by Jane Hamilton
On December 23, 2002, Laci Peterson had a very busy day. At 8:30 a.m. her housekeeper arrived. At 10:08 a.m. she checked out at Trader Joe’s with a large order of groceries. Between 12:30 and 12:45, she arrived at Sweet Serenity Day Spa to get a facial. At 2:35 Laci and her husband Scott went to the Hera Medical Group for her regularly scheduled prenatal exam with her ob-gyn, Esther Tow-Der. Laci and Scott then planned to go to the hospital to pre-register for the delivery, according to Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha. At 5:45 p.m. they went to Salon Salon where Amy Rocha, Laci’s half sister, gave Scott a haircut and showed Laci how to do a new hairstyle. They invited Amy to come home with them for a pizza, but she had other plans. They left the salon around 7:00 after making a phone call to order the pizza. At 8:30 p.m., Laci spoke to her mother briefly on the phone.
On the morning of December 24, Scott Peterson left home to try out his new boat and do some fishing in the San Francisco Bay. When he returned home his wife Laci was not there. Her whereabouts were not known until her body was found lying on the rocks at Pt. Isabel on April 14, 2003. What she was wearing when she was seen on December 23 and what Scott said she was wearing on the morning of December 24 became very important information.
Clothing worn by Laci on December 23
IN THE MORNING
Margarita Nava, Laci’s housekeeper, told Detective Brocchini that when she arrived at 8:30 a.m. Laci was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and (probably) black stretch-type maternity pants, as that was her usual outfit.
This was a typical outfit for her according to Debra Wolski, Laci’s instructor at the Village Yoga Center.
Mark Geragos: Okay. Now, you also described the clothing that she wore as black stretch pants, white shirt, long sleeves, white tennis shoes and a red fleece vest, correct?
Debra Wolski: In the winter, yes. In the cold months.
Mark Geragos: Okay. And you described what she was wearing on December 4th, do you remember that?
Debra Wolski: It would have been the same. The white shirt, the black stretch pants, the red fleece vest.
IN THE AFTERNOON
Tina Reiswig, the manicurist at Sweet Serenity Day Spa told Detective Grogan in March of 2003 that Laci was wearing black Capri pants, black Mary Jane shoes that weren't high-heeled, and a long-sleeved white shirt, that was not wrinkled, but crisp. She also mentioned a silver-gold wristwatch.
Michelle Buer, the owner of Sweet Serenity Day Spa said that Laci had on black bottoms, a white shirt, and a black sweater, and black Mary Jane shoes. Buer described the shirt as possibly having a collar and being a button up shirt. She describes the bottoms as Capris or a skirt. She was interviewed by Detective Brocchini over the phone on January 17, 2003, and was interviewed by Grogan on March 19.
Amy Rocha, described Laci as wearing a black blouse with either cream polka dots, or cream little flowers. She wore cream-colored Capri (ankle length) pants, black Mary Jane shoes, a black jacket and a cream colored scarf. Amy was interviewed numerous times during the course of the investigation.
Christopher Johnson, the owner of Salon Salon recalls Laci sitting on a black couch and wearing something that was dark on the top and lighter on the bottom. He was interviewed by Grogan on January 17 and also in February 2003.
VIDEO SURVEILLANCE AT SALON SALON
MPD had the opportunity to verify the descriptions of Laci’s clothing by checking video surveillance tapes at Salon Salon.
Amy Rocha told MPD very soon after Laci disappeared that there was a surveillance system at SS and that they should check the videos. There were several cameras in the shop. One would have caught Scott and Laci as they entered the salon and again as they were leaving. Another would have shown them as they sat in the salon chair.
Chris Johnson, the owner, says that the tapes would still have been available when the police first came to the salon after Laci’s disappearance. He does not recall that they mentioned the video cameras or asked for the tapes even though they came to Salon Salon 2 or 3 times within the first week or two after Laci went missing.
Laurie Wesenberg, the manager, said that by the time Detective Grogan interviewed her on February 4, the videotapes had been reused and there was nothing on them from December 23.
