Presumed Guilty  

 Murder, Media and Mistakes in Modesto 

Comments - 6


Laci Peterson  

the perfect wife

a missed entrance

February 16, 2004

Anxious viewers who tuned into The Perfect Husband this week-end, searched desperately, but to no avail. Although the movie was subtitled The Laci Peterson Story -- Laci Peterson's character was no where to be found. Whether a brilliant metaphor or a horrible omission, Laci Peterson's total absence from the film was nonetheless, an instructive insight.

A Bunch of Lies

Media critics of USA Network's Modesto murder movie are angry as bees about the premature, made-for-TV teleplay. Indignant news organizations from coast to coast roundly denounced The Perfect Husband as a (gasp!) tasteless attempt to profit from people's misfortunes.

One offended reporter commented that USA had the distinction merely of being the first to chase the ambulance, and a FOX TV correspondent lamented the mixing of news with entertainment.

But the most stinging criticism came from Modesto's Bee.

"In a story so thoroughly, exhaustively, unendingly covered by every news outlet in America, Hollywood is left with little to exploit," complains Marijke Rowland. "The movie relies heavily on TV reports and press conferences," the writer grumbles.

"Seems truth beat fiction to the punch."

Rowland's article finally asks "Why rehash what we already know?" and then rehashes several of The Perfect Husband's imperfections under the heading:


Here are just a few examples:

Policemen discuss smelling bleach in the Peterson home Christmas Eve. Later, during questioning, Peterson says he had mopped the floor after returning from his fishing trip. Officers testified that they did not smell bleach or other cleansers at the house. Peterson told them that his wife mopped the floor Christmas Eve, a detective testified.
Frey realizes her boyfriend is at the center of a media maelstrom as she watches a telecast of a New Year's Eve vigil for Peterson's missing wife. She later calls police and offers to cooperate. Phone records and police testimony show that Frey first contacted police Dec. 30.
During questioning, Peterson says he fished for sturgeon Christmas Eve. Asked what bait he used, he says, "I don't know." Police testified that on Christmas Eve, Peterson "didn't know" what kind of fish he hoped to catch that day.

Interestingly, although the Modesto Bee now complains about incorrect facts in a fictional movie -- Marijke Rowland seems unaware of the fictions passed off as fact on the pages of the Modesto Bee.


MODESTO BEE -- December 31, 2002: "Laci Peterson, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, disappeared Christmas Eve." Only Scott says he saw Laci on Christmas Eve, and Laci Peterson had a mid-February due date.
MODESTO BEE -- January 17, 2003: "Peterson took out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife last summer, after she got pregnant." Scott and Laci Peterson both had $250,000 life insurance policies, both taken out two years before the disappearance.
MODESTO BEE -- April 19, 2003: "While others wept, fearing the worst, Scott remained cool and in control."

"Peterson sold his wife's Land Rover and used the money to buy himself a pickup."

Whether Peterson was cool and controlled is debatable. As to the Land Rover -- Peterson owned it and the title was in his name.

Despite some minor factual errors that set the media hypocritics abuzz, The Perfect Husband told Modesto's strange story with surprisingly little slant one way or the other, and the movie resisted the melodramatics found in many stories that have been created in news rooms.

Throughout the gritty, heart-breaking scenes of dawning realization and darkening fear -- one major player in the Peterson tragedy emerges as consistently contemptible: the media.

the perfect wife

Friday the 13th,
February 2004

Unlike prosecutors at the U-S-A Network, Rick Distaso and David Harris are waiting for spring "sweeps" to unveil their theory of how Scott Peterson murdered his family. Repeatedly asserting on television that they've got it all figured out, the D.A.'s office has demurely declined to actually state their case against the defendant.

Apparently they've decided their circumstantial evidence is so juicy it's best to wait and surprise everyone at the trial -- where it'll be more dramatic. Stage magician and defense attorney, David Rudolf, sat on the same time-bomb in Peterson East. Rudolf's trick back-fired and cast a poor reflection on his side, causing a juror to remark it was, "just smoke and mirrors."

The deafening silence from the Stanislaus DA's office has created a vacuum for America's abhorrence of Scott Peterson. (A Redwood City billboard with a photo of the defendant reads:
Man or Monster?)

Chief among the theories as to how and why Peterson killed his wife is the classic "confrontational argument that escalates to rage." Very popular in television movies and soap operas, this scenario has the victim collaring Dr. Jekyll and unleashing Mr. Hyde.

The Modesto Bee and other theoretically reliable news organizations joined The Starr in reporting detailed rumors about Laci Peterson's miserable marriage. Weeks after she went missing, "unidentified sources" sold stories to the tabloids claiming the distressed, young, pregnant wife found out about Scott Peterson's affair with an "unidentified woman."

