4:45 p.m., PST: REDWOOD CITY - The tunnel vision of Modesto police as they tried to pin blame on Scott Peterson for his wife’s disappearance harmed canine searches for the missing pregnant woman, one of Peterson’s attorneys tried to show as he grilled a dog handler this afternoon.
Pat Harris called portions of the searches “failures” as he questioned dog handler Cindee Valentin. Her bloodhound, Merlin, then 4 years old, failed to find Scott Peterson’s warehouse when dropped off about a block away, instead showing interest in a storage yard unrelated to the double-murder case, Valentin acknowledged.
“For a second time,” Harris said, “does this mean the purpose of the search has failed?” “I don’t know what you mean by purpose of the search,” Valentin said.
Harris responded, “You didn’t find the warehouse, did you? In fact, he found a storage yard in the opposite direction. So the test failed, didn’t it?”
“Yes,” Valentin said.
Peterson, 31, is charged with slaying his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Valentin, a a volunteer dog handler with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department, also acknowledged that Modesto police Detective Al Brocchini at one point called off a search even though Merlin appeared to be following Laci Peterson’s scent. It was getting late on Dec. 26, 2002, Valentin said.
“In spite of the fact a missing woman is out there whose scent is out there, Detective Brocchini made the decision not to track it?” Harris asked.
Valentin said, “Yes.”
Another dog simultaneously tracked Scott Peterson’s scent, court testimony revealed this morning.
Defense attorneys for months have tried to fix blame on police for focusing all investigative efforts on Scott Peterson while ignoring other leads. For example, Brocchini testified at Peterson’s fall preliminary hearing that he did not contact two La Loma-area neighbors who said they saw Laci Peterson walking her dog the morning of Christmas Eve - matching her husband’s alibi.
Under Harris’ questioning, Valentin said bodies smell different than living people.
But she didn’t know how long after death the scent changes.
Valentin also acknowledged not having changed rubber gloves when she collected items belonging to both Scott and Laci Peterson in their house - perhaps contaminating scents she later exposed to Merlin.