Laci's clothing on the morning of December 24
THE BLACK PANTS
From Distaso’s Opening Statement:
This is the missing persons report that he (Scott) gave to Officer Evers. He gave the exact description. He says, you can see right here, that white long-sleeved shirt and black pants…..Scott never changes the description that he gives about the clothing that he says Laci is wearing. He tells Officer Evers that. Tells Detective Brocchini that. He tells Detective Grogan that the next day. And, in fact, that's the description that goes out on all of the reward posters and everything else, that when he left Laci was wearing black pants and a white top.
And this is what Scott told Sharon Rocha on February 13, 2003 in a phone conversation:
SHARON ROCHA: And what was she wearing when you left?
PETERSON: Ah she had on her black pants – and like a white top with long sleeves.
SHARON ROCHA: A pullover or button or what?
PETERSON: Yeah. Pullover like ah—you know tee shirt kinda sweater kinda thing.
A number of witnesses reported seeing Laci walking her dog McKenzie on the morning of December 24 in the Covena/La Loma neighborhood. Most of the tips were not investigated even though the clothing description matched Scott’s statements. Detective Craig Grogan testified: “I would say the majority match with black pants or white shirts, with the description that was released to the media.”
Through Grogan’s testimony and media reports we learn about some of the people who saw Laci wearing black pants on her walk. These people include Homer Maldonado, Vivian Mitchell, Grace Wolf, and Tom Harshman.
The Search Warrant of December 26-27
During the first search, MPD was specifically looking for the items that Laci was described as wearing on the morning of December 24: black stretch pants, a white long sleeved shirt, and white tennis shoes. The only black pants recovered were brand new (never worn) found in a bag in the nursery.
Mark Geragos: Then you also had 37 A, which was described as a Motherhood brand black pants, size medium, correct?
Rudy Skultety: Yes.
Mark Geragos: Where were those collected from?
Rudy Skultety: I believe A and B were taken out of the nursery.
Mark Geragos: Okay. IN Due Time brand black women's pants, size medium, also taken out of the nursery?
Rudy Skultety: Yes. 37 A and B. That white bag you discussed earlier in the nursery.
Mark Geragos: They, to you, when looking at them, did it look like somebody had purchased them and they were placed in that bag? I mean did they, you had made the notation, based upon looking at them, that they looked unused, right?
Dodge Hendee: Right.
Mark Geragos: What I'm trying get at is, when you said possibly never been worn did, it look like they were brand new maternity pants?
Dodge Hendee: That was my opinion, yeah
Mark Geragos: Okay. Didn't look like they were maternity pants that had been worn on the 24th or the 23rd and then stuffed back into the bag, did they?
Dodge Hendee: That's correct.
None of the clothing items which Laci was described as wearing on the morning she disappeared were found in the house during the first search.
Craig Grogan: We were looking for a white shirt, but we didn't find one in the first search warrant, which would have matched her description on December 24th. We were also looking for white tennis shoes. We did find some white shoes, but they were slip on. They looked like tennis shoes from the front, but they slip on from the back. They don't have a standard back that a tennis shoe would have on them. As far as clothing, that's what I recall we recovered there.
Kim McGregor and the burglary, January 19, 2003
In the early morning hours of January 19, 2003, Kim McGregor, who lived near the Petersons, broke into the Covena house and took a number of clothing items. Among the items recovered from a garbage can where Kim led MPD was a pair of black stretch GAP pants. These pants were never considered to be evidence, never tested, and were returned to Scott. These pants had not been found in the house in December even though MPD was specifically looking for black stretch pants.
Prosecution theory says clothing points to Scott
Some time after the first search warrant was executed on December 26-27, 2002, and the time of the second search warrant February 18-19, 2003, the prosecution developed a new theory. They decided that Laci had been murdered the night of December 23 as she was undressing. They wanted to prove that Laci was wearing khaki pants at the time she was murdered and not the black pants that Scott described her wearing on the morning of December 24. This also allowed them to discount the numerous sightings of Laci wearing black pants in the neighborhood on the morning of the 24th. One of the items they were specifically looking for in the first search was the black pants. In the second search they were looking for the light colored pants and black and cream flowered blouse that Laci had worn in the afternoon/evening of the 23rd.
