Cult Expert Calls Peterson Theory 'Ridiculous'

POSTED: 10:51 a.m. PDT June 2, 2003

UPDATED: 12:17 p.m. PDT September 1, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. -- One of the nation's leading experts on cults Monday called the defense team theory that Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Connor, were killed by a Satanic cult as both "preposterous" and "ridiculous."
Rick Ross, who has studied cults and cult behavior in the United States for more than 20 years, told KTVU's Mornings on 2, that Scott Peterson's defense team was floating an alternative theory of the slaying based on a debunked urban myth.

"There is no chance whatsoever (the slaying was linked to a cult)," he said. "I think it's a pretty ridiculous story. I don't see anything compelling that would prove this or lead one to conclude this."

Ross said such theories were popular a decade or so ago.

"In the late 80s and early 90s, there was something called the 'satanic panic' in which there were a number of allegations about satanic cult activities -- ritual sacrifices, abductions, slayings," he said. "When the FBI looked into it and numerous law enforcement agencies looked into it, they found nothing. And so this became kind of an urban myth."

"There is really nothing to substantiate that there are roving cults in California or elsewhere in the country that subscribe to Satanism that would do such a thing."

Ross said the dumping of Laci and Connor's bodies in the San Francisco Bay also does not follow any known cult pattern.

"When a cult slays someone, they don't hide the body," he said. "Typically, they leave the body at the scene of the crime. With self-styled Satanists like Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker), David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam) that's what happened."

"In the cult slayings by the Manson family, not only did they leave the bodies behind which included the pregnant Sharon Tate but they wrote their beliefs on the wall in blood. There is nothing to connect Laci Peterson with a cult."

On the condition of Laci Peterson's body, Ross said: "It appears the body simply decomposed underwater. There is nothing that would link it to any kind of ritual murder. I've never, even in the most preposterous myths of Satanic groups that were purported in the late 1980s heard of a strangulation with tape. This is really just very far fetched."

When asked to characterize the defense's use of the theory, Ross turned to a popular sports analogy.

"It's the equivalent of the Hail Mary Pass in football, but in this case I'd call it the Hail Satan Pass," he said. Scott Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said over the weekend that he would not seek charges against family members and friends of Laci Peterson who staged an impromptu raid on the couple's Modesto home and removed several items including a rocking chair and crib.

Geragos told the Associated Press that he was seeking to calm down the anger and rhetoric surrounding the high-profile double murder case that reached a boiling point on Friday.

"I am not seeking their arrest," he said. "We're going to try and resolve this through appropriate channels and not fight it out in the media."

The tone from the defense was much different than that which allegedly touched off Friday's developments. The Rochas family attorneys -- in a press conference on the couple's lawn -- said Geragos had told them that "if you want war, you got war" after negotiations to allow the Rochas to enter their late daughter's home broke down on Thursday afternoon.



"We thought we had it worked out with Geragos (who represents Scott Peterson) that she (Sharon) could come in here (Laci's home) next Tuesday (June 3)," said Al Clark, one of the two attorneys the Rocha family has hired to attempt to gain access to the home of their daughter.

"He (Geragos) called us in a very loud, very boisterous manner (on Thursday) and said he's not going to allow anyone in the house...I called Sharon and this is right after she heard about the autopsy report and she was very emotional as you can understand and she just said 'I've got to do something.'"

When asked what exactly Geragos said, Clark said he was told by his partner Adam Stewart that the famed defense attorney said: "The words he used were 'If you want war, you'll get war.' I can only think that we were suppose to file a lawsuit to get back a wedding dress and photos. It just seems ridiculous to me."

"It's the straw that broke the camel's back, especially the way he talked to us...I even told her as a lawyer I have to advise you not to go into the house," Clark continued. "But if I were a parent, act by your heart and she acted by her heart."

The Rochas had been prevented by the family of Scott Peterson from entering the home.

What the family did was that a group people including Sharon, Laci's stepfather Ron Grantski, Brent Rocha -- Laci's brother -- and several friends entered Laci and Scott's home and removed items -- including a rocking chair and nursery furniture -- and then sped off as the news media and police looked on.

Matt Dalton, a member of the Geragos defense team, arrived at the home a short time later and told reporters that his concern was that the Rochas "had planted evidence." He then sped off to allegedly file a burglary report with the Modesto police.

Earlier, a representative of Geragos had dropped off other personal items of Laci's that Sharon Rocha had requested at her Modesto lawyer's office. Those items included a Tiffany lamp Laci inherited from her late grandmother and also three unopened Christmas presents.

Despite the developments and leaks, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami decided late Friday to keep the autopsy sealed until a hearing scheduled for June 6. He also did not issue a gag order.

Meanwhile, the Rochas denounced as "incredibly insensitive" the leak of an autopsy -- allegedly by defense attorneys -- that indicated that the body of Laci Peterson's unborn son had a significant cut and plastic tape wrapped around the neck.

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