Johnson, criminal defense lawyer

Sex, Pies and Video Tape

This is the video,
that mentions meringue,
that Detective Brocchini watched,
but failed to find,
which prompted him
to sign the affidavit, that cited the lie,
that convinced the judge,
that issued the search warrant,
that led to the wire taps,
that uncovered the mistress,
that dated the man
that told Brocchini
he watched Martha Stewart
who made the meringue
that led to the case that Rick built.

like sands through the hourglass

Moments after meeting Shawn Sibley at a trade show in October 2002, Scott Peterson began to make lewd innuendos and sexual suggestions. The defendant dramatically described himself as a "horny bastard." He insisted he was single, and although he'd had a lot of one night stands with "bimbos" he was now on the prowl for a soulmate.

Sibley, who was engaged at the time, immediately knew the perfect hook-up for the sex starved stranger -- her best friend, Amber Frey.

Weeks later, when Sibley learned the horny bastard was married and confronted him about it, Peterson suddenly declared he had "lost his wife" and sobbed hyterically.

so go the days of the prosecution's case

"A murder trial is not about the morals of married men."
-- Judge Delucchi

"It's Geragos' spin . . . The information he's alluding to was not omitted. The information is actually documented in a report by another detective. That's why (Brocchini) left it out of his report."
-- MPD's Sgt. Ed Steele in his gag-order defying interview with the Associated Press

"This has to stop.
Go tell the chief that he's going
to have to sit on his folks ...
or there's going to be trouble."

-- Judge Delucchi

A Mark Fuhrman Moment

Mark Fuhrman

June 24

Detective Allen Brocchini was forced to admit he had removed a paragraph from his police report that showed Laci Peterson had visited her husband's warehouse on December 23 and saw his fishing boat.

DA Distaso's only forensic evidence is a single strand of hair found in Peterson's boat. The prosecutor has contended Laci Peterson did not know about her husband's boat and had never been in his warehouse.

Brocchini testified on cross examination that he dictated the paragraph of notes onto a tape, but had removed it from the written transcript in the police report.

Legal analysts, newspaper columnists and television commentators were stunned. Lisa Bloom, CourtTV's very pro-prosecution anchor, called the bombshell testimony a "Mark Fuhrman moment."

"If there were a simple, innocent explanation for Brocchini excising exculpatory information in his report, he should have said so on the stand . . . Why is he taking out information? There's no reason to do that. If it's a mistake, that's one thing. If it's a missing word, that's another. But guess what? It's an entire paragraph that places Laci in the warehouse."

-- James Hammer

"He (Brocchini) writes a police report form dictation and leaves a major paragraph out! Honestly, I've was a district attorney for 15 years and now a defense attorney for almost as long -- I'm flabbergasted by that. This lost the case for the prosecution, in my opinion."

"I am absolutely speechless. The district attorney had to turn over that evidence over to Geragos about the dictation of Brocchini. Didn't he (Distaso) listen to it? And they bring this guy (Brocchini as a witness) to trial. This is unbelievable. How is this jury going to believe one more thing that a prosecution witness says in this case?"

-- Michael Cardoza

Mistrial of the Century

Mark Geragos

Scott Peterson’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, made a motion for a mistrial, citing outrageous behavior by the media which forced the dismissal of Juror #5 -- Justin Falconer -- on day 14 of the trial. Judge Delucchi rejected the motion. Rick Distaso is most likely very relieved by the dismissal. Falconer was never an ideal juror for the prosecution, but then again -- neither is the first alternate. The new juror is a doctor and a lawyer.

the media made me do it

Juror #5 -- Justin Falconer


"I blame the media for my dismissal."

"It was too much of a distraction. You guys just keep running up on me."

"I was getting too much attention from the media."

"I wouldn't want this much attention on my jury either. The attention I was getting was insane."

"They asked if I was watching news media. That wasn't the case. My friends were just giving me a hard time about comments that I made."

"The media around this was huge -- from Day One. I mean if somebody was watching it and heard about the bay..."

The Defendant

"I've gotten that Scott treated Laci very well."

