A defense attorney for Scott Peterson suggested in court Tuesday that police planted evidence to frame him.
Attorney Kirk McAllister peppered Modesto police Detective Jon Evers with questions about evidence handling at Scott and Laci Peterson's Covena Avenue home on Dec. 24. Evers, a patrolman at the time, was one of the first officers to arrive after Laci Peterson's family reported her missing.
McAllister appeared to take aim at police Detective Al Brocchini, who is scheduled to testify today in Peterson's preliminary hearing on double-murder charges in the deaths of his wife and their unborn son, Conner.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Peterson, 31, a former fertilizer salesman.
Taking the stand in Stanislaus County Superior Court on the hearing's fifth day, Evers testified about a mispositioned throw rug, which could bolster a police theory that Peterson's body was dragged out of her home on Dec. 23 or 24.
Evers also said a fellow officer told him that Scott Peterson did not know what he was fishing for in San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve. He told police that he went fishing that day and his wife was gone when he returned to their home.
Today’s proceeding might be delayed because lead defense attorney Mark Geragos planned to remain in Los Angeles, where he returned before Tuesday's hearing to address jury questions in another murder case.
Geragos said late Tuesday that he anticipated being back in a Los Angeles courtroom this morning but could arrive in Modesto by the afternoon.
While questioning Evers on Tuesday, McAllister suggested that Brocchini had an opportunity to handle evidence Dec. 24 without other officers noticing.
"We weren't attached at the hips, no," Evers said.
McAllister asked Evers if he saw Brocchini leave anything in Peterson's pickup or boat. Evers said no.
He described the Peterson home as one that appeared ready for the arrival of Christmas and a baby, but one that authorities believe was a cleaned-up crime scene.
Gifts were piled under a decorated Christmas tree, Evers said. The nursery featured a crib and mobile.
Nautical theme in nursery
Scott and Laci Peterson had decorated the room with a nautical theme in anticipation of the boy's birth in early February, friends and family have said.
Also in the nursery, Evers confirmed, was a life preserver decoration bearing the message
"Welcome Aboard" -- a dark reminder of the demise of mother and son.
Their bodies were recovered in mid-April along the shore of San Francisco Bay, a few miles from where Peterson told authorities that he went fishing alone Dec. 24.
Authorities contend that Peterson dropped his pregnant wife's body in the bay after ferrying it out in a boat that he secretly bought in early December.
Brocchini is at the center of a pitched legal battle over a single piece of hair found attached to pliers in the boat.
The defense is using a number of tactics to try to keep the hair out of court, arguing against the reliability of a DNA test showing that it might have come from Laci Peterson but not her husband.
In court documents, the defense contends that Brocchini and another detective mishandled the hair, because the officers reported that they found two hairs rather than a single strand when they checked out the hair from the evidence room.
Prosecutors contend that the hair broke in the evidence bag.
Evers said he saw the throw rug bunched up against a doorway leading to a driveway at the Peterson home on Christmas Eve, but failed to mention it in his report. Prosecutors might try to show that a body dragged out of the house could have rumpled the rug.
Peterson acknowledged that the rug was out of place and told Evers that a dog or cat might have been playing there, Evers said.
Last week, house cleaner Margarita Nava testified that she did not see pets in the home any of the four times she worked there. But, she said, she filled a water bowl in the house that appeared to be for a pet.
Dog went in and out
Also last week, Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, testified that the couple's golden retriever, McKenzie, would come in and out of the house. Rocha said she had seen the couple's cats in the house when they were small.
Under cross-examination by McAllister on Tuesday, Evers conceded that he noted nothing about the rug in his written report, nor did he later amend the report.
Twice referring to "this business about the rug," McAllister said to Evers, "You attempt to put in the important things that you notice or do or hear during the time that you're doing your investigation, right?"
Evers responded: "I admit that it is omitted in the report because I was in a hurry when I prepared that." He said he told Detectives Craig Grogan and Brocchini about the rug and that they had not coached him on testifying.
Evers also clarified testimony that he gave Friday, when he said Peterson "couldn't say" what kind of fish he was trying to catch Christmas Eve.
Officer Matt Spurlock had talked to Peterson that night out of Evers' earshot, then Spurlock whispered to Evers that Peterson said he did not know what he was fishing for, Evers said Tuesday.
McAllister also questioned Evers about a mop and bucket sitting in view just outside the front door when Evers approached the house about 6:30 p.m.
At issue is whether someone cleaned the house after Nava cleaned it Dec. 23.
Nava testified earlier that she mopped the floor and used towels to clean a door. Nava said she put the towels in the bucket on top of the washing machine and put the mop outside to dry. Nava said she used bleach only to clean the bathroom.
Under cross-examination, Evers said he did not smell bleach or other cleansers and did not see moisture on floors when he responded to the call that evening.
Questions about mop bucket
McAllister took aim Tues-day at how police handled the bucket. Under cross-examination, Evers testified that when he returned from inspecting Peterson's warehouse, a police technician had the bucket in his hand as he stood in front of the house.
"Did you ask him if he was going to be doing some cleaning up?" McAllister said.
"No," Evers said. "He was collecting it as evidence."
Evers said the detective in charge usually is the one to give directions to seize evidence. Brocchini was in charge at this point, and had gone with Evers and Peterson to the warehouse.
Evers, when testifying about seeing the technician with the bucket, said Peterson was not there at the time. Evers said he did not see an evidence receipt for the bucket.
Questioning also focused on the late Christmas Eve search of a warehouse that Peterson used for business and to store his boat.
The lights were off in the warehouse, and Peterson said there was no power, Evers testified earlier.
But Evers said Tuesday that he never tried to turn on the lights because he never saw a switch.
"Did you see a miner's hat there that Mr. Peterson must have worn to do his work in the office?" McAllister asked. Prosecutor Rick Distaso objected, saying the question was argumentative.
Evers testified that he saw a fax machine and computer in the office section of the warehouse and that Peterson and Brocchini discussed a document that appeared to have been faxed earlier that day.
Peterson, wearing a navy blazer and red tie, smiled at family members behind him as he left the courtroom Tuesday. After the hearing, his father, Lee Peterson, said family supporters -- most of whom are from Southern California -- are holding up reasonably well.
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.