Soon, major newspapers reported that the tabloids were reporting about a deadly argument in which Laci Peterson threatened to expose her husband's lies, and how, feeling cornered and angry about the risk to his social status, O.J. Simps… er… Scott Peterson flew into an evil rage.

These news items were almost always accompanied with gossip about large insurance policies, mounting debt, illegal drugs and body parts stuffed into a 50-gallon steel drum. The dire rumors died when no such evidence was found, but the late-night confrontation scenario had a life of its own.

Two months after the rumors started that Laci Peterson provoked her own murder, a series of news leaks about Peterson's house confirmed the suspicions. The horrible stories of what was found at the crime scene included mops, pillow cases, pajamas, Crystal Meth and "date rape" drugs, vomit, blood and the curiously strong odor of bleach that Peterson used to clean away all the evidence.

The thousands of words of proof that Peterson's home was a crime scene proved false and were tossed in the trash like old newspapers, but the picture of a confrontation and killing was written in concrete.

Distaso and Harris may suggest that the bizarre defendant had murder on his mind for months, but that Laci Peterson herself is to blame. Lacking any other obvious motive, they might say to the jury what "a source close to the case" said to the National Enquirer on February 11, 2003:

"She told him the marriage was over, but it was going to cost him. He'd be paying both alimony and child support."

Like the witnesses from the neighborhood, the marina searchers, the detectives and the dogs who will all be proven wrong by the prosecutors, Laci Peterson's family will be called liars when they tell the jury that -- hopeful, happy, lovely and loving -- Laci Peterson was the perfect wife.

Laci Peterson

"We've got something you want, quite frankly."
-- Steve Alms, San Mateo County's real property manager

the right to  
                a greedy trial

After San Mateo County officials were called greedy pigs in every newspaper in the nation, they got second thoughts about cashing in on Modesto's murder.

Originally, members of the media were to be charged $51,000 each to reserve one of 16 spaces in front of the courthouse. Caught with their snouts in the trough, officials told lies about having to guard against the financial burden of a trial.

Neither San Mateo nor any other county mentioned a financial burden when they were ruthlessly campaigning to host the murder trial.

"I am not saying it is the same as us getting the Olympics or something, but some of these trials go on three or four months"
-- Daniel N. Fenton
, president of the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau

"Murder is usually a highly motivated thing."
-- defense attorney, Harland Braun

Amber Frey
the medium
is the massage

February 10, 2004

Although motive isn't something a prosecutor must legally prove in order to get a murder conviction, it becomes a practical necessity in a completely circumstantial case.

Rick Distaso knows what every juror knows -- only a tiny fraction of husbands kill their wives. He will not produce a single witness to swear that Scott and Laci Peterson had a violent or abusive relationship. On the contrary -- family and friends will testify that Laci Peterson was as happy the day she went missing as she was the day she met Scott in the summer of 1994.

From the very beginning, Laci Rocha's motives were clear.

"Mother, I have met the man I am going to marry." Laci said to Sharon Rocha on the phone, "You've just got to get down here and meet him." According to Rocha, when she asked if they'd even gone out yet Laci said, "Not yet, but we will."

That is evidence of the hopeful circumstances that resulted in five years of what by all accounts was a normal marriage.

David Harris, like every juror, knows that plenty of happily married husbands cheat on their wives. Most surveys have found that between one-fourth and one-half of all married men are unfaithful at some point.

A person with questionable sexual habits may be a scoundrel, but that doesn't infer violence or criminality. If so, the prosecution's star witness, Amber Frey, should never have been cleared as a suspect.

Amber Frey
pressed for time

From the start, Ms. Frey had definite motives. The single mom with a small child, having been introduced through a friend, had sex with Scott Peterson within hours of meeting him in a bar. True -- she didn't know he was married, but she didn't know much of anything about the stranger.

All moral judgments aside, her words will be evidence of the circumstances that began four weeks of blissfully ignorant intimacy between two strangers.

Peterson lied to his wife and to his girlfriend, who were both -- in some sense -- lying to themselves. Like Bill Clinton's "bimbo eruptions," several women have now come forward to say they had sex with Mr. Peterson. He was telling plenty of lies to plenty of people, and he'd been doing it for years.

In a secretly recorded January 6, 2003 phone call, Amber Frey, at the behest of Modesto law enforcement, questions the defendant about obvious lies that were impossible to maintain.

FREY: Are you forgetting things you had discussed with Shawn? If you are not serious about a relationship, don't call Amber. She's been through too much already. Do you remember having this discussion with Shawn?

Frey then cross-examines him about some damaging proof of premeditation.

