Scott Peterson's life presents picture rife with conflicts

April 19, 2003 

Back in January, when the Laci Peterson volunteer center was up and running at Modesto's Red Lion Hotel, Scott Peterson developed a daily ritual.

He'd arrive at the center around 8 a.m. He checked the number of visitors to the lacipeterson.com Web site. He'd read some e-mails. He might sample food donated to the volunteers by local restaurants.

He ended each visit by asking the volunteers to say a prayer for his wife, who was reported missing Christmas Eve.

Then he'd grab an armful of fliers and head out the door.

While others wept, fearing the worst, Scott remained cool and in control.

Pure internal strength? Or the coldness of already knowing the fate of his wife and unborn child?

Who is this 30-year-old about to be charged with murders that stunned a nation?

Born Oct. 24, 1971, in San Diego, Scott was the youngest of Lee and Jacqueline Peterson's seven children -- a happy, healthy child who got plenty of attention.

His father, an avid hunter and fisherman, also loved to golf, and introduced his five sons to his cherished hobbies.

Scott, said his mother, Jacqueline, showed compassion for others at a young age, befriending an elderly woman and visiting her after church on Sundays.

"The school he went to encouraged community service," she said. "One day, he told us he was bringing his grandmother to Grandparents Day at the school. I asked where he got a grandmother. He told me he'd had one for a while.

"I went and met her the following Sunday. She just kept saying what a great kid he was, and how nice it was that he visited an old lady and brightened her day."

While Scott was in high school, his parents twice received letters from people whose cars had broken down. He helped them.

Lee Peterson took his sons on fishing trips to the mountains. Scott eventually convinced his father to buy a fishing boat, and fishing -- more so then -- became his passion. But he gradually became a solid golfer, making the golf team at San Diego's University High, where future PGA star Phil Mickelson was a teammate.

He went on to play golf briefly at Arizona State University, but left school and moved back home after his parents bought a house in Morro Bay, near San Luis Obispo.

Scott returned to school: first at Cuesta College and then at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He moved out on his own, working three jobs to pay the bills.

Met Laci while waiting tables

He met Laci Rocha one day while he waited on tables at the Pacific Cafe, and they gradually became friends.

One day, Laci wrote her phone number on a piece of paper, handing it to her neighbor to give to Scott. Thinking his friend was playing a mean trick on him, Scott crumpled the paper and threw it in the garbage. After being convinced it was no joke, he retrieved the number from the trash and called her.

They quickly fell in love, and a few weeks later, Scott brought Laci to San Diego to meet his brothers and sisters. They noticed how their brother could not stop smiling.

"The moment he was with Laci, they just beamed at each other," Jacqueline said. "No one else ever made my son smile like that. They did everything right."

They opened a restaurant together in San Luis Obispo called The Shack, which became a hit with college students. The couple sold it two years later after deciding to move to Modesto to start a family and be closer to Laci's parents.

He remodeled their home on Covena Avenue in the La Loma neighborhood, taking great pains to get the nursery just right as they prepared for the birth of their first child, a son due Feb. 10.

At 6 p.m., Christmas Eve, Ron Grantski -- Laci's stepfather -- called the Modesto police to report that Laci was missing.

Scott told investigators he had been gone all day, fishing on San Francisco Bay and later producing a receipt from the Berkeley Marina.

Laci, he said, had taken their dog for a walk in a park near their home. The searching began, but while Scott participated, police found him to be only mildly cooperative. He seemed totally uncomfortable with the sea of cameras in a media storm that gained momentum as the search intensified.

During a candlelight vigil in Modesto, he had little contact with Laci's family.

His mannerisms, some experts said, created suspicions.

"I'd have assumed that at some point he'd want to take the position of the distraught husband -- wondering what happened to his wife, pleading with police to find her," said Michael Thorman, a criminal defense attorney from Hayward who found himself drawn to the case like so many others.

To the contrary, Peterson sold his wife's Land Rover and used the money to buy himself a pickup. And a Fresno woman said she'd had a romantic relationship with Peterson, believing he was single.

He showed signs of frustration when investigators searched his home in February, taking out 95 bags of potential evidence.

He virtually dropped out of sight after two bodies -- identified Friday as Laci and the baby -- were found along the bay in Richmond earlier this week.

And now the question, "Who is Scott Peterson?" will most likely be decided by a jury.

Bee staff writers Jeff Jardine and Ty Phillips contributed to this report.

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