The Aponte Tip

In late January 2003, Lt. Xavier Aponte who worked at the California Rehabilitation Center (Norco), east of Los Angeles, called the Modesto Police Department tipline to report a recorded phone conversation between an inmate and his brother discussing a confrontation between Steven Todd and Laci Peterson during a burglary.

During the same time period that Laci disappeared, a burglary was committed at the home of Rudy and Susan Medina who lived almost directly across the street from the Petersons.  Todd and Donald Pearce were arrested for that burglary on January 2, 2003.  Their stories about when and how the burglary was committed were accepted by MPD.  No further investigation was done to link Laci’s disappearance to the Medina burglary.  In February 2003 Todd was sentenced to 8 years, 8 months in jail.  Pearce was sentenced to 180 days.

Shawn Tenbrink was the inmate who placed the call to his brother Adam.  Todd and the Tenbrinks lived in a Modesto neighborhood near the Gallo winery known as the airport district.  All of them had criminal records, and they were known to associate with each other. 


Contradictions in statements about the tip


Aponte’s first call was not returned by MPD.  He called again the same week, and some time later a detective returned his call.  During the trial of Scott Peterson, the Aponte tip was not mentioned by either the prosecution or the defense.  Scott Peterson was convicted on November 12, 2004 for the murder of his wife and unborn son.  Before the penalty phase of the trial, the defense received new information about the Aponte tip.  Scott Peterson was sentenced to death on December 13, 2004.

Impact of Tip being hidden in the Discovery


The only information about this tip provided to the defense before the trial was a brief notation on a CD included with 10,000 other tips. No reports of interviews or any recorded tapes were ever given to the defense.  In the Prosecution Opposition Response, Rick Distaso claims that this is compliance with the discovery rule, and he quotes tip #15311 from January 23, 2003.  Tip # 15311 is also cited in Grogan’s statement and Aponte’s statement for the prosecution, but they refer to information noted on January 22, 2003.  According to Grogan’s declaration, The tip included the following information: Aponte’s telephone number, the fact he is an employed at “CRC Norco,” the inmate’s name and the name of the inmate’s brother.”


The defense did not discover the significance of the tip and its connection to Todd until the prosecution case was nearly finished.  At that time an inmate at Stanislaus County Jail, “ Mr. R”, wrote a letter to the prosecution saying that he had information about the abduction of Laci Peterson. When defense investigators interviewed Mr. R., they were given names that led them to the information in the Aponte tip about Todd’s encounter with Laci during a burglary.


Aponte’s signed statements were included in the Defense Motion for a New Trial and also in the Prosecution’s Opposition Response.


Grogan’s statement was included in the Prosecution’s Opposition Response.


On March 16, 2005, Judge Delucchi denied the Defense Motion for a New Trial.


Court Records