FREY: You told me you lost your wife. You sat there in front of me and cried and broke down. I sat there and held your hand Scott, and comforted you and you were lying to me. Again, lying to me about lying.

Generally speaking, lies are instructive because they reveal hidden motivations. In this instance however, uncovering Peterson's deception doesn't point to the truth, but rather more evidence of deception. Again reminiscent of Bill Clinton and his meaning of what "is, is" -- Frey is stuck in a semantic hall of mirrors.

PETERSON: Um… You know that I -- I never said 'tragedy' or 'missing.'
FREY: Oh, yes, you said you lost your wife.
PETERSON: No. That -- that -- yes.
FREY: You said… obviously without me saying much -- but we were...
PETERSON: I said that I lost my wife.
FREY: Yes, you did.
PETERSON: I did. And yes --
FREY: How did you lose her then before she was lost? Explain that.
PETERSON: There's different kinds of loss.

Amber Frey is proven guilty by her own circumstantial case when she zeroes in on her family as an unlikely motive for Scott to kill his.

FREY: Yeah, is that why you said you didn't want to have any children and Ayianna was the only child you ever see, of having and ... and at that point assuming we're together she would be ... you would have her as your own? Why would you tell me that when you were expecting a baby?

Missing from the hours and hours of Frey's verbal massage are answers about a motive for murder.

Perhaps prosecutors are waiting until the trial gets underway to drop a taped bombshell, but under the "best evidence" rule, only a limited amount of the wiretaps will be introduced.

Not having a weapon or a witness leaves Distaso and Harris with a circumstantial case. At the end of her examination, prosecutor Amber Frey seems to understand that not having the circumstances leaves them at a total loss.

FREY: Why did you involve me in this? What role did I play?
PETERSON: I -- I haven't...
FREY: How long were you looking for me, Scott?
PETERSON: I'm sorry?
FREY: How long were you looking for me?
PETERSON: Looking for you?
FREY: Yes.
PETERSON: I don't understand.
FREY: Weren't you looking for me? Isn't that what you told Shawn? You were looking for me? Or someone like me? How is..?
PETERSON: I want to --
FREY: What… I -- I am just such at a loss right now.

Bill and Vivian Mitchell


February 5, 2004

As Scott Peterson's speedy trial races into another week of delay and deferral, a critical eye witnesses has passed away. Vivian Mitchell, 78, lived some nine blocks from the Petersons' home. She died from natural causes and took her testimony with her to the grave.

Normally when an important witness dies or is otherwise unable to testify, it's the prosecution's case that suffers. However, in the topsy-turvy world of Peterson East, the State actually benefits from the unfortunate circumstance.

The People will swear that Laci Peterson was murdered before sunrise on December 24. Had she lived, Vivian Mitchell would have told the jurors that Laci Peterson was very alive on Christmas Eve morning -- because she saw Laci at about 10:15 AM.

"I had seen Laci walk by the house several times before," Mrs. Mitchell told reporters, and said she distinctly recalled seeing the attractive woman and her golden retriever on December 24. Husband Bill Mitchell has said his wife casually mentioned, "There's the pregnant woman with the beautiful smile."

Prosecutors Distaso and Harris were gearing up to prove that Vivian Mitchell was just flat wrong. They would suggest to the jury that the elderly witness is confused about dates and times, or is perhaps just trying to grab some of the media spotlight. No such allegations will be necessary now, and that's good news for the D.A.'s office. Scott Peterson may be a treacherous fraud but Vivian Mitchell had no reason to lie.

Though they will not hear from Vivian Mitchell, Scott Peterson's panel of peers will likely hear about her. During the embarrassing prelim, Modesto's Detective Al Brocchini admitted he never tried to contact Mrs. Mitchell. Vivian Mitchell is one of several witnesses who promptly contacted police and were promptly ignored when their information, as Detective Philip Owen put it, "wasn't going in the right direction."

Now, no one will have the opportunity to hear Vivian Mitchell describe the direction she saw Laci Peterson go:

"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."

Meanwhile, the delay speeds on with lawyers from both sides scrambling to catch up while publicly claiming to be prepared. "The defense is ready . . . I'm available!" an extremely over-booked Mark Geragos declared. D.A. John Goold boasted that prosecutors "will be ready to go" if Judge Delucchi decides to commence with the opening phase of trial next week.

This search for truth has begun with a series of false starts.


Good Mourning America

"In the morning I've been taking the dog down to the park where she walked. It was our time. It's a way to experience her now, for me. A lot of times I can't make it very far."

"I had absolutely nothing to do with her disappearance. And you used the word murder. . . Yeah, I mean, that is a possibility. It's not one we're ready to accept and it creeps into my mind late at night, and early in the morning."