From Distaso’s Opening Statement:
In fact, you are going to hear that, you are likely going to hear numerous people called in saying they saw Laci that day wearing, walking around Modesto wearing black pants and a white shirt. You are going to hear when Laci was murdered, she was found in khaki-colored maternity pants.
And from Detective Grogan’s testimony:
GROGAN: In the 26th search warrant, that's correct. It (the blouse) wasn't listed in the search warrant. It wasn't really a reason to look for it, in particular, at the time.
GERAGOS: Okay. I mean so the theory that came up about wearing the clothes on the 23rd took place after the search warrant took place on the 26th?
GROGAN: Yes. This part of the investigation, when we were trying to determine where the clothes were that she was wearing on the 23rd, that came up after the first search warrant, and before the second.
CLOTHING FOUND IN THE HAMPER
MPD realized sometime before the second search that the flowered blouse had been photographed in the clothing hamper during the first search in December. Detective Coyle did not list the items found in the hamper as he unloaded it and then put things back. He was not looking for that blouse at that time. The December photo also included a blue item which appeared to be the pajamas that Scott had described Laci wearing on the night of the 23rd.
Distaso assumes that this means Laci was killed as she was undressing:
Go ahead. Click out of there. I'm sorry, go to the maternity blouse. Amy Rocha said that when Laci was last seen on December 23rd she was wearing that black jacket, that cream colored scarf, those khaki pants, and a maternity blouse that she describes as either being a dark colored maternity blouse that either had flowers or polka dots on it. That's how she described it. This, this blouse right here was found in this hamper just the way you see it on December 27th.
Geragos says this confirms the truth of the story Scott gave to police and later in a phone call with Sharon Rocha:
SHARON ROCHA: What was she wearin’ when she went to bed?
PETERSON: Um my pajamas—the blue ones.
SHARON ROCHA: Your blue pajamas?
SHARON ROCHA: How come she was wearin’ your blue ja—pajamas?
PETERSON: ‘Cause they—fit her.
GERAGOS: And it would appear that the maternity, one reasonable explanation for the clothes here is that, in fact, the clothes that Amy Rocha had identified as Laci Peterson as wearing on the 23rd, when she came home on the evening of the 23rd, that she got out of those clothes, put the blouse in the hamper, hung up the tan or cream colored pants, put her shoes away. She wore pajamas. She wore those blue pajamas. Got up the next morning, took the blue pajamas off and put them into the hamper. Is that an reasonable explanation, based upon what you have seen?
GROGAN: That's a possible scenario, yes, sir.
The February 18-19, 2003, search warrant
During this search, the black blouse with cream colored flowers which had been photographed in the hamper on December 26-27 was found in a dresser drawer. The cream colored scarf and the black Mary Jane shoes were also recovered. And the pants which Laci had been wearing on the night of the 23rd were found hanging in the closet, clipped at the cuff, and were identified by Amy Rocha.
The black pants which had been recovered from the garbage can with other items stolen by Kim McGregor were returned to Scott on the same day that the search warrant was executed.
GROGAN: Well, there were some items that were taken from Mr. Peterson in a prior burglary case, I believe the Kim McGregor burglary case, and that were going to be returned by Detective Sebron Banks. So I talked with Detective Banks and found out when that was going to happen so I could assure that Mr. Peterson would be home when we served the search warrant.
Detective Brocchini was present during this search warrant and entered the house as an assistant.
Mark Geragos: Okay. Now you then went to, and we've discussed the search warrant that took place on February 18th and you were present for that search warrant?
Allen Brocchini: Yes.
Mark Geragos: Okay. During that search warrant did you actually go inside the house?
Allen Brocchini: Yes.
Mark Geragos: Okay. Now when you went inside the house, specifically what were you looking for inside the house?
Allen Brocchini: I didn't go in looking for anything.
Mark Geragos: Well, didn't you have in the search warrant a list of items that you told the judge you were looking for in order to try to solve this case?
