Mystery Van
Defense Team Says Brown Van Could Be Missing Link in Laci Murder Case

June 4 Scott Peterson's defense team hopes that stains found in a mysterious brown van that could come from duct tape and blood are the evidence they need to save their client, sources close to Peterson told ABCNEWS.

Investigators at a California state crime lab are combing over the intriguing vehicle that a neighbor of the Petersons' reported seeing right around the time of Laci's disappearance, the sources said.

Police found the van, a brown 1987 Dodge, at a campsite in Madiera, Calif., about 70 miles from Modesto on Friday. It was towed to a state Justice Department crime lab in Ripon, Calif., to be examined.

Defense Ties Van to Alleged Sexual Assault?

Police only took the vehicle into custody to prove the defense is wrong in trying to connect it to the double-murder case, according to prosecutors.

Modesto police say they looked into the van's drivers early on in the investigation and cleared them.

Rumors about the van had been swirling around Modesto for months, and sources close to Scott Peterson said the defense hopes to tie the van both to Laci's Christmas Eve disappearance and an alleged sexual assault on a woman the previous week.

That defense team strategy, details of which were obtained by ABCNEWS, stem from a Modesto police report that outlines a conversation that took place between a rape counselor and police.

The report reveals that a rape crisis counselor told investigators about a woman who said she was attacked in the area a week before the young pregnant woman went missing.

The counselor told police the woman she helped said she had been attacked on Dec.18, by men carrying out some sort of ritual. The rape counselor said the woman explained that the man had bragged they would murder someone on Christmas Day.

Police have not commented on how they followed up on the tip. In the end, however, police rejected any connection between the attack and Laci Peterson's disappearance.

Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, has suggested that members of a satanic cult were the killers. He has also hinted that a female mystery witness could lead authorities to the real killer and free his client.

Peterson was arrested on charges that he killed Laci and their unborn child, Conner, after their bodies washed up on a beach in the San Francisco Bay in April.

Autopsy reports on Laci and Conner were sealed by a judge with the initial support of the prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case. But after a page of the report showing that the unborn baby had tape around his neck was leaked to news outlets last week, prosecutors moved to have the entire report released.

Suspicious Man in Mystery Van?

Attorneys defending Scott Peterson on charges he killed his wife and unborn child have interviewed a Peterson neighbor who reported seeing a man in the neighborhood he considered suspicious on the morning Laci Peterson disappeared.

The neighbor reportedly saw the suspicious man in a tan van minutes before he saw a "very pregnant woman" walking her dog a few blocks away.

Meanwhile, investigators are holding the vehicle for testing, but the defense team actually owns the vehicle because they bought the title to it after they found the license plate number from police reports.

The defense decided it could be a big part of its case, but never took possession of the van before police found it.

The defense can hold onto the van for the trial, even if it is not ruled a crime scene.

In another development, the defense team is asking Laci's family to return a pair of shoes, implying the shoes are evidence. However, it's unclear if Laci's family, the Rochas, even have the shoes, or that they have any value to the case.

A judge in the case delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to make public some of the evidence that led to the arrest of the victim's husband.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne told lawyers for media outlets pushing for the release that he would hold a private hearing with them Friday and then rule by June 12.

Lawyers for 30-year-old Scott Peterson say that releasing the material would create an atmosphere that would rob their client of a chance at a fair trial and impede efforts to find the real killer. 
 

ABCNEWS' Taina Hernandez reported this story on Good Morning America.