-- Peterson's silence-breaking, 1-27-03 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer



Weeks away from jury selection, Stanislaus County's grand "slam-dunk" has gone missing. When last seen, the shaky and wholly circumstantial boat, was tossing and twisting from law enforcement leaks and a flood of media. Now suddenly, it has disappeared into the darkness.


February 4, 2004

Remotely controlling the Modesto case from far away Redwood City, Judge Delucchi turned off the electronic media -- and those who love it.

Delucchi saw no need to broadcast the sights and sounds of Laci Peterson's murder trial. He banned all cameras and microphones from the courtroom and permanently cancelled America's favorite murder.

TV executives, cable network sponsors, entertainment/news reporters, and trial addicts coast-to-coast were mad enough to kill the judge.

Arguments coming from the disgruntled vultures were as transparent and false as the stream of leaks during the Peterson investigation. Predictably, some threatened that the blackout would deprive citizens of the facts and force the media to spin Scott Peterson's case out of control with fiction. Others of course suggested that without wall-to-wall coverage of the killing, taxpayers would have no way to make sure public officials were performing up to snuff.

The usual suspects made their usual sales pitch. C-T-V's Fred Graham left several messages for the judge.

the public's right to privacy

But a brand new justification for cameras in the courtroom was made before Delucchi, who too quickly dismissed it with a remark about privacy. One clever media advocate stood and proposed that PEOPLE vs. PETERSON was no different than the SUPER BOWL in that the entire country has been involved in the crime from the very beginning and now, has every right to see the finale.

"This isn't the Super Bowl" Delucchi scowled, but the
novel argument is well-substantiated.

When Peterson was arrested amid a mob of hundreds of screaming people, State Attorney General Bill Lockyer went on Larry King Live and announced his death penalty case was a
"slam-dunk." Lockyer's sporty analogy is proof of California Law Enforcement's on-going violation of the public's right to privacy.

Days after Laci Peterson went missing, Modesto detectives ran to the microphones to kick off their investigation. They put pictures before the cameras and begged for answers: "Did anyone see this man? Have you seen his truck or his boat? Do you know anything about this?"

In post 9/11 America, watching the news and responding to authorities is a civic duty, not an entertainment choice.

The coverage was inescapable.

Plenty of people knew plenty of things, and like a reality-TV show, some of those people became instant celebrities. Amber Frey and other star witnesses were born. Information they had -- true or not -- was worth a lot to Modesto and to media.

Camera-shy Scott Peterson, who had all along refused to speak with the press, assured himself of a huge audience when he finally relented and tearfully spoke to the nation through ABC's Diane Sawyer. He told Sawyer several things which police would later publicly refute and which are sure to be evidence at the criminal trial.

Judge Delucchi can take the case out of the media, but he can't take the media out of the case. He's only presiding in San Mateo because of the television tempest.

Secretly recorded phone interviews with reporters, leaked information to tabloids and hundreds of television reports assure that the media will be deeply implicated in the dark, un-televised trial of Scott Peterson.

"There but for the grace of God go I."
-- clergyman, George Whitefield (1714-1770), watching a condemned criminal being led to the execution chamber

it had to be Scott

Prosecutors readily admitted they had no direct evidence against Scott.

Their case went forward because they had plenty of convincing circumstantial evidence, including an initial police interview where he lied about an extra-marital affair with the victim.

And there was no rush to judgment. It took six long years to bring charges against the man investigators were convinced had brutally bludgeoned Vicky Cushman with a fire extinguisher in her kitchen in August of 1989.

There was no direct evidence that police officer, Scott Hornoff was the killer -- but who else would have wanted the bright, capable, happy young woman dead? There were no other suspects and Scott's alibi seemed strange. Rumors of damaging evidence swirled in the press, but a conviction was sought and won in a wholly circumstantial case -- based mostly on the defendant's initial lie about the sexual tryst.

Scott Hornoff was sentenced to life in prison.

Then, in November 2002, over a decade after Vicky Cushman was tortured and beaten to death, a remorseful Todd Barry confessed to the slaying. "Over 13 years ago, I did a horrible thing. I killed another human being. I've lived in torment since." Barry supplied investigators with answers to evidence that was never analyzed and questions that were never asked.

Six and a half years later, the same judge who had convicted Hornoff of murder was forced to dismiss all charges against him. Naturally, a few others still have their doubts about Scott.

