Jurors See Graphic Autopsy Photos
Laci Peterson's Mother Leaves Courtroom
POSTED: 7:57 pm PDT July 21, 2004
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Jurors in Scott Peterson's murder trial on Wednesday were shown graphic photos of his dead wife's badly decomposed body and unborn son while a criminalist testified about evidence collected from the remains.
Laci Peterson's mother wept in court and left the courtroom when the photos were displayed.
The photos included separate pictures of Laci Peterson's badly decomposed leg and upper chest area and pictures of bones taken from both sets of remains for laboratory analysis.
John Nelson, who works in the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department crime lab, said he was present during Laci Peterson's autopsy on April 14, the day her body washed ashore along San Francisco Bay.
Among the items obtained from the body for analysis were four hairs, a piece of red plastic, some plant material and a 15-inch long piece of duct tape, Nelson said. Prosecutors displayed a photo showing the tape draped across the woman's upper thigh, which appeared to be marred with a large gash.
"Were you able to take a head hair sample?" asked Prosecutor Dave Harris.
"No," Nelson replied.
"Was the head present at the autopsy?" Harris asked.
"There was no head," Nelson said.
Nelson also catalogued some of the evidence found near the body -- a plastic tarp, strips of duct tape and a piece of rusty metal. But prosecutors did not solicit testimony from him on forensic results from tests of those items.
Another criminalist testified about the DNA tests that would eventually provide the identities of Laci Peterson and her fetus.
California Department of Justice Criminalist Angelynn Moore performed the DNA analysis on both sets of remains. She gave jurors and the courtroom audience a basic science lesson on DNA analysis, complete with a PowerPoint presentation, late in the afternoon.
Trial observer Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco homicide prosecutor, said Sharon Rocha's visible grief could have a powerful impact on the jury.
"One of the best weapons the DA has is the living relatives of the dead," Hammer said.
Rocha's anguish and the articulate testimony of Moore combined to produce a good afternoon for the prosecution, according to University of San Francisco law professor Robert Talbot, who also is observing the trial.
"It's nice to have a witness who is competent, who won't be challenged," Talbot said of Moore.
In contrast to the afternoon, the morning testimony was bad for the prosecution, Talbot said, after Modesto Police Department employee Veronica Holmes testified that there was no audio recording of an early police interview with Peterson because the detective who set up the concealed tape recorder inadvertently left it on and drained the batteries.
"I think the defense had a very good morning ... showing the incompetence of the police department not having a (working) battery in the tape recorder," Talbot said.
Moore is scheduled to continue testifying on Thursday morning and likely will officially confirm that DNA analysis identified the remains as belonging to Laci Peterson and her unborn son.