When Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son in 2004, he had already garnered more attention from the public than most other high-profile cases in the past decade. The presiding judge on Peterson’s case said he had never seen that type of publicity in his “over 30 years in the community.” Peterson’s sister-in-law insists that the media frenzy and the public finding him guilty prior to his trial is what landed him on death row.
Janey Peterson, Peterson’s sister-in-law, offers several reasons why her brother-in-law is innocent of what he’s been convicted of. In 2004, Peterson, now 45, was sentenced to death and sent to California’s death row for the murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Although there was no physical evidence, prosecutors amassed a collection of circumstantial evidence that convinced a San Mateo County jury that Peterson indeed murdered his wife and son.
For instance, according to court documents, the following circumstantial evidence was strong enough to lead to Peterson’s conviction.
- Trained dogs picked up Laci’s scent at the Berkley Marina, where Peterson claimed he went fishing when Laci vanished; her remains were later found close to the same area.
- Peterson visited the crime scene repeatedly.
- The tarp Peterson used on his fishing trip was covered in gasoline in his shed; gasoline is known to destroy DNA.
- Another tarp was found buried in fertilizer, also known to destroy DNA, according to Dr. Henry Lee, who testified at Peterson’s trial.
- Peterson told detectives he stopped fishing because it began to rain, although there was no precipitation at the Berkeley Marina on the day in question, according to the harbor master.
- Peterson claimed Laci was watching a cooking segment on television when he left their home on December 24, but the show he referenced aired on December 23.
- Laci wore a diamond necklace, sapphire ring and band each and every time she left her home. On the day she disappeared, the jewelry was left in her bedroom.
- After Laci and Conner’s remains were found, authorities caught Peterson close to the Mexico border with his hair and beard dyed blonde, identification that didn’t belong to him, several credit cards, clothes, knives, four cell phones, a rope, camping supplies, and around $15,000 in cash.
The defense brought up many factors that suggest Peterson’s innocence. For instance, baby Conner’s remains were found on the Richmond shoreline on April 17, 2003. A medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the baby stated that the infant was just shy of 39 weeks gestation. Laci went to a doctor’s appointment a day before she vanished and medical records stated the baby was around 32 weeks gestation. The defense claimed that in order for Conner to live until close to 39 weeks gestation, he would have had to been born alive or Laci would have had to be alive past the week the prosecution said Peterson killed her.
“There were multiple witnesses that testified as to gestational age,” Janey Peterson told CrimeOnline. “The bottom line is you can’t pinpoint Dec 24th as the date of death to implicate Scott. The foremost expert on the topic, Dr Jeanty, submitted an affidavit for Scott’s habeas petition.”
Another piece of information the defense brought up during Peterson’s trial was a Croton watch that was pawned days after Laci disappeared. Laci received a Croton watch as part of an inheritance from her grandmother. Laci’s aunt, Robin Rocha, testified that when authorities showed her Laci’s jewelry in the home, the Croton watch was missing, along with a pair of diamond earrings. The pawned Croton watch looked identical to the watch Laci owned.
“There is no follow up by Modesto police in 2003 based on the case files handed over to defense,” Janey Peterson told CrimeOnline. “MPD did follow up in June of 2004 after Geragos [Peterson’s defense lawyer] entered the pawn slip as an exhibit. The pawn ticket was in the case discovery handed over by the prosecution.”
According to Court TV, a woman identified as Deanna Renfro pawned the watch. However, there was no way to conclude if the pawn watch was the same one that belonged to Laci.
Further, according to neighbors who lived close to the Peterson’s Modesto home, police ignored them when they reported sightings of a woman they thought to be Laci on the day she disappeared.
“I called and told them that I’d seen whom I thought was her and it would be pretty difficult to have an identical twin and identical dog,” neighbor Vivian Mitchell, 78, told KGO in 2003. “I did think that it was strange they didn’t call. I just thought they had some information that over-rode what I had seen and I just thought it was strange that nobody ever followed up.”
According to Mitchell, she spotted Laci walking her dog in the neighborhood at around 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. on December 24, the day she disappeared.
During Peterson’s trial, prosecutors called numerous women to the stand who were pregnant during the same time as Laci that took walks in and around the same areas Laci once did. According to the prosecution, the witnesses could have seen one of the other woman and mistaken them for Laci. Further, according to lead detective Craig Grogan, Peterson’s cellphone placed him still at home around the time that Mitchell said she spotted Laci.
Further, a tipster contacted police and said they saw Laci being shoved into a van around the time of her disappearance. Another tipster, Lt. Aponte, who worked at a California prison, contacted authorities and said he overheard an inmate on a phone call saying Laci confronted burglars robbing a home across from hers. Court records indicate that the home across from the Peterson home was indeed robbed on the day Laci vanished.
Numerous other people stated they saw a pregnant woman matching Laci’s description. All of the witnesses were in a three-mile radius from the Peterson home.
One of most damning pieces of information to come out against Peterson, despite the defense’s arguments, was his affair with single mom, Amber Frey. Although having an affair doesn’t automatically mean a husband will kill his wife, it’s the information that Peterson told Frey that made him appear culpable.
For instance, prior to Laci’s disappearance, Peterson told Frey that his wife died previously and the upcoming holidays would be the first without her. He also told Frey that he never wanted children and her daughter from a previous relationship would be enough for him.
The following conversations took place between Peterson and Frey shortly after Frey learned Laci was missing. Frey, in cooperation with detectives, began recording her conversations with Peterson.
FREY: Yeah, and I deserve to understand an explanation of why you told me you lost your wife and this was the first holidays you’d spend without her? That was December 9th you told me this, and now all of a sudden your wife’s missing? Are you kidding me? Did you hear me?
PETERSON: I did. I, I don’t know what to say to you. I …
FREY: I think an explanation would uh … be a start.
PETERSON: I know you deserve an explanation.
FREY: Yes, I do. I do.
PETERSON: And I want to give you one.
FREY: I’m listening.
PETERSON: I, I can’t now. I mean, you don’t understand.
Shortly after the recorded call with Frey, Peterson decided to do an interview with “Good Morning America”‘s Diane Sawyer inside his Modesto home. During the interview, Peterson was caught lying again when he said he told authorities about his affair with Frey on the day Laci vanished. Further, Peterson referred to his wife in the past tense, although at this point, Laci’s remains had not been found.
Peterson is currently appealing his death sentence and hoping for a new trial. In habeas corpus appeal, Peterson puts the blame on Geragos for failing to calling certain witnesses to the stand, and on a “prejudicial” juror, Richelle Nice, who didn’t disclose she was violently attacked while pregnant. The latest appeal marks his second after his first appeal was denied.
While it’s unknown if Peterson will indeed get a new trial or not, court documents filed by the state Attorney General in response to Peterson’s habeus corpus indicates that the state will fight tooth and nail to have his appeal denied. Janey Peterson, however, told CrimeOnline she’s “absolutely” certain he’ll be granted a new trial.
[Feature Photo: Laci Peterson/Handout]