    It Had to Be You
(Apologies to Gus Kahn)

It had to be you
It had to be you
Police fished around
And finally found
the somebody who

Could look like the crook
Let them off the hook
So they could save face
In a high-profile case
And finally be through

Some suspects they'd seen
Whose records weren't clean
Were up to no good
And prowling the hood
But they wouldn't do

Since nobody else
Quite fit the bill
Police centered on
Your little blue pill

It had to be you
Adulterous you
It had to be you


hiding behind the truth

January 31, 2004

I've recently received several emails notifying me that someone calling themselves "the Poet" is copying my words and pasting them onto another website (which shall remain nameless). Despite the fact that I'd rather eat dirt than supply content to the censor-happy control freaks and cyber-sociopaths at that message board, I could not actually care less about the plagiarism.

I write all day and all night -- songs, poems, stories, plays -- and most of what I write is (thankfully) never read. So, I'm grateful for the sincere flattery of the word-burglar.

I am distressed however, that something I said would be twisted and used as a weapon against the memory of Laci Peterson. I am not a fan of defendant Scott Peterson. I do not support him or in any way find his behavior acceptable.

That being said, it must be pointed out that disdain and scorn are of little use before a jury of the defendant's peers.

Laci Peterson is gone. As painful as that is to those left to struggle on -- the pain is over for her. Whatever scorn, suspicion or hatred there is -- won't foster justice for Laci Peterson here on earth.

beyond suspicion

There were very obvious things that -- for whatever reasons -- Laci Peterson did not put together. From what can be gathered from reports and rumors, there was much about her husband that she did not know. If she suspected something was wrong -- she didn't say a word, because no one else knew a thing. No one knew the truth.

It's time we knew the truth.

Modesto authorities quickly turned to lies and deception to solve this crime and they've been tailing their own chase ever since.

First it was posted photos and public calls for anyone who had seen Scott Peterson or his truck. Plenty of people saw him -- and they verified his story. Then it was damaging evidence about an insurance policy that went bust. Next it was rumors of vomit, bleach smells and buckets that all proved empty.

The media-driven Modesto detectives created a pretty solid circumstantial case against themselves.

By the time they staged the press conference to introduce Amber into the fray, it all seemed -- well, staged. Investigators were fishing. They didn't know the truth -- and so they invented lies. The scrunched up rug, the red paint from the buoys and the Kristin Smart connection, all turned out to be little more than fertilizer for the imaginations of National Enquirer readers. In truth -- they had nothing and did not know.

They still don't.

secret hidden evidence

There's a dear price to be paid for not knowing. It's easy enough to cut and paste, but to prove something on your feet before a jury -- you have to really know. In O.J. it was the chauffeur, in Greineder it was the zip-lock baggies, in Westerfield it was the bloody jacket.

You know -- and there can be no doubt it's the truth. There is no hiding it, or hiding from it.

As to waiting for PUBLIC officials, who represent THE PEOPLE, to suddenly reveal shocking evidence of double murder once the trial actually begins -- I say that's hiding and covering up and concealing the truth.

If you can call a press conference to announce that a man was cheating on his wife, then you can stand up at a preliminary hearing and calmly produce the basic proof of guilt in a death penalty, double murder trial.

No more secrets. If convincing evidence exists -- force a plea. Spare the family, friends and community the heartache and expense of a trial. This is a search for the truth, not a magic show.

Free all information. (Of course a nod to the original source is always appreciated.)

Trial Set to Begin

"Rick" Distaso
Friday, February 13

televised trial scheduled

January 29, 2004

Finally -- after a year of horror, the search for the truth in the agonizing Peterson case will come to an end -- appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th. In two weeks, jurors in Redwood City will sit and hear the double-murder case against Scott Peterson.

Neither James Brazelton, Joseph Distaso nor David Harris will be in attendance. Instead, sitting at the Government's table will be prosecutors from the U-S-A Network, along with movie director Roger Young and screen-writer Dave Erickson.

Young and Erickson, having failed to arrest, charge or indict Scott Peterson for the murder of his family, were unable to force him into court. In his stead will be Dean Cain, made-up and costumed to look exactly like Peterson.

Since no lawyer has been assigned to represent the defendant, in the place of cross-examination or rebuttals will be commercials for "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter."

It isn't known whether Judge Delucchi, Judge Arnason or even Judge Girolami will watch the proceedings, but no matter -- their input would have no bearing. The outcome of
USA vs PETERSON has already been decided.

"THE PERFECT HUSBAND -- the true story
of one of the most baffling and sensational
investigations in recent history"

I've already seen this one


Art Implicating Life


"We were considering doing a last-minute booking change. Our number one goal was to make sure he was booked safely, and that included that he didn't get lynched when he came in the driveway. There were people out there screaming, 'Murderer.'"
-- Kelly Huston
, Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, On the April 18, 2003 arrest of Dean Cain look-alike, Scott Peterson

The movie was so good 
I just hope the trial isn't a let down

"They love Delucchi. He lets you try your case, he's not intrusive..."
-- James Anderson, Alameda D.A.'s office
Judge Alfred A. Delucchi "...above all, a great judge with a great sense of humor."
-- Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara

"He has an innate sense of fairness and a wonderful temperament."
-- Defense Atty., Alfons Wagner

It's Delucchi

(From Cole Porter)

The case is strong, the proof is clear,
the prosecutors should have no fear --
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's Delucchi.

