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.
On December 1, 2004, Aponte gave a signed statement to the defense which said that an MPD detective had come to CRC to interview Shawn Tenbrink, and that the detective had received a taped copy of the phone conversation between the brothers. Aponte said he did not recall the name of the detective, but that the name Grogan sounded familiar.
Aponte gave a statement to the prosecution signed on March 3, 2005 in which he said there was only a telephone interview, and that he did not recall sending a copy of the recorded conversation to MPD. The PDF version of Aponte’s declaration to the prosecution shows changes in font style. The heading material, final sentences, and signature line are in one font style. The body of the document is in another font style. The standard for legal documents would be to have each page initialed and dated. In this declaration the only signature is on the third page.
Detective Craig Grogan gave a declaration signed March 9, 2005 saying that no one from MPD had ever gone to CRC to interview Shawn Tenbrink, He also said he was not aware of any reports or tapes associated with this tip.
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.