Prosecutors try to clear Peterson trial confusion
Video footage, detective's testimony help piece together a presentation that has puzzled jurors

 

By BRIAN SKOLOFF
The Associated Press

REDWOOD CITY As they prepare to wrap up their murder case against Scott Peterson in the death of his pregnant wife Laci, even prosecutors have acknowledged their case has at times left jurors scratching their heads.

More than 160 witnesses have been called in four months of testimony to discuss everything from tide tables to the chemical composition of cement.

What they haven't come up with is a murder weapon, a bloody crime scene, or even a cause of death.

Lead prosecutor Rick Distaso acknowledged confusion in the case when he sought to bring in an out-of-order witness, interrupting DNA testimony.

"Don't you think that will confuse the jury?" Judge Alfred A. Delucchi asked.

"Your honor, they're already confused," Distaso replied.

But legal experts said prosecutors' luck appeared to change when a Modesto detective took the stand recently, providing the first detailed narrative that stitched together the many circumstances that cast suspicion on Peterson.

Then came aerial video footage detailing exactly how close the bodies were found to where Peterson says he was fishing on Dec. 24, 2002, around the time Laci disappeared.

The footage was "haunting and effective," said former prosecutor and trial observer Jim Hammer. "It feels like murder is in the house now."

The prosecution expects to present its final witnesses this week to try to prove that Peterson killed his wife in their Modesto home, then dumped her weighted body into San Francisco Bay.

Her remains - and that of the fetus - washed up in April 2003, not far from the Berkeley Marina where Peterson launched his boat for what he has said was a solo fishing trip.

Jurors have heard Peterson lie repeatedly in wiretapped phone calls with his mistress, Amber Frey, and in television interviews when asked about the affair.

He also lied to friends and family, telling some he was in Southern California when he was actually driving around the San Francisco Bay area where authorities were searching for the bodies.

But until Detective Craig Grogan hit the stand, some experts questioned whether prosecutors had proved only that Peterson was a cheating husband who mooned after his mistress while pretending to mourn for his pregnant wife.

Grogan, the lead investigator, spent more than a week on the witness stand, explaining why police were so sure Peterson killed his wife. Some of the details:

Police dogs picked up Laci's scent at the marina.

Peterson's own alibi put him exactly where the bodies were found.

Fishing tackle found on his boat was meant for freshwater angling, not the saltwater sturgeon Peterson told authorities he was seeking.

Peterson initially told some witnesses on the night Laci vanished he had been golfing all morning, leading police to believe he had not settled on an alibi.

Peterson had recently researched deep water currents in the bay.

Also important was expert testimony that Laci's fetus died around the same time she vanished.

The defense had claimed that the baby was born at full term after Laci was abducted, which would mean it died at a time when Scott Peterson was being watched by police.

Experts said the testimony about the time of death was crucial to countering the defense theory.

"It was the single fact they absolutely had to prove to stay in the game," trial watcher and former prosecutor Dean Johnson said.


http://www.ocregister.com/ocr/2004/10/03/sections/region_state/region_state/article_262535.php