10 minutes could be lifetime

November 20, 2003 

The case against accused double-murderer Scott Peterson could come down to roughly 10 minutes.

That's the amount of time from when someone used Peterson's cell phone in or near his home the morning of Dec. 24 until a neighbor said she found the Petersons' dog standing in the road, its leash dangling from its collar.

If the 10:08 a.m. call indicates the time Peterson left his home, his alibi appears to hang on his pregnant wife mopping the floor, leaving to take the dog for a walk and being abducted during that 10-minute stretch.

Neighbor Karen Servas testified that she found the Petersons' golden retriever standing in the street at 10:18 a.m. She deduced that time after checking a time-stamped receipt and clocking how long it took her to retrace her route.

Peterson told police he left home about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 24 to go fishing in San Francisco Bay, stopping at a warehouse he used in his work as a fertilizer salesman to get his boat and to check his e-mail, Detective Al Brocchini testified during Peterson's preliminary hearing.

Peterson said that when he left, his wife was preparing to mop and planning to run errands before walking their golden retriever, McKenzie, Broc- chini said.

"Laci asked the defendant to bring in a bucket," Brocchini testified. "She was going to mop, clean up the kitchen, go shopping for a dinner or a brunch they were going to have, and then walk the dog."

Prosecutors contend that Peterson murdered his wife and unborn son late Dec. 23 or early Dec. 24. He could receive the death penalty if convicted on both murder counts.

The bodies were found in April along the bay's eastern shore, less than two miles from where Peterson said he went fishing.

The 10:08 a.m. call from Peterson's cell phone to his voice mail appeared to show the caller driving westward from the Petersons' home because it switched to a different cell phone tower, district attorney's Investigator Steve Jacobson testified.

Peterson's Emerald Avenue warehouse is northwest of his home.

"Does it appear that he's driving from the house and that, while making the phone call, that the cell phone site switches?" defense attorney Mark Geragos asked.

"That would be my understanding," Jacobson said.

General area indicated by tower

Cell phone tower data cannot pinpoint a location, Jacobson acknowledged; it can only indicate that the call came from within the area it covered.

The cell tower serving the Petersons' home has a radius of 1.42 miles, Jacobson said, meaning the call could have come from anywhere in that distance.

But the defense questioning did not pursue the possibility that Peterson left at 9:30 a.m., drove elsewhere, then went back through his neighborhood on the way to his warehouse.

"You're familiar that (Peterson is) at the warehouse sometime shortly after 10:08, if you believe that he's the one that accessed the computer at the warehouse, correct?" Geragos said.

"Yes," Jacobson said.

A computer expert who examined Peterson's computer at the warehouse found that someone accessed it shortly after 10:08 a.m. and used it until nearly 11 a.m., Geragos said in court.

During that period, Servas testified that she found McKenzie standing in the middle of the street with a damp, dirty leash.

A second neighbor, Amie Krigbaum, testified that she was awakened about 10:30 a.m. that day by two dogs barking: a neighbor's dog named Sage and one she later realized sounded like McKenzie.

Krigbaum originally told police that the barking awakened her at 10:38 a.m., but after being questioned on the stand indicated that the 10:30 time was probably more accurate.

"McKenzie didn't really bark a lot," Krigbaum said, adding that she is a dog owner and knows the neighborhood dogs.

Sage barked regularly, but that normally didn't trigger McKenzie to bark, Krigbaum said.

The defense could try to use the dog barking as an indication that Laci Peterson was abducted while walking her dog.

Peterson had told police Mc-Kenzie was protective of his wife and would bark at strangers, but Brocchini testified that the dog did not bark at him when he visited the home the evening of Dec. 24.

Krigbaum said McKenzie was "just going crazy" when the police came to tow away Peterson's pickup truck a few days later.

"We heard that familiar bark from that original day, and we're, like, 'That sounds like the same bark on that day that we didn't recognize,'" Krigbaum said.

After being awakened Dec. 24, Krigbaum said she took her dog outside almost immediately. The neighborhood was quiet.

"It seemed like no neighbors were out that day for some reason," she said.

Peterson's truck was not in his driveway, but his wife's Land Rover was there. There were no unusual vehicles in the area, Krigbaum said.

Woman seen walking a dog

A short time later, about 10:45 a.m., Diana Campos, an employee of a nearby hospital, saw a pregnant woman walking a golden retriever with two men along a path in the neighborhood park, Detective Phil Owen testified. Campos described the woman as six to seven months' pregnant with straight shoulder-length hair, and the men as extremely dirty.

Campos told Owen one of the men used an expletive when telling the woman to quiet the dog, Owen testified.

Campos saw a flier Dec. 26 about Laci Peterson's disappearance and called police the next day. "She said to herself, 'I know that girl,' and realized it was the same subject she saw walking through the park," Geragos said.

Owen agreed, but said he thought the witness had seen media reports on the disappearance. "I felt she was giving me information that was not going in the right direction," he testified.

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

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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