Allen Brocchini: Yes, but I didn't write the search warrant. I went there as an assistant. I didn't search. I wasn't in charge of searching of any rooms. I picked up his cell phones when I walked into the living room because they were listed, and that was basically my part of that.
Black stretch pants which were not found in the house during an exhaustive search in December, were found in a dresser drawer.
Dodge Hendee: It was collected from the left-side middle dresser drawer, a pair of black women's stretch pants.
Mark Geragos: Okay. And what was item number 218-15? (no photograph in evidence)
Dodge Hendee: That's the stretch pants. The black women's stretch pants.
And After Detective Hendee left on the 19th, he was told that another pair of black maternity pants (brand name GAP) were found in the closet.
Dodge Hendee: No, on the 19th I left and never returned.
Mark Geragos: Okay. Now, did, were there also found, besides the black stretch maternity pants, did you also come back, or did you find an item that was a pair of black GAP maternity pants, which is 218-84? (Defense D)
Dodge Hendee: Right. I wasn't there when those were found. But there was another pair, apparently, found that date.
Mark Geragos: So there was another, after you had searched for black maternity pants, collected the pair you thought was the only one there, you then were informed later that in fact another pair of black maternity pants had been found, correct?
Dodge Hendee: True. But I don't think we had finished the master bedroom room on the 18th, so we came back and finished it on the 19th.
Mark Geragos: Okay.
Dodge Hendee: So I'm not sure where those, actually those pair were actually found in the closet, so….
Laci's body recovered, April 2003
Dr. Brian Peterson testified about the clothing that Laci was wearing when her body was recovered at Point Isabel.
The additional clothing consisted of khaki-colored trousers. There was a label in the trousers, and the brand was Motherhood. The size label was S for small…… With respect to further examination of the trousers, there was a button closure in the front that was still fastened. There was a zipper that was still in place. And in the waistband of the trousers there were draw cords. And those were still in place too.
On July 23, 2003, Amy Rocha was asked to identify a photo lineup of pants (People’s 15). The ones she had identified on Feb. 18 (Defense A) were not in the lineup. She said 1 and 3 were definitely not the ones Laci wore on Dec. 23 (#3 was the pair of pants Laci was found in). Laci was not found in the pair of pants she wore to Salon Salon on the night of the 23rd.
People's 3: Photos of Salon Salon
People's 7: Clothes hamper with clothes (Maternity Blouse People's 10)
People's 10: Maternity blouse Laci wore to Salon Salon (actual item, photos 10-1 & 10-2)
People's 15: 3 pairs of tan pants Amy asked to choose which one Laci was wearing on 12-23-02
People's 17: Laci in Scott's blue pajamas
People's 23: Taped phone call from Sharon Rocha to Scott, February 13, 2003
People's 39: Motherhood Maternity picture of the pants Laci was found in
People's 40: Motherhood Maternity picture of the pants Laci was found in
People's 41: Motherhood Maternity picture of the pants Laci was found in
People's 44: Motherhood Maternity picture of blouse Laci wore to Salon Salon
People's 45: The blouse Laci wore to Salon Salon with other clothes
People's 133: Clothes in a white bag collected from the nursery on 12-27-02
People's 252: Photo, maternity blouse Laci wore to Salon Salon
Opening Statement-Rick Distaso
Opening Statement-Mark Geragos
Closing Argument-Rick Distaso
Closing Argument-Mark Geragos
Witnesses for the prosecution:
Brocchini, Al / MPD
Buer, Michelle / Sweet Serenity Spa Owner
Coyle, Ray / MPD
Evers, Jon / MPD
Grogan, Craig / MPD
Hendee, Henry Dodge / MPD
Johnson, Christopher / Salon Salon Owner
Nava, Margarita / Housekeeper
Peterson, Brian / Forensic Pathologist
Reiswig, Tina / Sweet Serenity Spa
Rocha, Amy / Laci's half-sister
Skultety, Rudy / MPD
Wesenberg, Laurie / Salon Salon Mgr
Wolski, Debra / Yoga Instructor