The whole affair, was grim but then
they gave the hook to old Arnason --
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's Delucchi.

You can tell by his smile
what a swell judge Al is for this trial.
You can hear the D.A. say,
take care what you wish --
"Chicken Ain't Fish!"

They've had their chance, to pick and choose
So no complaining now, win or loose --
It's delightful, it's delicious,
it's delectable, it's delirious,
it's dilemma, it's de limit, it's deluxe,
it's Delucchi.


January 28, 2004

Fishing for a judge in their death penalty case, Modesto prosecutors last week threw one back, using a one-time challenge. Well, be careful what you fish for. Wrapped in newspapers Tuesday evening was word that 82-year-old retired Judge Arnason would be replaced by 73-year-old retired Judge Alfred A. Delucchi.

A recent barrage of slippery legal maneuvers from the D.A.'s office means there's plenty of doubt about whether this newest old judge is a keeper.

let's make a deal

"The prosecution was so intent on moving forward with a death penalty case that an offer was made to Mr. Peterson through his lawyer in January in which the prosecution indicated it would not seek the death penalty if Mr. Peterson would provide the location of Laci Peterson's body."

-- from documents filed by
Geragos and McAllister

"If this is true, I've never heard of case where prosecutors offered a plea deal to a suspect before he's even been arrested or charged. Usually. . . it suggests an investigation is pretty well complete. And then it's unusual that he would be allowed to walk free for three months."

-- Assistant San Francisco D.A.
James Hammer

what you don't know, CAN hurt you

January 28, 2004

Searchers did their best, but they could not find Laci Peterson in the Bay. In reality, despite rumors of tarps and other incriminating finds -- nothing turned up.

The fact that hundreds searched tirelessly and braved the elements is all to their credit. What prosecutor dares to put those men and women on the stand to prove that their best just wasn't good enough?

Will it be Mr. Distaso or Mr. Harris to come before the jury and suggest that beyond any real doubt on December 24, 2002, Scott Peterson out-smarted everyone and had enough beginner's luck that he was able to dispose of and secure his wife's corpse in the bay, such that searchers never did find it?

A woman walking her dog along the beach actually located Laci Peterson's body lodged in some rocks a day after someone else had spotted a baby boy about a mile away. The baby's body was found 15 feet from the waterline in a grassy patch.

Exactly how, when or why the remains surfaced was not known in April and remains a mystery to this day. The People's lawyers are guessing, and to do so before a jury -- they will have to discredit their own witnesses.

After discounting the searchers, prosecutors will have to begin calling neighborhood witnesses and doubting their testimony. Next, police and investigators, who uncovered no evidence against the defendant, will be questioned about what they failed to find, all to prove to a jury that Peterson must be guilty -- since everyone kept coming up empty.

"If not you -- who?" isn't good enough in a death penalty trial -- or even the court of public opinion.

The Shell Game

A prosecutor's deductive reasoning has no weight on the scales of justice because defense lawyers are left to confirm for the jury that searchers did an extraordinarily thorough job, that testimony from neighbors, friends and family is to be trusted, and that the police waited to arrest Scott Peterson because they had no weapon, no witnesses and no motive.

Confirmed suspicions of a strong hunch don't remove reasonable doubt.

I'm reminded of Saddam's WMD. The argument was -- we know he has them because he keeps hiding them from us. It's the old shell game of course. Criminals do it but so do police. If any WMD are now found in Iraq, everyone will say the weapons were planted. The conclusion would be: ANYONE COULD HAVE PLANTED THEM FOR ANY REASON.

I'm also reminded of Michael Peterson's last novel, "A Tale of Two BlowPokes." It's simple to establish that something which was desperately looked for in a place, must not have been in that place -- or was suspiciously well hidden. But if the item later surfaces in that same place, a third possibility emerges -- ANYONE COULD HAVE PLANTED IT FOR ANY REASON.

Scott Peterson's guilt is not at issue -- the prosecution's case is. No amount of hatred for the accused can compensate for the State's burden of overwhelming proof.

Laci Peterson
Justice Delayed

"Of course, if the defendant hadn't made his motion,
he could have his trial Monday in Stanislaus County."

-- Prosecutor Rick Distaso, January 23, 2004

full court press

(CBS News items)

tip off

January 3, 2003 -- California police have asked the public to help verify the whereabouts of the husband of a pregnant woman who has been missing for more than a week.

