1:51 p.m., PDT: REDWOOD CITY - Scott Peterson denied he was having an affair in an interview with a state polygraph examiner the day after Peterson’s pregnant wife disappeared in late 2002, the examiner testified this morning.
Additionally, Peterson said he went to the Berkeley Marina the day before - Christmas Eve 2002 - not to fish but to try his new boat, Department of Justice polygraph expert Doug Mansfield testified. Also this morning, family members of victims Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, fled the courtroom as a witness began describing discovering the boy’s remains.
Both bodies were recovered less than four months after Scott Peterson’s solo trip to Berkeley, less than two miles from the spot he told police he fished. Authorities contend he deserves the death sentence for killing his pregnant wife and dumping her body in the bay.
Also this morning, Michael Looby testified that he found Conner Peterson’s remains along the shoreline while walking with his wife and dog the day after a big storm in mid-April 2003. “It was the body of a small baby,” Looby said. “I knew what it was right away.” Looby described an unusual amount of debris at the shoreline.
Authorities say the boy became entangled in discarded plastic tape, while defense attorney Mark Geragos contends that someone tied the tape around Conner Peterson after he was born.
Laci Peterson’s mother, stepfather and brother got up and left the courtroom when Looby was called to testify. They remained out of the room until the lunch break.
Modesto police Detective Allen Brocchini testified earlier in the double-murder trial that Peterson initially denied having marital problems and an affair, but the detective acknowledged that his written report did not mention asking about infidelity.
Mansfield’s testimony apparently was designed, in part, to remove any doubt about Peterson’s deception.
Peterson began an affair with Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey the month before his wife disappeared, numerous witnesses have testified, and authorities say the affair supports a motive for murdering Laci Peterson. Frey has yet to take the stand.
Mansfield is a polygraph examiner with the state Department of Justice bureau of investigation, a DOJ spokeswoman said Tuesday. But lie detector tests are not admissible in California courts, and jurors today were not told of Mansfield’s specialty.
Mansfield, who interviewed Peterson for 2¾ hours on Christmas Day 2002, said Peterson told him he had recently purchased a small aluminum fishing boat and decided to try it out. He drove about 80 miles on four different highways “just to put his boat in the water,” prosecutor Dave Harris said during questioning - and passed numerous lakes and rivers on the way.
Prosecutors have suggested that Peterson never intended to fish that day, noting lures in unopened packages recovered from his pickup truck. The Mansfield testimony suggests that Geragos will attempt to establish the same point, but for a different reason.
Mansfield testified that he questioned Peterson at length about his finances and was told that the couple had about $2,300 of disposable income each month after paying bills. That appears to counter earlier reports and speculation that Scott Peterson was living beyond his means.
As attorneys in the case, a district attorney’s investigator and Peterson met in the judge’s chambers to start today’s session, Brocchini sat in the courtroom.
The group emerged from behind closed doors just over an hour later.
Prosecutor Rick Distaso then spoke briefly with Brocchini, who left carrying a thick binder with blue documents - apparently police reports.
It is unclear what was discussed in chambers. Dean Johnson, a former San Mateo County prosecutor sitting in on the trial, speculated that the closed-door meeting addressed whether Brocchini would be recalled to the stand.
Questions have swirled since last week about Brocchini’s testimony regarding a phone tip he received. The detective testified that a man who claimed to have gone to college with Peterson said the Modesto man described in a 1995 how he would dispose of a body.
Brocchini said the tipster told him Peterson would tape a bag around the neck using duct tape and weigh down the hands. Laci Peterson’s remains were found missing the hands and feet with a length of duct tape attached to the tattered remains of her tan maternity pants.
But a source told The Associated Press that a recording of the phoned-in tip contains no mention of duct tape. The defense might have wanted to put Brocchini on the stand to question him on whether he deliberately lied to inflame the jury, legal observers said.
Brocchini, who said he discounted the tip as unreliable, is at the center of a defense effort to discredit the investigation. Peterson’s attorney Mark Geragos has accused two unnamed police officers in the case of lying and said Brocchini and another officer mishandled a key piece of evidence - a single hair found in pliers in Peterson’s boat.