"He's an innocent man until proven guilty."

You can't blame somebody for how they're acting in a certain situation."

"I got friends who do crazy stuff when they're stressed out, too."

"Guys say stupid stuff to get a girl."

"I'm never gonna clean my house if something like this happens to me."

"I know that if I had a side fling and something like that happened to me -- I'd be in a panic not to want that to get out, too. I can understand why he'd be trying to make up stories to keep her [Amber] out of it."

"While ya'll were chasin me around, I'd have wanted to die my hair, too!"

The Police Investigation

"The cops made tons of mistakes -- especially Brocchini. There were a lot of questions. I had a lot of questions. The police department made so many mistakes."

"All the mistakes of 'I lost my book here' and left my stuff there and had to go to back. It surprised me."

"And then the police made up this story about when Scott threw down the flashlight and cursed. They said they told people that night, but it was never in a report. That bothered me that they would bring that up out of the blue."

The Prosecutor

"Distaso took a butt whippin' that day. You tell us it was THIS show on THIS day -- and then his statement says something about meringue and BOOM, there it was -- it was just -- wow. Geez. I thought, 'Is this what this trial is gonna be about?' "

"The prosecution's given me no reason to believe he's guilty . . . I haven't heard anything."

"Maybe he was gonna hit us with something big later on, but so far it was -- falling asleep."

"It's just hard to believe."

"I question some of the people he was putting on the stand. It was helping the other side."

"I think the financial motive is kinda sketchy. She was worth more alive than if she was gone."

"For the most part, I never saw him [Distaso] trying to make eye-contact."

"Geragos is creating a story now. Distaso is difficult to follow. You think to yourself -- where is he going?"

"Distaso needs to show and tell me exactly how he did it. If he could show me how -- then fine. But he wasn't doing that."

"He wants me to believe he put her in the boat and took her out that day -- well, HOW? I wanted him to prove and show HOW. In a little bitty boat, with choppy waters? And he went out and tied anchors to her, or whatever -- HOW? But if you can't show me how he did it or tell me how he did it, then, no -- no you can't convict him."

"He hasn't shown me how and hasn't shown me why."

         Yo, Yo, Peace Out

Beth Karris and Juror #5

"It's not anything the media did."
-- Beth Karras
Courtroom television reporter who, along with
Nancy Grace, claimed Juror #5 greeted the
defendant by saying 'Yo'

Catherine Crier

Poetic Justice         


Television "teasers" ran all day. CourtTV's Catherine Crier was going to expose damning evidence police had uncovered about Scott Peterson. The exclusive shocker was a poem Peterson had supposedly composed and recited for Amber Frey.

It was all so titillating and juicy, CTV anchor, Lisa Bloom -- appearing as a guest on the show -- could hardly wait, and urged Crier to hurry up and read Scott's guilty words.  Crier cleared her throat and dramatically intoned:

The sun just slipped its note below my door
And I can't hide beneath my sheets
I've read the words before so now I know
The time has come again for me

The talk show host quipped that she did her best to read poetically -- but may have failed, and Lisa Bloom burst into laughter saying it was so poorly written "I don't know if it can be done!"

Bloom, daughter to Amber Frey's lawyer, blasted the text: "Oh boy. You know, I was an English major in college, okay? I spent some time deconstructing poetry. I wouldn't spend a lot of time treating it like this was Shakespeare. I think it is what it is -- it's a love poem and shows he wants to be with her but -- you know -- the guy's not a poet."

Perhaps the only thing worse than CourtTV's anchors laughing and insulting the poem -- and drawing guilty inferences from it -- is the painful fact that the words are actually lyrics from a
Norah Jones song. The poem wasn't written by Scott Peterson. It is the poetry of Lee Alexander.

But Catherine Crier's ridiculous show DID manage to deliver Peterson trial-trackers an exclusive and very scary scoop. Crier read the rather frightening analysis of Norah Jones' song that was put forth by a detective from the Modesto Police. Notes from the literary investigation reveal much about the MPD's state of mind:

"I believe the sun represents the light, and the light represents the truth. Though the door may be closed, the light of the sun comes through the small opening under the door and brightens the room. It only takes a little bit of the truth to uncover the deception or wrong-doing found in darkness -- evil. He can't hide beneath the sheet to keep the light from shining in. The truth is too bright for the cover up."