Police on Thursday released pictures of a pickup truck, boat and boat trailer they impounded from Laci Peterson's husband and asked the public to tell them if they saw Scott Peterson before Christmas.


April 22, 2003 -- Brazelton contends the publicity surrounding the case would not taint the jury pool. "I feel that we can select a fair and impartial jury in this county. You'd be surprised how many people don't read the paper, don't watch television news," he said.


April 23, 2003 -- The district attorney has refused to discuss the evidence, but noted it was "quite voluminous" and was both direct and circumstantial.

"We will argue for no bail," Brazelton said.

time out

January 23, 2004 -- Prosecutors asked for a two week delay to move their staff and materials to San Mateo County. But, the deadline for the trial to begin under speedy trial laws is Monday.

beyond a reasonable delay

January 27, 2004

The right to a speedy trial isn't a legal nicety that protects a defendant from being inconvenienced -- it's a fundamental principle of the American justice system.

In this instance, 60 days from the end of a preliminary hearing is the definition of "speedy," and 60 days is the law. Any day beyond that is a crime, and the injustice isn't done solely to the one who stands accused, but to the victim as well.

After all, the one provable fact is that the victim has suffered an egregious loss of rights. Laci Peterson was not afforded a continuance of any sort. She was tried, judged and sentenced on a horribly strict timetable. The murderer chose the moment and got away with it -- for a moment. Following that, every moment the murderer goes unpunished, he gets away with it again.

Justice delayed to Laci Peterson's killer is justice denied to Laci Peterson -- and to us all.

From the defendant's perspective, the right to a speedy trial means preparing a defense against the government's case in two months. That's why it's usually defense lawyers using stalling tactics -- not prosecutors.

Prosecutor, Rick Distaso
     D. D. A. Distaso

The headline out of Modesto reads: "TRIAL DELAYED." Well, it isn't exactly news that Rick Distaso and David Harris aren't ready to try this death penalty case -- it was evident from the eye-opening preliminary. And now 58 days later -- there is no presiding judge, since prosecutors used a peremptory challenge to deny Justice Richard Arnason, the judge appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George.

Arnason was to replace Judge Al Girolami who'd been with the case from the start.

Despite the possible wisdom behind the rare challenge, the rejection of Arnason is decidedly consuming time the State doesn't have -- and creating room for doubt.

A delighted defense attorney Geragos declared to a deflated Judge Girolami that he had already discovered three time-sensitive objections to the issue: the challenge was untimely since it came after the appointment ("Once a matter is sent out to a court, you no longer have the opportunity to challenge the judge."), the prosecution already used up its one peremptory challenge back in March, and Chief Justice George may not have the authority to assign a judge to a case that had already moved to San Mateo County.

Judge Girolami, confounded by the bizarre tactics from the D.A.'s office, was forced to move the right to a speedy trial into the slow lane. He delayed proceedings until February 2 (Day 63), and in what may be Girolami's final comment on the case, entered his own reasons for doubt into the official record: "I don't feel confident handling the issue."

San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department

On January 23, 2004

Scott Peterson was secretly moved to the Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City. "We never had an intent to tell anybody when exactly we would move him," said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. "We just didn’t want there to be the same kind of spectacle outside the jail as we saw during his booking."

bad facts and bad timing

January 25, 2004

A wife turns up dead, ninety miles from home, in the very spot her husband visited on the day she went missing. It's reasonable to have suspicions about the husband's alibi. But a fact that confirms a suspicion is not the same thing as a fact that proves the truth.

In prosecuting a crime, as in committing one -- timing is everything.

Laci Peterson's body was NOT found where Scott Peterson said he went fishing on Christmas Eve. On December 28, authorities began searching the water near Berkeley Marina for the first time. A massive effort ensued but no body was found. At some point a reasonable conclusion was reached -- the body was not there.

Murder cases have been brought and won without the victim's corpse -- and here, that may actually have been preferable. How Laci Peterson was found in April, is as suspicious as how she disappeared in December.

The fact that months later the remains of Laci Peterson and son Conner were located near the Berkeley Marina is certainly a bad fact for the defense, but it's not proof of murder. Finding the remains in a place where sonar and psychics had come up empty, reveals more questions than answers.

By what means was the body so well hidden? Why had the remains only traveled two miles in three months? Was the victim's body moved into the area at some point after the initial searches?

And why would Scott Peterson readily admit to being at the Marina? Any villain cunning enough to plan and execute such a crime is clever enough to know he cannot so easily manipulate the San Francisco Bay. How could a coward that would slaughter his pregnant wife also be so confident he has permanently hidden her corpse -- he would use the hiding place as his alibi?

