Hypnosis used in Peterson case

August 21, 2003 

A prosecution witness who resembled a pregnant Laci Peterson was interviewed using "hypnosis techniques" in a likely attempt to undercut Scott Peterson's defense in the double murder case, according to a source and court documents.

The woman, who owns a dog and lives near the Peterson home in Modesto's La Loma neighborhood, was roughly in the same stage of pregnancy as Laci Peterson when Peterson was reported missing Christmas Eve.

Two witnesses have said they saw Laci Peterson, 27, walking her dog after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 -- the time her husband told police he left for a solo fishing trip.

Scott Peterson said he returned from the trip to find his wife missing.

Prosecutors contend he killed his wife and unborn son, Conner, sometime on Dec. 23 or Dec. 24. The 30-year-old fertilizer salesman has been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths.

Laci and Conner Peterson's bodies were found a day apart in April along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, within four miles of where Scott Peterson said he launched his boat on Dec. 24.

After his wife was reported missing, Peterson told police Laci was preparing to walk the couple's golden retriever, Mc-Kenzie, when he left for the bay.

Two La Loma-area residents say they are sure they saw a "very pregnant" woman they believe was Peterson walking a golden retriever after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24. A third resident told police he clearly remembers seeing the golden retriever, McKenzie, at about 10:45 a.m. and may have seen Laci Peterson.

Investigators conducted a "cognitive interview where hypnosis techniques were used" on Kristen Dempewolf, court documents show. The documents misspelled Dempewolf's name as "Deppenwolf."

At the time Peterson disappeared, Dempewolf, 33, had shoulder-length brown hair and regularly walked her mid-sized brown dog, which is not a golden retriever, a source said.

Dempewolf gave birth to a boy on Jan. 10, documents show. Peterson's baby was due in mid- February, family members said.

Dempewolf could not be reached for comment. Her husband, Martin Dempewolf, 34, said his wife had been subpoenaed in the case and was under a gag order. He declined to comment further.

The hypnosis came to light when prosecutors responded to a defense request for information about hypnotized prosecution witnesses.

Investigators won't say why they used the hypnotist, but it could be to enhance her memory of what she was doing Christmas Eve morning. If she was walking her dog that morning, it could provide an explanation of what other witnesses said they saw that day.

California law lays out strict conditions for allowing testimony from hypnotized witnesses in a criminal case. The conditions include that the testimony is limited to matters the witness recalled and related prior to the hypnosis, and the substance of the pre-hypnotic memory must be preserved in written, audiotape or videotape form before the hypnosis.

State law also requires the hypnosis be performed by a licensed professional experienced in hypnosis, such as a medical doctor or psychologist, and not done in the presence of law enforcement, the prosecution or the defense.

It was unclear from the prosecution documents who used "hypnosis techniques" on Dempewolf.

Dempewolf is the second woman to emerge in the case who resembles Peterson, lived in the same neighborhood, owns a dog and was pregnant last year.

But the other look-alike, a prosecutor in a neighboring county, had her baby in October and said she did not walk her dog Dec. 24.

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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