Distaso Calls the Cops

          June 18

Timothy Helton Sergeants Ronald Cloward and Timothy Helton testified that within hours, the search for Laci Peterson turned into a search of the San Francisco Bay. Some 27 subsequent Bay searches were conducted.

Despite submersible sonar equipment, divers, and professional scuba teams, Sgt. Cloward told jurors the massive search for Laci was a failure and ended in "frustration and negative results."

Cloward's phrase pretty well sums up Week Two of Peterson West.

Rick Distaso has called a parade of people to the stand at break-neck speed. Pundits are saying he's going nowhere fast. On Distaso's direct, each witness offers a bit of testimony that takes the State one small step forward. But when Geragos gets through with them, the State has gone two giant steps back. Each witness, it seems, ends up providing evidence that benefits Scott Peterson and undermines the prosecutor's theories.

Geragos: "With that information you also had various witnesses who said they were either jogging down in the park or walking down in the park and had seen a pregnant woman who appeared to be Laci?"

Cloward: "Yes."

Geragos: "A number of witnesses have indicated that they had seen a van with suspicious people in the neighborhood on the morning of the 24th?"

Cloward: "Correct."

Geragos: "You believed that could have something to do with Laci Peterson's disappearance, right?"

Cloward: "There was a possibility that it could."

Brent Rocha


  • Thursday, July 17 -- Brent Rocha was walking into the courthouse with Juror #5, a man in his 20's. Apparently reporters overheard Juror #5 say something to the defendant's brother-in-law to the effect of  "...gonna lose today..." They may have been simply making small talk about baseball, still -- contact between the two seems highly improper.

  • In a FOX News poll, conducted June 3-4 by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, 58 percent of the public think Peterson was involved in his wife's murder.

  • The fine journalists at Court-TV have broken big news -- a search of Scott Peterson's PC turned up evidence that he visited (gasp) pornographic websites.

  • Judge Delucchi is sustaining about 70% of Defense objections and about 50% of objections from the State.

"I came to work Christmas Eve and didn't go home for four and a half months."

Detective Allen Brocchini acknowledged during the prelim that the Peterson case was the biggest in his 11-year MPD career, and admitted it had consumed him professionally and personally.

Media reports about Brocchini's history of threatening and abusive behavior are surfacing in anticipation of his testimony.

"Scott was lying to us."

"I'm going to get who got Laci."

"I'm going to take Scott Peterson down."

"I was attempting to plant the seeds of suspicion."

Too Eager

On direct examination, Detective Jon Evers swore under oath that Scott Peterson was overly eager to provide an alibi and hurriedly volunteered to produce a ramp receipt.

On cross, Mark Geragos forced the detective to admit he had testified differently while under oath at Peterson's prelim, where he said Peterson produced the receipt only after Evers asked for something which would verify the fishing trip.

fools rush in

With the 10th anniversary of the State of California's monumental mistakes in the OJ Simpson trial playing in the background, police in the Peterson case are being accused of suspicious behavior during the rush to judgment of a bungled investigation.

Spurlock, Letsinger and Det. Jon Evers

Mark Geragos dramatically moved for a mistrial when the MPD's Derrick Letsinger testified about a December 24 statement the defendant supposedly made which was never noted, and never disclosed to the defense -- a 'discovery' violation. The officer said after failing a pop quiz on fishing lures, "Mr. Peterson threw his flashlight down on the ground and I heard something under his breath like a curse word."

Letsinger and responding officer, Matthew Spurlock, testified police walked all around in Peterson's house and saw incriminating items -- things like,
a bucket and mop, a rumpled rug, and wet rags. Apparently they thought Mr. Peterson's house was too clean to be true, and presumed Peterson guilty of covering up a crime.

Now, surely these officers know you can't mop up a murder! If in fact they really thought that's what had happened -- then they were, at that moment, contaminating the crime scene.

