The Laci Peterson case took a dramatic twist Friday when a 28-year-old single mother acknowledged having a recent romantic relationship with Scott Peterson.
Amber Frey, who lives in the Fresno area, said in an emotional news conference Friday night that Peterson told her he was not married when they met Nov. 20.
On Dec. 30, Frey contacted police after seeing Scott Peterson's photo in reports regarding his wife's disappearance. She has been eliminated as a suspect in the investigation, Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said.
Scott Peterson did not answer his home or cell phone on Friday night, and he did not return messages seeking comment. Wasden said Peterson has not been eliminated from the investigation.
Hours earlier, Laci Peterson's family held its own emotional news conference at the Red Lion Hotel.
"Scott Peterson did admit to me that he was having an affair with a Fresno woman," said Brent Rocha, Laci Peterson's older brother. "I trusted him and I stood by him in the initial phases of my sister's disappearance. However, Scott has not been forthcoming with information regarding my sister's disappearance. I'm only left to question what else he may be hiding."
Last week, a Rocha family member said detectives had told them of Peterson's recent affair and that he had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife during the summer.
Asked about the report the next day, Scott Peterson told a Bay Area TV reporter, "It's a bunch of lies."
Eight days later, Frey stood in front of dozens of reporters at the Police Department and spoke about her relationship with Scott Peterson. Police revealed the woman's identity because several reporters had started to contact her, Wasden said.
"When I discovered he was involved in the Laci Peterson disappearance case, I immediately contacted the Modesto Police Department," Frey said. "I am very sorry for the pain this has caused Laci's family, and I pray for her return."
Frey's voice shook and she cried several times as she spoke, occasionally taking measured breaths before continuing with her statements.
Emotional day for friends
A group of Laci Peterson's friends stood behind the rows of TV cameras and took in Frey's words. They displayed very little emotion. As soon as Frey stopped talking and left the room, most of Laci Peterson's friends also exited.
"It's emotional for these girls to see her," said Terri Western, whose daughter is a close friend of Laci Peterson's. "But they applauded her for coming forward with this information. This whole thing is absolutely the worst and most difficult thing any of them have ever had to deal with."
Janey Peterson, Scott Peterson's sister-in-law, said later on CNN's "Connie Chung Tonight" that she did not know Scott Peterson had an affair until she heard the news Friday.
"It would not change what I am doing to help find Laci," Janey Peterson said. "And, to be honest, we don't have the extra emotions and we don't have the time to chase down all these peripheries. Trusting in the Lord is all that we have."
Laci Peterson was about eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve. Her husband told police he last saw her that morning as he left to go fishing in Berkeley.
The case has drawn intense media coverage. Frey implored her friends not to talk to reporters, and Wasden asked the media to respect the privacy of the woman and her 23-month-old child.
"I do believe our entire nation and possibly most of the world is aware that Laci Peterson is missing," Wasden said. "Now, what this is starting to do is border on pretty close to being destructive. We've given the information we feel we need to give so that a young woman who had the courage to come forward and give us information will not be harassed as she tries to go on with her life."
A few hours earlier, the Rocha family walked into the Red Lion Hotel together. In their hands, several family members held prepared statements.
The Rochas looked out through teary eyes that were dark around the edges, proof of the hellish month they have endured. Police later said they had told the family about Frey's planned appearance.
It was the family's first news conference in more than a week, and the first since detectives told the Rochas that Scott Peterson was having an affair.
Families appear divided
Family friends said that disclosure appeared to divide the Petersons and Rochas. Before Friday, Laci Peterson's side of the family rarely appeared without someone from Scott Peterson's family.
Amy Rocha, Laci Peterson's younger sister, approached the podium first.
"This past month has been the most painful time I've ever experienced," she said, looking down as tears flowed. She tried to say more, but the words did not come.
Her brother, Brent, stepped up. He offered his thoughts regarding Scott Peterson, then directed his message to his younger sister, Laci Peterson, and her unborn child, who had been named Connor or Conner.
"Laci, the last month has been the most disturbing and emo- tional time of my life," he said in a voice that trembled as he struggled for control. "Your disappearance has completely changed my life as I once knew it. I miss your beautiful smile and your fun-loving personality.
"We talked about our children growing up together, spending summers at each other's house. Family events will be very lonely without you and Connor. Wherever you may be, I hope you know how much I love you and how important you are to me. My search for you will never end."
Rocha folded his piece of paper and stepped back to rejoin his family. Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, slowly approached the mass of microphones.
She stood silent for several moments, collecting herself. Then she spoke.
"I love my daughter so much," she said. "I miss her every minute of every day. I miss seeing her. I miss our talks together. I miss listening to the excitement in her voice when she talks to me about her baby.
"I miss sharing our thoughts and our lives together. I miss her smile and her laughter and her sense of humor. I miss everything about her. Someone has taken all of this away from me and everyone else who loved her. There are no words that could possibly describe the ache in my heart and the emptiness in my life."
Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at 578-2331 or email@example.com.