Scott: Only a few, it seems, could at first believe this friendly, helpful boy and teen, this happily married young man -- capable of murder

November 13, 2004 

Mark Geragos began his closing argument by walking over to his client, Scott Peterson, and posing a simple question to the jury.

"Do you all hate him?" Geragos asked, opening an argument in which he acknowledged that Peterson is a liar and a cheat.

It was a theme that had played throughout a trial in which Geragos constantly reminded jurors that their feelings about Peterson had no bearing on their task of deciding his fate in the double-murder case.

The message was unmistakable: Even as Geragos worked to defend Peterson's life, it was clear from the outset that Geragos wanted no part of defending Peterson's character.

That was a case that could not be won.

And Friday's guilty verdict led people to wonder about what happened along the way.

In the first days after Laci Peterson was reported missing, her family and friends vehemently defended Scott, saying there was no way he could have had anything to do with Laci's disappearance. The Scott Peterson they said they knew was a gentleman and a good husband; people often used the word "perfect" to describe the Petersons' relationship.

But that resolve changed, slowly at first, then quickly, as word traveled about his refusal to cooperate with police and his affair with Amber Frey. Laci's family members began publicly questioning Peterson, and Scott and Laci's closest friends -- many of whom initially stood by his side -- also moved to distance themselves.

"I've talked with a lot of (Laci's) friends," Heather Richardson, a close friend of Laci, said in January 2003. "They just have a lot of questions, and they've said (Scott's) not the person they thought he was."

Born Oct. 24, 1972, in San Diego, Scott is the youngest of Lee and Jacqueline Peterson's seven children. He was a happy, healthy child who got plenty of attention.

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

Scott's mother said her youngest son showed compassion for others at a young age. While Scott was in high school, his parents twice received letters from people whose cars had broken down. He had helped them.

Lee Peterson often took his sons on fishing trips to the mountains. Scott eventually convinced his father to buy a fishing boat, and fishing 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.

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 for one another, and a few weeks later, Scott took Laci to San Diego to meet his brothers and sisters. They noticed how their brother could not stop smiling.

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.

They rented a home for a while before buying a fixer-upper on Covena Avenue in the La Loma neighborhood. After a few years of trying to have a baby, Laci learned she was pregnant in the summer of 2002. She was so excited that she began calling family and friends at 7 a.m. after taking a pregnancy test.

On Dec. 23, 2002, Laci and her mother spoke by telephone. The call ended about 8:30 p.m. Scott told police he last saw his wife the next morning as he left for a fishing trip out of the Berkeley Marina, and was unable to find her when he returned home that evening.

Within a week, the national media had picked up the story, and Peterson's face was shown nightly throughout the country. TV pundits and the public at large voiced their suspicions about him. Camera crews followed his every move as he took part in searches for his wife.

Initially, Peterson refused nearly every media request for interviews. That changed in the days after two news conferences -- one held by police, one by the Rocha family -- detailed his affair with Frey, arousing more suspicion about him. His public image suffered further damage when it became known that he had sold Laci's vehicle less than a month after she was reported missing, and also had inquired about selling their home.

"I trusted (Scott) and I stood by him in the initial phases of my sister's disappearance," Laci's older brother, Brent Rocha, said at a January 2003 news conference. "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."

Peterson broke his silence shortly after those news conferences, giving short answers to reporters and, later, granting a series of in-depth interviews. Afterward, he spent much of his time in San Diego with his family, until his arrest in April 2003.

And now with his conviction on double-murder charges, he faces the death penalty.

Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at 578-2331 or tphillips@modbee.com.

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