Something's missing here, because a scrunched rug is just not enough to propel what quickly became a high-powered sting operation. Most homes in California have a wrinkled rug or two, and after scientific testing, no damning evidence was found on the floors, or the mop, or the rags, or any of the hundreds of other items from the supposed crime scene.

Jurors must be asking themselves, "How did we get here from there?"

It's hard to believe an initial hunch from a few nervous police officers is the single piece of circumstantial evidence that establishes 523 Covena Avenue as the location of Laci Peterson's murder.

Maybe Modesto detectives can shed some light.

"Are you going to hear that the Modesto Police Department completed a perfect investigation? No, you're not."
-- Distaso's opening

"There is a lot of frustration felt among court watchers and attorneys watching this case. People remember the O.J. case and how they were horribly frustrated by watching a guilty guy walk. Watching this case, it's like, 'Is it going to happen again?'"
-- Michael Cardoza, former Alameda County prosecutor

"I would appreciate my friends and acquaintances to refrain from talking about me to the media for profit or recognition."
-- Amber Frey in a pre-trial statement

From Ron Frey's stinging letter in the
Modesto Bee:

"Since the trial began last week, I have listened with a sinking heart to the opinions of national experts who have strongly criticized the performance of the Modesto prosecutors and second-guessed them.

If I am asked to testify, I would prefer to be examined by the District Attorney, Jim Brazelton, rather than a younger assistant district attorney."

Into the Woods

June 11

Poor Rick Distaso, he's barely begun the battle to send Scott Peterson to San Quentin's death house and yet his troops are already deserting the ranks.

Once fiercely loyal fans of the Stanislaus County assistant DA's deadly plans for Mr. Peterson, trial trackers, reporters and pundits from coast to coast have turned on him and now complain bitterly. From those who feel the prosecutor's protracted and doggedly detailed opening statement was a disaster, to those who found fault with the DA's initial line-up of witnesses -- everyone, it seems, has lost faith in Mr. Distaso.

Considering what the DA has to work with, what were his supporters really expecting? You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear -- and you can't make a slam dunk out of a purely circumstantial case.

Distaso is counting on common sense to win him the case. Common sense -- that is to say -- shared assumptions about people and situations. It's not the best way to win over a jury, but the common sense argument directly heads off the issue of "reasonable doubt."

Still, after a year of insisting that Scott Peterson is GUILTY AS HELL and should be put to death for murdering his wife, it took the rats less than seven days to abandon ship. I don't believe I can remember support for a case unraveling quite so fast.

In his opening argum -- er -- statement, Rick Distaso previewed his mountain of proof. As noted previously on these pages, the DA's real problem isn't that he has too little evidence -- but rather, too much.

Scott Peterson lied about everything to everyone. He told so many outrageous and ridiculous lies, it took the prosecutor an entire day of court just to enumerate them all. The list was so long, there was no time left to talk about Laci Peterson's death.

Joseph "Rick" Distaso put the court on notice that he plans to enter every single tidbit of the story into evidence. He's betting that jurors, as one, will finally all jump to the logical conclusion of Guilt.

If you don't have the facts, pound the law, if you don't have the law, pound the table. The People will pound Scott Peterson for four months using the overwhelming force of his own lies. It is a straight-ahead strategy for decisive victory -- or all out defeat.

As for the order of witnesses, it's hard to argue with the choice to move through the case chronologically. In the first week of trial, the State has called family and neighbors to tell jurors about the events of Christmas Eve. My only problem with Distaso's chronological order is that he didn't begin at the beginning.

Just as in the USA Network's made-for-TV movie, "The Perfect Husband," DA Distaso starts his story just after the main character goes missing.

All in all, the People are bringing the case they promised. That case has nothing to do with the when, where and how of Laci Peterson's death. It's a focus on when, where, and how Scott Peterson said and did guilty things.

DA Distaso is not on a search for the truth -- he's on a hunt for lies.

Chronologically, the next characters to enter into the real-life, Modesto horror movie are the police and the mistress -- Miss Amber Frey. There will be no shortage of lies for Rick Distaso to uncover there.

