Warehouse probe put in spotlight
11/13/2003 8:35 AM
11/19/2007 2:18 PM
Detective Al Brocchini, who is set to take the stand again today, appears to be at the center of a defense strategy aimed at showing the Modesto police investigation into Laci Peterson's death was sloppy and marked by mishandled evidence.
Earlier defense questioning of police witnesses appeared to suggest that Brocchini had the opportunity to plant or tamper with evidence. The defense since has steered clear of that option while cross-examining Broc- chini.
The warehouse where Scott Peterson stored chemicals and products used in his work as a fertilizer salesman has been a major focus of testimony in Peterson's preliminary hearing on double-murder charges.
The warehouse could again feature prominently today as Brocchini takes the stand for the third time.
A prosecution theory suggests that Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci, in their Covena Avenue home late Dec. 23 or
early Dec. 24 and took her body to his warehouse, where he picked up an aluminum fishing boat purchased two weeks ear- lier and transported her body to San Francisco Bay.
Crucial to that theory was reaction at the warehouse from a dog used to find cadavers as well as from other dogs the prosecution contends tracked Laci Peterson's body to the bay.
The cadaver dog showed "mild interest but no alerts" inside the metal boat when brought to the warehouse Dec. 27, according to a report from the dog's handler. The dog "showed interest" in containers under a nearby workbench, checking in them several times before working along the edge of the boat closest to the workbench, the report reads. The exact location of the workbench in the warehouse is unclear.
"She demonstrated frustration by barking, but did not go into full alert or pinpoint a particular spot," the report reads.
Prosecutors have attributed the dog's ambiguous reactions to interference with the scent from strong chemicals stored in the warehouse.
Peterson used the warehouse at 1027 N. Emerald Ave. in his job selling fertilizer, storing pallets with shrink-wrapped products that he apparently sold. He told police he went to the warehouse to pick up the boat after saying goodbye to his wife about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 24 as she mopped a floor in their home.
Investigating a missing person report on Laci Peterson, Broc-chini and officer Jon Evers went with Scott Peterson to the warehouse late Dec. 24, Brocchini testified last week. Brocchini provided detailed descriptions of items in the boat, including pliers and a homemade concrete anchor.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kirk McAllister last week, Brocchini admitted to several oversights in his search of the warehouse.
Also during last week's testimony, when prosecutor Rick Distaso asked, Brocchini twice said he did not get into Peterson's boat or touch anything in the boat.
But when questioned by McAllister, Brocchini said he opened a tackle box in the boat and determined there were jigs and lures inside.
Brocchini also said he left his notes from the investigation on one of the boat seats as he took pictures. He returned to the warehouse with Peterson, who retrieved the notes off the seat.
Earlier, Brocchini testified he left his keys in the bed of Peterson's pickup on the wheel well. In his report, Brocchini said he left the keys under a tarp in the pickup bed.
On the stand, Brocchini said the keys were on the wheel well covered by the tarp.
One of the photos of Peterson's boat Brocchini took Dec. 24 shows a pair of yellow-handled pliers, but those pliers are not mentioned in his report of potential evidence viewed that night.
A single hair found attached to the pliers is the focus of a pitched legal battle to keep the evidence excluded from court.
The defense contends that a DNA technique that FBI lab technicians used on the hair is unreliable. That testing showed the hair could not have been Scott Peterson's but may have been his wife's.
A defense expert has testified that the testing technique is susceptible to contamination, which could occur if someone touched the sample or sneezed on it.
Brocchini also acknowledged that he didn't question Peterson's claim that the warehouse had no electricity -- despite having studied a fax in the warehouse office dated Dec. 24.
"At no point while you're at the warehouse is he trying to kick you out or prevent you from doing anything you want to do there, right?" McAllister asked the detective.
"Other than see," Brocchini answered.
"And the thought never came to mind to find a light switch and flip it on?" McAllister asked.
"I believed him," Brocchini said.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.
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