Police hypnotize second woman

September 12, 2003 

A woman who was hypnotized during the police investigation of the disappearance of Laci Peterson last year has raised new questions about the handling of the case, according to a report obtained Thursday.

The woman, Diane Jackson, is now a potential witness for the defense. She is one of two people known to have been hypnotized in the investigation.

In a statement to investigators, she provided new information that is at odds with a police version of a neighborhood burglary about the time Laci Peterson, nearly eight months pregnant, disappeared in late December.

Jackson said Thursday she could not comment publicly because members of Scott Peterson's defense team have informed her she will be subpoenaed as a witness, bringing her under a sweeping gag order imposed in the double-murder case.

According to the report, Jackson told police she was driving to her home in the La Loma neighborhood at 11:40 a.m. Dec. 24 when she saw three men standing near a tan van parked in front of 516 Covena Ave., directly across the street from the Peterson home. One rear van door was open, the other ajar, she said.

That house was burglarized Dec. 24, 25 or 26, while residents Rudy and Susan Medina were out of town.

Police reports indicate that the home was burglarized at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 26, and the thieves made off with two firearms, tools and a safe containing jewelry.

On Jan. 2, authorities arrested two men, Steven Wayne Todd, 36, and Donald Glenn Pearce, 44, in connection with the burglary and said neither was connected to Peterson's disappearance.

Todd led police to some of the stolen property, including the safe, jewelry and a weed trimmer, according to a police report. The safe held $50,000 worth of jewelry, Susan Medina said in January.

"We're confident in our minds that we have resolved one crime," police Detective Doug Ridenour said shortly after Todd's and Pearce's arrests, "and now we can get back to focusing on Laci's disappearance."

That search came to an end in mid-April when the bodies of the 27-year-old Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, were found along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, several miles from where her husband said he launched his boat to go fishing Dec. 24.

Peterson told police that he last saw his wife about 9:30 a.m. Christmas Eve as he left for the bay and she prepared to walk their golden retriever.

Peterson, 30, was arrested a few days after the bodies were found and charged with two counts of murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Court records show that Todd pleaded guilty and Pearce pleaded no contest to burglary in exchange for reduced sentences.

But some La Loma residents are skeptical that Todd and Pearce could have pulled off the robbery -- including taking out the safe -- undetected on Dec. 26 amid police, Peterson search volunteers and TV crews who took over the neighborhood two days earlier.

Police discounted reports of a suspicious van in the neighborhood, saying it belonged to landscapers.

Jackson's account to police indicates that she saw no landscaping equipment with the three men, whom she described as Hispanic or Asian. Todd and Pearce are white.

In interviewing Jackson, police displayed pictures of three men suspected of being the trio she spotted in front of the Me- dina home.

The pictures were of men who previously performed yardwork for Jackson, and clearly different from the men Jackson saw in front of the Medina home, according to the account.

That trio reportedly turned toward Jackson with malevolent looks as she drove by.

A doctor hypnotized Jackson at the Police Department in an attempt to draw out more details.

She reportedly recalled little else beyond perceiving a threat from the three men.

But authorities believe a link between the men and Peterson's disappearance is tenuous. Petersons' dog, which her husband said Laci had taken for a walk, was found running loose more than an hour before Jackson saw the van.

A neighbor said she spotted the golden retriever, McKenzie, between 10:10 and 10:17 a.m., his leash attached and muddy. The woman said she returned the dog to its yard, not realizing there might be something amiss.

Peterson's defense team repeatedly has said they were searching for a tan or brown van after at least one other witness reported seeing one in the area around the time Peterson said his wife was going to walk their dog.

In June, law enforcement located a brown van that Peterson's defense claimed may have been involved in the case.

The van's occupants agreed to let investigators examine the vehicle, and it was towed to the state crime lab in Ripon, according to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office.

Authorities investigated sev-eral people associated with the van and determined that they had no involvement in Peterson's disappearance, according to prosecutors.

Kristen Dempewolf, 33, is the other person known to have been hypnotized in the investigation.

Dempewolf was at about the same stage of pregnancy as Peterson at the time Peterson disappeared and also lives in the neighborhood.

Prosecutors have indicated that they intend to introduce testimony from Dempewolf.

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

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