The Reward for Silence:  Shawn Tenbrink

One of the five most common factors in wrongful convictions are jailhouse snitches. I reported in the last newsletter that the Illinois Commission specifically recommended training for police officers, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges on the unreliability of this snitch testimony.

The reason jailhouse snitches are so unreliable is that they have something to gain. They provide their testimony in exchange for something, usually a favorable plea bargain and/or probation. These snitches go immediately to the authorities with their stories.

On March 16, 2005, Judge Delucchi dismissed Shawn Tenbrink as a jailhouse snitch. In doing so, Delucchi showed his ignorance of the jailhouse snitch problem, as obviously Tenbrink had nothing at all to gain from the situation and, indeed, had very much to lose.


Shawn Tenbrink has a long criminal record:

It's pretty obvious from the dates that Tenbrink is not doing very much serious time for his offenses against society. The pattern seems to be to plead guilty and thus get probation. However, the two offenses in 2002 earned him a 4y8m sentence in a narcotics program, and thus we find him at the California Rehab Center in Norco, CA (commonly referred to as Norco) in January 2003.

Tenbrink's Connection to Laci Peterson

Tenbrink's connection to Laci Peterson begins in early January at Norco. A housing staff person overheard Tenbrink talking about Laci Peterson being missing and reported it to Lt. Xavier Aponte, who was assigned to the Investigations Unit.

Lt. Aponte reported the incident to the Modesto Police Department by first calling its Hotline setup to receive tips on Laci Peterson. Getting no response, he called again within the same week. He did receive a response from a detective with the MPD and scheduled a time for the detective to interview Tenbrink.

Before that interview occurred, however, Aponte listened to a taped recording of a conversation between Tenbrink and his brother Adam. The phone call was only 3-4 minutes in length, seemed to be focused on Laci Peterson, and occurred 4 weeks after she was reported missing. To the best of Aponte's recollection, Adam told his younger brother Shawn "that Laci happened to walk up while Steve Todd was doing the burglary and Todd made some type of verbal threat to Laci" (Defense Motion for retrial). The burglary referred to is the Medina burglary.

In his interview with the MPD detective, Tenbrink denied having a conversation with his brother Adam and denied knowing Steven Todd. However, he immediately called his mother in an attempt to reach Adam, and told his mother "to tell Adam that the police had just interviewed him and he was to keep his mouth shut because he doesn't know who he is dealing with."

The Reward for Silence

Tenbrink seems to have gotten a very clear message from his interview with the MPD Detective -- shut up about Laci Peterson, or else. I think this conclusion is pretty reasonable considering the favorable treatment Tenbrink received.

He did not serve the 4y8m of his narcotics rehabilitation sentence (7/10/2002) because he was again charged with a felony on January 20, 2004. And even though this is Tenbrink's 8th felony in 7 years, he received probation.

Steven Wayne Todd received a plea deal for the Medina burglary, and a much lighter sentence given his long rap sheet with multiple felonies.

Why were these two criminals with long rap sheets given such favorable treatment? Because they shut up about the Laci Peterson disappearance when they were told to.

This reeks of blatant police cover-up. The MPD was given highly credible information that Laci was alive and well after Scott left for the warehouse, and they ignored it. When it was called to the attention of Lt. Aponte, Tenbrink was intimidated into silence and passed that along to his brother. Todd and Tenbrink both benefited from their silence - - Todd receiving a much-reduced sentence and Tenbrink getting out of Norco early and getting probation on his next felony.