Peterson case had its share of fans

Locals and foreigners alike, some bystanders needed to do more than just watch

April 18, 2005 

For more than two years, they were glued to TV sets and computer screens, waiting for the next tidbit from the Peterson saga.

At some point, these captivated observers around the globe became unwilling simply to watch. They decided, in a manner of speaking, to take matters in their own hands.

With pen or keyboard, Peterson fanatics by the score offered The Bee theories on how Scott Peterson killed his pretty, pregnant wife and secretly buried her at sea. Many insisted that the handsome salesman just couldn't have, and pointed a finger at Satanists or neo-Nazis.

Most were thoughtful and many articulate, though some bordered on, well, different.

For example, a self-proclaimed psychic swore he had recorded Laci Peterson's voice from the great beyond. A woman who had witnessed the expulsion of a colt after a pregnant mare was struck in traffic questioned whether something similar could have happened to Conner Peterson.

A West Covina man claimed that President Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the FBI killed Laci Peterson to deter the man from revealing what he knew about previous crimes, including the murder of former federal intern Chandra Levy, who was raised in Modesto. And a Georgia woman suggested draining San Francisco Bay to find evidence such as Laci Peterson's extremities or concrete anchors possibly used to weigh her down.

As the trial rolled on through most of last year, letters and e-mails came in by the hundreds. Whether pointed, passionate, softhearted or softheaded, the writers shared at least one thing: All were reaching out.

"There is a tremendous need to be connected," said New York psychotherapist Robi Ludwig. "If they connect to (The Bee), that's their way of feeling they can influence the case."

Don Boyd said he couldn't stand to sit idly by, even though he was 2,400 miles away in Michigan.

"I actually thought I could help solve the case," Boyd said.

And now that Modesto's most notorious killer is on death row in San Quentin State Prison, Peterson junkies are faced with moving on.

"I absolutely miss my daily read of Scott Peterson," said Diane Empting of Texas, adding she can't let it go. "I myself was quite curious as to why."

Claire Greaves of Ireland called her interest "kind of morbid."

"Even now, I enjoy reading up about him and him starting his sentence," Greaves said. "In a sense, I don't like admitting that I was very interested."

'Something to talk about'

Cherice Andre, who lives only 125 miles away in Hanford, said, "This trial gave me something to talk about." She blamed her fixation on a thirst to see Mark Geragos, Peterson's attorney, "making an ass of himself." Geragos didn't disappoint, she added.

Others said they were capti-vated by Laci Peterson's dimpled smile, or her husband's cocky demeanor, or by the thought that the couple had so much going for them before tragedy struck at Christmastime 2002.

Many writers said they felt a kinship because they were close in age to Laci Peterson, were pregnant when she was, or have been fooled and hurt by significant others.

Scads of mostly normal people might identify with the Peterson story, said Ludwig, the psychotherapist, because it played out nearly every day in their own living rooms — on the TV, of course.

"In the old days, if you saw somebody who looked familiar, you probably knew them," Ludwig said. "In the primitive part of our brains, people we see all the time register as people we know, as intimates. Some may know more about Scott Peterson than they do about Uncle Leo."

The media are to thank — or blame.

More than 800 journalists were credentialed to cover the Peterson trial, which began June 1 and ended with the jury's death sentence Dec. 13. TV dedicated thousands of hours to the drama.

Print interest varied around the country. The New York Times ran 180 stories or other items about the case, while Scott Peterson's hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, ran only 166.

The San Francisco Chronicle, a news bastion in the Bay Area where the trial was moved because of publicity around Modesto, published 512 items. The Bee put out three times that amount.

The Peterson story made up a fraction of content in The Bee's online edition, www.modbee. com — but drew 18 percent of total page-views last year. And, the Peterson case generated far more Bee online bulletin board postings than any other topic, 10,000 in the past six months.

Modbee.com readership also surged when former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres was romantically linked with Levy, the former intern slain in Washington, D.C. But that story drew far fewer readers than the Peterson saga, said Eric Johnston, The Bee's director of online services.

"More people have computers now," Johnston said.

And they're using them. Dozens of Web pages dedicated to the Peterson case sprouted.

An online site promising payouts to people who correctly predict the outcomes of highprofile trials paid $425 to the winner of a Peterson pool, said William Huscher of Reality-Net Entertainment. While that's not exactly big bucks, the case drew more interest than any other to date, Huscher said.

Leslie Granat, who grew up in the La Loma neighborhood where Laci Peterson was slain, said: "(The Peterson story) had chapters, much like a soap opera. It was the story that wouldn't die, with a new installment coming out weekly."

Granat is among many Peterson addicts who continue to get a periodic post-trial fix through true-crime books. One publisher has cranked out three since the jury's death sentence.

"I guess I am still a junkie," said Dana Clohan of Los Altos. "I have to admit that Target opened the boxes for me on the days that the 'Scott' books came out."

Clohan is a veteran trial observer, having attended parts of the trials of O.J. Simpson, Richard Allen Davis and Cary Stayner. She showed up frequently in the Redwood City courtroom where Peterson was tried, often knitting during slow moments, and passed nights watching recorded talk shows and news reports on the case.

"I now realize how much of my time it was taking up," Clohan said.

Boyd, the Michigan man, is one of many from other states who say they continue to view The Bee's online version daily, looking for Peterson updates.

Alice Auch of Montana, who whetted her appetite on the Peterson case, said she weighed in on Terri Schiavo's feeding-tube case before the Florida woman died, even sending a letter to the White House. As for the Modesto story, "I lost two Internet friends this week trying to show them the truth and light on the Peterson case."

Some people reached out in a hugely personal way. Dozens wrote to The Bee asking for Scott Peterson's address. They were referred to his attorneys, or jail or prison officials.

Jill Older of Pennsylvania and Christopher MacNeil of Indiana said Peterson has written them back.

"I am not in love with Scott," Older said. "I happen to be married."

Said MacNeil, "The empathy he expresses for a crisis I am currently enduring does not gel with the 'monster in chains' or 'portrait of a psychopath' persona (reflected in) the media and general public opinion."

Many other Peterson buffs aren't the least bit shy about sharing their distaste for reporters.

"The media convicted this man before he ever stepped into a courtroom," said Judy White of Alabama. "Our media has spun out of control."

Some followers fume at media

Pam Bolton, who read every word of every transcript in every court proceeding from her home in England, said she was "fascinated at how the story was being treated by the American media. That would not have been allowed here."

Several were quite angry.

"Some of us out here would prefer our information straight up and not tricky," a New Mexico woman fumed.

Said Ludwig: "People don't want (reporters) to tell the story. They want you to tell their story. They want you to be their advocate."

Ludwig said it's not surprising that some struggle with Peterson withdrawal. And it doesn't mean they're loony or losers, she said.

"(The case) became a part of their day, their schedule, what they talk about," she said. "And people don't like change."

Myra Ricotta of Georgia said that while the trial lasted, she felt that "Laci and the baby were still with us. Now it's over and I had to let go. I was so sad and empty."

New York City's Kara Leone said the trial had "become a part of my life. I would put my kids to bed at night and watch all the cable news shows and read Modesto Bee online stories."

"Every year, I will always remember Laci's anniversary of her death, her due date, her birthday, the days she and Conner were found," Leone added. "This case has had a huge impact on my life."

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

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