"Miss Frey has been a victim of Scott Peterson's deception."
-- Gloria Allred

What Did She Know?
And When Did She Know It?

Dean Johnson, fmr. San Mateo County Prosecutor:

"There are a lot of different scenarios here under which Amber Frey may be involved without actually having done the murder. There have been discussions about the possibility of solicitation to commit murder..."

"He didn't show the concern that I felt he should be showing for Laci being missing. We would try to schedule meetings for different situations and he would always cancel them. I felt he was avoiding trying to be alone with me."
-- Sharon Rocha

Peterson told reporters his wife knew about Amber Frey. Prosecutors who swore, "numerous witnesses will testify that Laci made no mention of the affair to them," as proof of Peterson's lies were caught short when Sharon Rocha testified -- Laci never mentioned anything about another adulterous affair Scott had early in the couple's marriage.

Ron Grantski told jurors that he and Sharon Rocha agreed to secretly record phone calls to Scott Peterson for the Modesto police.

"I think your Berkeley fishing trip is a fishy story"

"9:30? That’s when I come home -- not when I go!"

Amazingly, on cross-examination, Grantski admitted that, without leaving notification of his plans,
he also had gone fishing in the afternoon on December 24, 2002.

Amy Rocha: "She had a black blouse with green polka dots or flowers, cream colored pants and black shoes."

Distaso: "As you sit here today, is there any doubt in your mind as to what color those pants are?"

Amy Rocha: "No doubt."
Geragos: "In your interview with Detective Grogan, you said they were NOT the pants?"

Amy Rocha: "I said they were close."

"I was so gol-darn mad because I saw more reaction out of him when he burnt the chicken than when his wife was missing."
-- Harvey Kemple, married to a cousin of Laci Peterson’s mother

Another Op'nin', Another Show

June 2, 2004

In a trial that promises to feature old TV programs in place of actual evidence, Mark Geragos was the first to grab the remote and take control. The Lawyer to the Stars began his opening statement with a re-run of Martha Stewart's cooking show. The clip originally aired on December 24, 2002.

Detective Al Brocchini testified at the prelim that Peterson lied when he said he watched Martha's show with his wife on Christmas Eve, because Peterson claimed the show had "something to do with meringue." Brocchini reviewed the tapes and determined that meringue was actually mentioned on Martha's December 23rd show -- THE DAY BEFORE SCOTT SAYS LACI WENT MISING.

Brocchini had to have tied that tidbit of evidence to another incriminating piece of proof: the beige pants. Although Scott said he last saw his wife wearing black pants -- Laci Peterson's remains indicated she died in beige. Amy Rocha told police her sister was wearing beige pants on December 23rd -- THE DAY BEFORE SCOTT SAYS LACI WENT MISING.

Media-savvy Mr. Geragos turned on the TV for Redwood City jurors and Martha's voice echoed through the courtroom:

"Oooh, we're making meringue!"

One observer said a "murmur" rippled through the room and that Juror #9 looked "stunned."

As for the beige pants, Amy Rocha eventually informed authorities the ones recovered on her sister's remains were NOT those Laci Peterson wore on Dec. 23 -- the night Brocchini believed she was killed.

Detective Al Brocchini was wrong, and so was Rick Distaso.

Mark Geragos went on to challenge other parts of the State's circumstantial case and promised to produce several witnesses who will swear Laci Peterson was alive beyond the time the DA swears she was dead. Geragos used an hour and forty-five minutes of his allotted two hours, much of it spent fending off Rick Distaso's constant cries from the other side of the court: "Objection! Objection!"

But the objections seemed a little absurd coming from Mr. Distaso who begins this highest of high-profile trials with whipped egg all over his face.


Statements from the Defense Opening

"The evidence is going to show clearly, beyond any doubt, that not only was Scott not guilty, but stone-cold innocent."

"He's not charged with having an affair."

"He is clearly a cad. If you want to say his behavior is boorish, we are not going to dispute that. But the fact is that this a murder case and there has to be evidence in a murder case."

