REDWOOD CITY - Prosecutors called three police officers to the witness stand this afternoon, apparently to highlight the extensive but futile search for Laci Peterson in the hours and days after she was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002.
But Scott Peterson's attorneys used the witnesses to convey key elements of defense theories that Laci Peterson was abducted either by vagrants in the Dry Creek Park complex or after she interrupted a burglary at the home across the street.
Two men have pleaded guilty to robbing the home of Rudy and Susan Medina, which was burglarized Dec. 24, 25 or 26, while the Medinas were out of town.
Police contend took the crime took place Dec. 26, 2002 - two days after the pregnant Modesto woman was reported missing - and had nothing to do with her disappearance.
Prosecutors in January signaled they would call one of the men, Steven Wayne Todd, to testify at Peterson's double-murder trial, calling him a "necessary and material witness" in court documents. Todd plea- bargained an eight-year sentence in February for breaking into the Medina's home and two other burglaries.
Sgt. Craig Wend - who was an officer in December 2002 - testified today he took the initial report from the Medinas and found valuables had been taken from the couple's bedroom, including a 2 and one-half by 2 and one-half foot safe, but that other items in the house, including a television, VCR, $800 cash and the keys to a Mercedes parked in the driveway were not taken.
The defense could try to show the remaining valuables indicate the robbers were interrupted.
Todd led police to some 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 has said.
Someone apparently kicked open a side door to enter the house, Wend said.
"The clue that there was a forced entry was the boot print by the lock," Wend said, triggered some chuckles in the courtroom.
In his report, Wend said the boot print was muddy, but he testified he didn't attempt to flake pieces off to determine how long the mud had been there.
Prosecutors had called Wend to testify about a heat-sensing device used to search Dry Creek Regional Park by helicopter on Christmas Eve 2002.
Similarly, prosecutors called officer John Hodson to testify about his efforts searching the park by foot the morning of Dec. 25, 2002.
Hodson said he and other officers combed the park and found no sign of Laci Peterson. Under defense questioning he noted personally searching three homeless encampments that sheltered about seven or eight people within a third of a mile from the path leading into the park from the Peterson's street. The encampments were near a medical complex anchored by Stanislaus County Health Department offices.
Diana Campos, an employee there, told police she saw a pregnant woman walking a golden retriever with two men along a path in the park about 10:45 a.m. Christmas Eve, a detective testified at Peterson's preliminary hearing. Campos described the woman as six to seven months' pregnant with straight, shoulder-length hair, and the men as extremely dirty. One cursed at the woman when telling her to quiet her dog.
Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, argued at a legal proceeding in January that "the only thing that makes any sense" from the evidence at point was that Laci Peterson was "abducted on the morning of the 24th by those people who were in the park."
The defense today used another prosecution witness, officer David Corder, to elicit testimony that the park complex contained three parking lots, an apparent suggestion that the "extremely dirty" men could have quick access to a vehicle - presumably a van - to place their captive. The defense has repeatedly suggested a tan or brown van could be involved in the case. Prosecutor has asked Corder about his efforts searching the park and the Peterson's La Loma neighborhood with his dog, Nike. Corder testified he found nothing of evidentiary value.