Criminal Law Lawyer Washington DC
With the nation’s eyes on him, former fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, who was 7.5 months pregnant, and their unborn son, Conner, in 2004.
Laci first went missing on Dec. 24, 2002 and the story attracted national interest, likely due to the couple’s young-and-in-love appearance and Laci’s pregnancy. When first questioned, Peterson told authorities at the time that he had gone golfing that day, but then he said he had gone fishing in the Berkeley Marina, about 90 miles away from the couple’s home. Eventually, the police grew more suspicious due to inconsistencies in Peterson’s story.
At first supporting their son-in-law, Laci’s family publicly withdrew their support during a press conference on Jan. 24, 2003, after finding out that Peterson had had an affair with massage therapist Amber Frey and two weeks before Laci’s disappearance he’d told Frey he’d “lost” his wife.
On April 12 and 13, 2003, bodies presuming to be that of Laci and her unborn son Conner were found washed up along the San Francisco Bay. On April 18, 2003, the results of DNA tests verified that they were the bodies of Laci and Conner.
Peterson was arrested on April 18, 2003 near a La Jolla golf course, close to the Mexican border. On April 21, 2003, Peterson was arraigned before Judge Nancy Ashley in Stanislaus County Superior Court. He was charged with two felony counts of murder with premeditation and special circumstances: the first-degree murder of Laci, and the second-degree murder of Conner. He pleaded not guilty.
Prior to the arraignment, Peterson had been represented by Kirk McAllister, a veteran criminal defense attorney from Modesto. He was also assigned Chief Deputy Public Defender Kent Faulkner. However, Peterson stated he could afford a private attorney and enlisted high-profile criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos for his defense team.
Peterson’s trial began on June 1, 2004. The lead prosecutor was Rick Distaso. Prosecution witness Frey took on Gloria Allred to represent her.
During the trial, Peterson’s defense lawyers argued there was a lack of direct evidence and attempted to downplay the prosecution’s significant circumstantial evidence. The attorney’s also suggested that the fetal remains were of a full-term infant and suggested that someone, possibly a Satanic cult, had kidnapped Laci, held her hostage until she gave birth, then killed her and the baby and dumped both bodies in the bay. However, the prosecution’s medical experts testified that the baby was not full term and died at the same time as his mother.
In terms of evidence, the prosecution referred to a piece of Laci’s hair that was found in a pair of pliers on the boat. The prosecution also argued that Peterson’s purchase of two pornographic channels on his television just days after Laci went missing meant that the husband knew his wife would not be coming home.
As the trial went on, the prosecution also addressed Peterson’s affair with Frey and the contents of the phone calls that Frey had taped after Laci’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Geragos called Peterson a “cad” for cheating on Laci, but insisted he was not a murderer.
The defense also tried to argue that a prostitute who was accused of stealing checks from Peterson’s mailbox might have murdered Laci, however, Modesto police detective Mike Hermosa indicated that the woman was never a suspect in her disappearance. Prosecutor Dave Harris said that the checks were stolen after Laci vanished, which meant that woman couldn’t be involved in the disappearance.
The defense had expected Charles March to be a crucial witness for the defense, showing that Laci’s fetus died a week after prosecutors claimed. However, when March was cross-examined he admitted that he based his findings on a story that Laci’s friend had said she’d taken a home pregnancy test on June 9, 2002. Prosecutors pointed out to March that no medical records relied on the June 9 date. Subsequently, March got flustered on the stand and asked the prosecutor to cut him “some slack,” which marred his credibility.
The prosecution argued that Peterson’s motives for the murders were increasing financial trouble, his affair with Frey and a desire to be single.
On November 12, 2004, a jury convicted Peterson of two counts of murder: first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing Laci, and second-degree murder for killing the fetus she was carrying.
On Dec. 13, 2004, the jury rendered a sentence of death and on March 16, 2004, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi followed the jury verdict and sentenced Peterson to death by lethal injection. He called the murder “cruel, uncaring, heartless, and callous” and also ordered Peterson to pay $10,000 toward the cost of Laci’s funeral.
In press appearances after the trial, the members of the jury explained that Peterson’s lack of emotion during the trial and the phone calls to Frey in the days following Laci’s disappearance were big indicators of his guilt.
On Oct. 21, 2005 a judge ruled that the proceeds from a $250,000 life insurance policy Peterson took out on Laci should go to Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha.
Laci and Conner’s death led to the passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which is also known as Laci and Conner’s Law, which provides under federal law that any person who causes death or injury to an unborn child while in the commission of a crime upon a pregnant woman will be charged with a separate offense.
Peterson is currently on death row in California’s San Quentin State Prison.