"This baby was found with electrical tape on its ear, twine around its arm and neck -- and on top of it, it appears somebody cut off the umbilical cord. . . . If that happened, Laci was alive or the baby was born alive and kept alive."

"This baby was born alive. If this baby was born alive, then clearly Scott Peterson had nothing to do with this murder."

"Their theory would be that Scott didn't want to have a child. He didn't want to have a relationship -- Was he therefore going to chuck entirely the life he had built up with Laci ... for this woman he had two dates with?"

"Investigator Jacobson told the judge that he thinks Amber Frey has involvement in this case. It was based on everything that he knew about what happened. There's no way that one person could have done this to Laci Peterson. No way. He had declared that under penalty of perjury."

"They absolutely told or put out information that was patently false because that was part of the way they were going to elicit a confession. They needed a confession because they had nothing."

"The searches produced probably 100 bags of evidence ... Do you want to know what they got out of all those tests? Zip, nothing, nada -- not a thing."

Time Will Tell


Tuesday - June 1, 2004

Standing behind a mountain of incriminating evidence against Scott Peterson, assistant district attorney, Rick Distaso, apparently couldn't see the clock on the wall of courtroom 2M. Expected to give a 2-hour opening statement, Distaso lost all track of time and barely got through his presentation by the end of the day.

During a perfectly prepared slideshow, the prosecutor ploddingly, painstakingly placed each of his power points before the jury of six men and six women.

So much evidence -- so little time.

Distaso's diatribe began with the damaging things Peterson said to family, friends, police and reporters. The litany of lies took more than two hours to list. After enumerating the defendant's fibs about fishing, sex, Martha Stewart, the weather, and even his lies about lying, Mr. Distaso left no reasonable doubt about what he intended to prove to his jury -- Scott Peterson has said things that are extremely suspicious.

The second half of the People's opening was even more of the methodical, meticulous, mountain climbing of Mr. Distaso. In a chronicle of creepy behavior accompanied by an exhaustive array of aerial photographs, diagrams and tape recordings, the People's prosecutor detailed Peterson's every mysterious move and adulterous maneuver.

By the time Rick Distaso finally finished his sermon on the mount amassed against Modesto's infamous fertilizer salesman, jurors had to have gotten the message. Over and over again the point was driven home: Scott Peterson is guilty of doing things that are extremely suspicious.

Most suspicious of all however, is that although Mr. Distaso went on so long that the defense's opening statement had to be postponed, the DA spent no time talking about proof which will show the cause or manner of the victim's homicide. Despite his 5-hour long lecture, the prosecutor mentioned nothing about evidence which would firmly establish the time of Laci Peterson's death.

Will the defendant's suspicious words and actions be enough evidence for Rick Distaso to gain a conviction in a death-penalty, double murder trial?

Only time will tell.

Prosecutors anticipate it'll take at least two months and 150 witnesses to present their slam-dunk case.

"This is a common-sense case. I'm going to ask you to find him guilty of murdering his wife Laci and his unborn son, Conner Peterson. Thank you."
-- final sentence of Rick Distaso's closing

Former San Francisco prosecutor
turned Fox News Talking Head,
Jim Hammer:

"This is everything. You can't overemphasize it. If you screw up, make just one mistake, you can lose your whole case."

Rick Distaso

Perfect Prosecutor

May 27

DA Brazelton's office had been leaking a steady stream of damaging Peterson case teasers for months, so when they refused to show any of their slam dunk evidence at the pre-trial hearing -- I knew the hell would be followed by high water.

Inexplicably, prosecutors were hiding the People's evidence. There was no gag order on Rick Distaso or Dave Harris during what they promised would be an "eye-opening" prelim, so why were they holding back? More importantly, WHAT were they holding back?

Far from compelling, the DA's refusal to show any substantial proof made their case look like a thin assortment of circumstantial gains ill-gotten during a hi-tech rush to judgment. They may have legally presented enough evidence to go forward with a trial, but for pragmatic analysts and court-watchers, the Stanislaus lawyers miserably failed to justify moving on with a double-murder, death penalty trial.

