'Very poignant moment' in courtroom

Monday, April 21, 2003 Posted: 7:40 PM EDT (2340 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Scott Peterson pleaded innocent Monday when he was arraigned on two counts or murder in the deaths of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

CNN correspondent Rusty Dornin was in the courtroom of the Stanislaus County Superior Court in Modesto, California, during the arraignment and she discussed the case with CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.

DORNIN: Lou, when Scott Peterson walked into the courtroom today, it was absolutely packed, and you couldn't hear a sound. He didn't look at anyone as he walked in. He was cleanshaven, [having] shaved the goatee that he had been arrested with, [and was] still sporting a blond hairdo.

The judge went immediately to the counts -- two counts of murder with special allegations. He replied in a very strong voice, "I am not guilty." The judge then asked him, "Are you in a position to hire an attorney?" He said, "I am not." [The court] did appoint an attorney for him.

However, we did speak with Kirk McAllister, his former attorney, as he was leaving the courtroom, and McAllister said he believes the Modesto police made a rush to judgment.

There was one very poignant moment before the court proceedings began. The Peterson family was already seated on one side. Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, walked in by herself, sat down, did not look at the Peterson family. At that point, Scott Peterson's mother, Jackie, came over and leaned down and hugged Sharon Rocha and said, "I'm sorry."

We couldn't hear anything of what Sharon Rocha said in response. She appeared very stoic, until Scott Peterson walked into the courtroom, and at that point she broke down, and was comforted by her husband.

From what we understand now, there will be a bail hearing May 6 and a pretrial hearing May 19.

DOBBS: Rusty, the Peterson family has been very supportive of their son throughout. They have even pointed to leads that they say the Modesto police in particular have failed to follow up on. What more can you tell us about that side of it, other homicides in the area, other bodies found near where the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son were found?

DORNIN: You mean the bodies within the bay?

DOBBS: Yes, precisely that.

DORNIN: Bodies in San Francisco Bay. Apparently, there were no other women missing in the state DNA file that were pregnant, Lou.

And also, what we do know from a source very close to the investigation is they did have very specific tidal charts of the San Francisco Bay, which is why they kept going back to search that area. The Modesto police kept going back to the Richmond, Berkeley Marina area, because apparently on [Scott Peterson's] computer, they had found these very specific tidal charts.

They had also found some leavings of concrete in the base of his boat that they believe might have come from some kind of concrete anchors.

Many of the details, of course, have not been released yet, and will not be coming out until the preliminary hearing, but as you heard [Scott Peterson's] former attorney say, [the attorney] doesn't believe [the state has] enough of a case to prosecute.

DOBBS: And Rusty, the charges were rather specific, the time of death put between December 23 and 24, suggesting to many that the authorities there are in possession of some sort of forensic evidence that would suggest to them that time of death. Do you have any indication -- is there any indication of what that forensic evidence might be?

DORNIN: At this point, no. There [has] only been some speculation that there was some blood found in the house, but nothing confirmed, Lou. The interesting thing, though, on the arrest report was the only indication that they had of where a crime might have been committed, it says "location of offense," and it said 523 Covina Avenue, which is the residence of Scott and Laci Peterson. And I think police believe at this point that she was killed in the house by him and then moved, her body taken up to the marina.