Scott Peterson was evasive and apologetic
By Kim Curtis
5:01 p.m. August 12, 2004
REDWOOD CITY – Scott Peterson was evasive and apologetic during several hours of recorded cell phone calls played for jurors Thursday in his double-murder trial as he tried to answer relentless questions from his mistress about his missing pregnant wife.
It was the third day of testimony for Amber Frey, the prosecution's star witness, but she didn't take the stand at all and only sat in the courtroom briefly as jurors listened to three calls from Jan. 6, 2003.
Frey, a Fresno massage therapist, repeatedly asked Peterson why he told her, in early December, that he'd lost his wife and was preparing to spend his first Christmas alone, if she didn't disappear until Christmas Eve.
Prosecutors allege that Peterson killed his wife, Laci, in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then drove to the San Francisco Bay and dumped her weighted body from a small boat he had purchased weeks earlier. The badly decomposed remains of Laci Peterson and the couple's fetus washed ashore in April 2003, not far from where Peterson said he launched a solo fishing trip the day she vanished.
On the tapes, Frey asked Peterson why, as early as Dec. 6, he told the friend who had set up the couple that he'd lost his wife.
"What loss and sense are you speaking of," Frey asked.
"There are many types of loss," Peterson replied.
"Uh-huh. And what kind of loss was that," Frey asked.
"Sweetie, I can't tell you," he answered.
Later, she catches him again when she asks why he called her when he said he was on his way to Maine with his parents – a trip that never happened.
"At those times I needed to hear your voice," Peterson said.
"Why," Frey asked.
"Positive energy, I guess."
"Positive energy? At that time that was the 22nd and you said she was missing when," Frey asked.
"The 24th," Peterson replied.
Frey's manner throughout the calls is sarcastic and accusatory. Peterson repeatedly apologizes and insists he will tell her everything when his wife is found.
In court, Peterson hunched over the defense table and followed the tapes by reading printed transcripts. At times, he looked bored, glancing off into space, even smiling at his own remarks on the tapes.
Thursday's calls were among hundreds recorded between the couple as authorities searched for Laci Peterson in late December 2002 and early January 2003. Authorities hope to show jurors that Peterson's motive for killing his wife and their unborn child was to be with Frey.
Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor and trial observer, said Peterson comes across as one of the "most manipulative sociopathic people I've ever seen," but warned that too much of the tapes could backfire because at least one juror can be seen rolling his eyes at the hours of recorded phone calls.
"They hate him more with every hour that passes," Hammer said. "That's powerful. You have to have a jury hate a man before they convict him. The danger with this stuff is ... a jury can go, 'I want a murder case.' ... It may look like the prosecution is smearing someone because they don't have a case."
Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the jurors before court ended for the week that testimony Monday and Tuesday would be more of the recorded phone calls. Frey would take the stand again to answer questions Wednesday.
During Frey's testimony earlier in the week, she told jurors that she called police after discovering that her lover was not only married, but suspected in the disappearance of his pregnant wife. At the request of the police, she began recording Peterson's calls with a device bought for her by the Modesto Police Department. Ultimately more than 300 calls between Peterson and Frey were recorded.
In the first of three calls recorded Jan. 6, Frey told Peterson a friend had left her a message that "she was worried about me" and "she needed to talk to me."
"I'm scared," Frey told Peterson. "I have no idea what she's talking about."
Apparently, the friend's message was a ruse concocted by police to lead into Frey's later interrogation. And it worked. A few minutes after their initial conversation, Peterson called back and told Frey the truth.
"The girl I'm married to, her name is Laci. ... She disappeared just before Christmas. For the past two weeks I've been in Modesto with her family and mine and searching for her. ... She's just disappeared and no one knows ... where she's been," said Peterson, who had pretended for weeks to be calling Frey from trips to the East Coast and Europe.
"I'm so sorry this has happened and I am so sorry I'm going to hurt you in this way," Peterson said.
Peterson said he had spent the past weeks helping authorities search for his wife.
"You've been calling ... having conversations with me when all this is happening?" Frey asked. Peterson said "Yeah," and Frey responded, "Really? Isn't that a little twisted, Scott?"
He answered, "It is."
Peterson explained that when he woke in the morning, he felt hopeful about finding Laci, but late at night, "I begin to lose faith." He said talking to Frey cheered him up.
He refused to answer when Frey asked him repeatedly what her role was in his plan, how he feels about his wife and whether the baby is his. He assured her he would explain everything "when there's some resolution in finding her."
He denied any involvement in her disappearance.
When Frey asked why she shouldn't be afraid of him, he responded, "I am not an evil person ... I would never hurt anyone."