Even those who continued to have faith in the People's case had to concede -- it was a blind faith in cagey lawyers that were purposely hiding evidence.

So-called "Double Jeopardy" rules prevent the State from trying a person twice and taking a "second bite at the apple." Prosecutors get one shot. There's absolutely no room for error.

Many, many people, spurred on by presumptuous press reports and their own prejudice, crawled out on the limb behind Distaso and Harris in order to get a conviction against Peterson who they insisted was not a man but a "monster." Polls routinely showed that an overwhelming majority of people -- in California and around the nation -- assumed Scott Peterson to be GUILTY AS HELL of killing his wife and unborn child.

On the eve of trial, some of that evidence the People were hiding was uncovered in the long ago discounted testimony of the defendant's neighbor, Diane Jackson.

Upon hearing Jackson's eyewitness account of Laci Peterson's abduction, Modesto police became so desperate that they took her to see a hypnotist. Nothing that happened during Jackson's session with the MPD's mind-reader changed her story, but police well knew the unorthodox interrogation meant her testimony would likely not be allowed into a criminal trial.

They were right. Sorta.

In what has become an unfortunate theme for Peterson West, Mr. Distaso has deftly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As it turns out, the prosecution team -- who at one point lost the battle to include testimony from hypnotized witnesses -- in this instance, will now get just what they asked for.

Diane Jackson, a credible person who's very familiar with what the victim looked like and a woman with no reason to lie, will testify after all. She'll take the stand and swear under oath that Rick Distaso and David Harris got it wrong. She'll tell jurors she was there -- that she saw what happened on that hellish Christmas Eve morning, and that she immediately notified authorities.

Diane Jackson will tell everybody what Stanislaus law enforcement went to great lengths to alter and conceal: the truth that Scott Peterson was not one of the three men witnessed hustling Laci Peterson into a van.

stealth juror consultant

Repeatedly warning anyone who'd listen that he'd eventually find it, Mark Geragos searched high and low and finally, on the last day at the last minute, Mr. Magic made good on his promise to produce a Stealth Juror.

Far from wanting her thrown out, the star defense attorney insisted the ringer be seated on the jury.

Trial trackers everywhere are mystified that DA Distaso refused to strike Juror #8, who was determined to have once been married to a convicted killer. Her husband was subsequently murdered while incarcerated.

Clearly, the young woman has the kind of background that would alarm a prosecutor and lead to her immediate dismissal from the jury pool. Her personal association and relationship with the criminal justice system is certain to cloud her perceptions of the trial, and during deliberations, likely to hang or possibly even sway a jury to acquit.

In truth, such a scenario will probably never occur. Of the eleven other San Mateo citizens chosen, none seem to be prosecution types and many are classic defense-oriented jurors, including two who've had run-ins with police and one man who admitted he went to his priest for guidance about the death penalty.

The only possible explanation for Mr. Distaso's bizarre juror choices, is that the district attorney's office relied on jury consultants and demographic mumbo-jumbo instead of common sense. If so, it's a blunder that cries out for some sort of special misconduct charge.

common sense

But perhaps Petrson's prosecutors know something no one else does. They might have something up their sleeve, considering that the DA's office loves secrets more than the defendant. Nothing about the clandestine conduct of either makes much common sense.

Whichever way it ends, as the normally superior wit, Judge Delucchi awkwardly quipped, "come hell or high water," the search for truth about what happened to Laci Peterson will begin on Tuesday at 12 noon. In a rare off moment, Delucchi nonetheless articulated something about the Peterson case in its rawest form.

The hell and high water that swept the nation so many months ago, now returns to Redwood City. Rick Distaso has only Memorial Day weekend to prepare the crucial opening statements that make or break a circumstantial case. His likely theme?

Common sense.

Peterson West Jury Consultants:

Ellan Dimitrius for the defense and
Howard Varinsky for the prosecution.

The Scott Peterson Investigation

link to more comments





comments - 2

comments - 3

comments - 4

comments - 5

comments - 6

   Main Menu!
    Vance / court

  And Poetic Justice For All  

Thank You for supporting this site. . .

V a n c e H o l m e s . c o m