Scott Peterson's life offers few clues to murder case

Posted on Mon, Apr. 28, 2003


If you really know the man in the red jumpsuit, the one in jail on double murder charges while his in-laws brace for a double funeral, the allegations just don't make sense, say Scott Peterson's parents.

Forget the bad dye job and the $10,000 he reportedly carried when police arrested him April 18 on suspicion of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Ignore his affair with a Fresno woman and Laci's $250,000 life insurance policy.

Disregard his elusive behavior during the search for Laci, or what Attorney General Bill Lockyer described as "smart-aleck" taunting of police. Never mind that the remains of his wife and child washed up on the rocky Richmond shoreline, near where he said he went fishing on Christmas Eve, the day he reported Laci missing.

"If you knew Scott, as far as him being implicated, it's just a non-issue," his father has said.

Only his parents know him quite like that.

Since the corpses turned up, friends who had earlier described a picture-perfect couple -- "like teenagers in love," said one -- have hushed. Some of them cite respect for the judicial process. It would be inappropriate, said family friend Rene Tomlinson, to speak now.

For others, the discovery of Laci's decomposed torso and her fetus must raise muted doubts. How well do they really know the 30-year-old fertilizer salesman with the broad brow and confident air? What's behind that easy smile?

By all appearances, Scott Peterson has lived a life of sport, sunshine and entrepreneurial spirit, free of hardship.

He was born in San Diego, the last of Lee and Jackie Peterson's seven children, and one of five sons. Scott would tail his father on hunting and fishing trips. Later, he took to golf, goaded by his parents with promises that he could drive the cart, his mother has said.

At University of San Diego High School, a Catholic prep school, Scott would play alongside the team's star player, Phil Mickelson, now a highly ranked touring professional. Later, Scott would step in as the team's captain and best player, twice earning the team's most valuable player honor.

"He was a tremendous kid and a tremendous golfer," his former coach, Dave Thoennes, told the San Diego Union Tribune. "He was both popular and a leader."

Teammates from his high school golf team describe Scott differently. His leadership began and ended on the links, teammate Brian Tasto told the Times.

"He was very proud of his golf accomplishments. Almost too proud. He was pompous in a geeky, golf kind of way," said Tasto, now a San Diego dentist.

"He did shoot a good round when we needed it. That's maybe what made him arrogant and pompous," said Tasto. "Maybe he still has that attitude that makes him do that stuff you see, this attitude of 'You can't catch me.' It's the way the guy used to act all the time."

At a high school with 1,200 students on campus, where religious instruction and intensive hours of community service were part of the curriculum, Scott cut a quiet presence, former students said. He could be spotted around campus in a polo shirt and his varsity letter jacket. Before he left high school, Peterson was driving a Peugot sedan, a reward from his parents for shooting par.

Former classmates say he was neither a school leader, nor a loner.

"Scott was a classic high school kid who had a lot going for him," said Tasto. "The biggest thing about this (case) is just shock. He was a nice guy, a normal person."

What Scott had going for him, most of all, were active, loving parents, say former teammates. Lee and Jackie would help out with sports banquets and other school events. They would pay for the team to play on the golf course where they were members.

Cort Peters, a teammate whose school locker was next to Peterson's, described Scott as "a pretty quiet guy" who was "more focused on golf and girls than he was on his studies."

On the course, he was cool and confident, said Peters.

"Especially in high school, a lot of guys would lose it on the golf course. I always thought Scott was really even-tempered." said Peters. "I really think he wanted to make a career out of his golf. When he went off to college, I think that was one of his main goals."

Peterson won a partial golf scholarship at Arizona State University, but something went wrong. He returned home after six months for reasons unknown even to his parents, his mother has said. He enrolled at Cuesta College on the California coast. Then, at age 20, he moved out of his parents' Morro Bay home and went to work while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Laci Rocha also attended Cal Poly, studying horticulture. The couple met at the Pacific Cafe, a Morro Bay restaurant where Scott waited tables.

"The moment he was with Laci, they just beamed at each other," Scott's mother told the Modesto Bee earlier this year. "No one else made my son smile like that. They did everything right."

Since her son's not guilty plea last week, Jackie Peterson has declined interview requests from the Times and other media outlets

Laci and Scott Peterson married in 1997 in a beach ceremony and opened a restaurant called The Shack, where sports played on the TV screens and patrons scooped peanuts from barrels.

"He was entrepreneurial," said Marlin Vix, an agribusiness professor, told the San Jose Mercury News. "He was a guy who wanted to be his own boss."

Two years later, the couple sold The Shack. They moved to Modesto, wanting to start a family and to be closer to Laci's parents, family members have said. It was 1999, and Scott took a job with Tradecorp, a Spain-based seller of fertilizers.

The couple bought a modest home in Modesto with a pool in the back on a quiet street near creekside parkland. Friends said Scott Peterson spent many hours working on the fixer-upper, most recently preparing it for their first child, a boy due Feb. 10 whom they already had named Conner.

Peterson continued to play golf and joined Modesto's Del Rio Country Club. Even before his arrest last week near Torrey Pines Golf Course in tony La Jolla, Del Rio members had bought out his $25,000 membership.

It is unclear how Peterson fared financially. A few months after her disappearance, Peterson sold Laci's car, and he reportedly inquired into selling the couple's home.

At his arraignment on double murder charges, Peterson told Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley that he could not afford a lawyer. He was assigned to the Stanislaus County public defender, who last week began carving out a defense.

In the meantime, Stanislaus County prosecutors ready a capital case, even as they decline to explain a motive. In a television interview last week, District Attorney James Brazelton said he believed the ultimate punishment was warranted.

Investigators also plan to return soon to the East Bay shoreline, a source said. They hope to locate more of Laci's remains, to harden their case against a man whose life has veered far from the high hopes he laid out as a senior in high school.

"In the future, great things and good deads (sic) await all of us," Scott Peterson wrote in his senior statement. "Watch for me."