Time destroyed the logical inference that Peterson was the only person who could've transported his wife to the San Francisco Bay.

Unless prosecutors Distaso and Harris plan to illicit testimony about how poorly the search was conducted, a reasonable juror must conclude that prosecutors have not located the truth of what happened to Laci Peterson -- or when it happened.

Laci Peterson and son Conner were finally
laid to rest together on August 29, 2003.

Judge Not
Judge Richard Arnason

Judge Richard Arnason,
82-year-old retired judge
from Contra Costa County

bench pressed

January 23, 2004

The day after Judge Arnason's quick replacement of Judge Girolami, Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso made some hasty decisions of his own.

Distaso ruled the 82-year-old retired Judge Arnason to be unfit to preside over the People's case. Arnason "is prejudiced against the interest of the party," the prosecutor's one-page document states, "so that I believe I cannot have a fair and impartial hearing."

Under state law, a new judge will be assigned. The defense and prosecution are allowed one such challenge each per criminal case.

Distaso refused to comment on his reasons for removing Arnason, but considering Arnason's well-known reputation as a strict, no-nonsense judge -- no comment was necessary.

It could take a week to find a new judge. Meanwhile, Scott Peterson has not waived his right to a speedy trial which, under State law, begins Monday.


media circus comes to town

January 21, 2004

The most massively publicized murder trial since the O.J. Simpson circus is scheduled to begin Monday -- not in Modesto but in upscale, Redwood City.

"I'm satisfied we can get a fair and impartial jury in San Mateo," Stanislaus County's Judge Al Girolami said after rejecting a prosecutor's motion to keep the trial in Modesto. Oddly enough, the prosecutor argued that there was so much publicity -- moving the case was pointless.

Girolami, who's been with the Peterson case from the start, moved it to San Mateo County and passed the trial to another judge.

Anne LeClair, president of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her office was "screaming with great excitement." Restaurants, hotels, car rental services and other businesses could see an influx of $8 million to $16 million as dozens of media members arrive, she said.

Scott Peterson will be transferred to the Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City and placed in solitary confinement. Sheriff Don Horsley said the defendant will be housed in a "segregated area" of the jail in a "7-by-10-foot cell," and will not have contact with any other inmates.

"Security for the inmate and the public, that's our primary focus," said Bronwyn Hogan, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department, adding, "I can't think of any other case except maybe the O.J . Simpson case that will rival this one in so far as media coverage and onlookers. It's going to be challenging."

Superior Court Judge Al Girolami
Superior Court Judge Al Girolami

rush to judgment

January 20, 2004

There is no "statute of limitations" on murder and a case can be brought at any time. However, prosecutors only get one trial -- one bite at the apple -- and once proceedings have begun, the clock starts running.

The defendant is guaranteed the right to a speedy trial and that trial must begin within 60 days of a preliminary hearing.

With great fanfare, Scott Peterson was arrested on April 18, amid word that he was trying to flee to Mexico. Continued law enforcement leaks about damning evidence against Peterson assured that a time-consuming change of venue would be called for. Over the months many of those rumors about bleach, blood, concrete and confessions proved false, but the case moved forward.

By the time the preliminary hearing finished, it became clear the State had no direct evidence. That was November 18.

Despite the fact that the change of venue hasn't been decided, or that Judge Girolami may possibly bow out, Scott Peterson has not waived his rights to a speedy trial. So ready or not, prosecutor's one bite at this apple is scheduled to begin bright and early, Monday morning -- January 26.

recipe for disaster

January 13, 2004

Scott Peterson told Detective Al Brocchini that on December 24, the morning his wife went missing, the couple ate cereal and watched some television. Asked for specifics, he said he recalled watching "Laci's favorite show," Martha Stewart. Asked for specifics about the show, Peterson said he remembered Martha Stewart making something with meringue.

Brocchini would later conclude that Peterson had cooked up the story because Martha's meringue recipe didn't air on December 24 but on December 23. . . ONE DAY BEFORE.

A hungry media devoured the minor memory lapse as though it were a smoking gun -- shocking proof that Peterson lied to police. The fact is, the manure merchant from Modesto routinely told meaningless lies to everyone he met.

Martha Stewart herself is steeped in some hot water and the evidence isn't nearly as fluffy as Peterson's mistaken meringue memories. Imclone investor Stewart sold her shares -- valued at nearly $240,000 -- shortly before the stock took a major dive. . . ONE DAY BEFORE.

The suspicious timing raised some heat, the subsequent lies to federal authorities about material facts -- cooked her goose. Stewart's headed for a reputation burning trial on charges of obstruction of justice.

The Scott Peterson Investigation





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