January 7, 2008

Author says Peterson confessed how and why he killed Laci

Scott Peterson strangled his pregnant wife in their kitchen on Christmas Eve 2002, according to a book written by a woman claiming he confessed to her 15 months ago during a prison visit.

In a previous self-published book written under a pen name, Donna Thomas of Colorado claimed having romantic encounters with the Modesto fertilizer salesman over 14 years, including while he was married and after Laci Peterson, nearly eight months pregnant, vanished Christmas Eve 2002.

But Thomas, 45, told The Bee during an April interview in Los Angeles that she would publicly deny the affair. She describes herself as a legal advocate, though her new book, "'I'm Sorry I Lied to You: The Confession of Scott Peterson," does not explain how she might have gained his trust and access to him at San Quentin State Prison.

The book contains several inconsistencies with her first book and with statements she made to The Bee in interviews over 19 months.

Peterson, on death row since March 2005, did not respond to repeated written requests for comment.

His appellate lawyers in October issued a terse statement confirming that their client had had contact with Thomas, but denying that Peterson made statements attributed to him in publicity for the book.

"It is unclear what the motivation was for Ms. Thomas' initial contact with Mr. Peterson," East Bay attorneys Larry Gibbs and Cliff Gardner wrote to The Bee. "We are unsure of her motive in writing the book after Mr. Peterson broke off contact with Ms. Thomas, but it was not the search for truth."

Thomas claimed to be among Peterson's most ardent supporters before his alleged confession.

"I'm Sorry I Lied to You" purports to unveil mysteries not explained in a blockbuster trial stretching through most of 2004. Authorities speculated but provided no evidence of when or how Laci Peterson was killed.

According to the 219-page book, Peterson, now 35, strangled his 27-year-old wife, tied four cement weights to her wrists and ankles and drove to the Berkeley Marina. He cast off and read Playboy magazine for about 35 minutes to make sure no boaters were nearby, then dropped the body overboard, nearly capsizing his newly purchased fishing boat, according to the book.

"I'm Sorry I Lied to You" makes no mention of the first book. An edited e-mail exchange between Thomas and The Bee appears in the second, with references to the first book redacted.

Thomas told The Bee she had passed a polygraph regarding the alleged confession but later backed off on a promise to share results. Her former attorney forwarded copies of purported letters to Thomas from Peterson's cell, but Thomas reneged on a promise to produce originals.

Thomas pledges in "I'm Sorry I Lied to You" to donate a portion of her proceeds to "Haven/Stanuslaus (sic) Women's Refuge." But Belinda Rolicheck, executive director of the Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus, said recently she has never spoken with Thomas or her publisher.

"I don't know enough about her or the book to say we will or won't take it, but I'm really leery," Rolicheck said. "I'm skeptical about the whole thing. "

Literary agent convinced

Thomas' previous agent, Sandra Bond of Colorado-based Bond Literary Agency, said Thomas convinced her that Peterson had confessed. But an imminent book deal with a mainstream publisher unraveled when Thomas refused to pay a ghostwriter to clean up Thomas' substandard prose, Bond said.

Thomas told Bond about her alleged longtime affair with Peterson but instructed Bond not to reveal it when pitching the book idea to publishers, Bond said. Thomas never told her about the steamy self-published book, Bond said.

For "I'm Sorry I Lied to You," Thomas eventually went with Digi-Tall Media, a small firm unknown to Border's bookstore in Modesto, which ordered no copies, a spokeswoman said. Neither did Modesto's Barnes & Noble, an employee said.

Two weeks ago, Thomas said another company is buying the publishing contract from Digi-Tall. More books should be printed this week, she said.

The National Enquirer and The Globe have recently published articles about Thomas' book.

"The marketplace for her book seems to be the tabloids," said Adam Stewart, attorney for Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother.

A hardback of "I'm Sorry I Lied to You" obtained by The Bee through private order details several visits Thomas allegedly made to San Quentin. Peterson slipped while discussing evidence in June 2006, according to the book, and told Thomas the whole story when she returned three months later.

He had been sexually promiscuous throughout his five-year marriage and began planning the murder soon after Laci Peterson discovered she was pregnant in June 2002, Thomas wrote. He waited several months because killing her then would have raised too much suspicion, Thomas wrote.

"I was at the end of my rope," Thomas quotes Scott Peterson as saying. "It was either her or me. So I decided that it should be her. At the time I couldn't stand being around her anymore. ... I hated her by the time I killed her."

His version of getting rid of the body, according to the book, was similar to a scenario painted by prosecutors in Peterson's trial, with a few additions. For example, he used scissors to cut up gloves and clothes he wore that day, dressed in spare clothing he had brought to the marina and dropped bags of the shredded clothes in two garbage bins on his drive back to Modesto, Thomas wrote.

Also, Peterson took a loaded handgun and was "prepared to shoot whoever it was that stopped me" on the way, Thomas wrote. A detective found the gun in Peterson's glove box after he reported his wife missing upon returning home, according to trial testimony.

In interviews, Thomas blamed an inability to land a major publisher on negative publicity surrounding the fall 2006 cancellation of O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It" in which Simpson theorizes about the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

Thomas chronicled 14 years of erotic encounters with Peterson in Mexico, Spain, Israel and Montreal in her self-published, little-circulated book, "Conduct Unbecoming -- However, the Scott Peterson I Know Is Innocent," a copy of which was obtained by The Bee at Thomas' urging.

She later said everything in the book except her name is true, but said she would deny it because publicity about the affair could negatively affect her family members.

In the Los Angeles interview with The Bee, Thomas said she attended the University of Colorado in Boulder and received a law degree from the University of Southern California. But officials with those schools could find no mention of her married or maiden names in their records. Both said, however, that such searches are not airtight.

Thomas showed an advocacy agreement outlining a business relationship with Timothy Boham, a former gay porn actor awaiting trial in the November murder of a Denver businessman during a home robbery. Thomas said she took pity on Boham and offered her services.

Thomas used various names in many contacts with The Bee starting in May 2006, finally revealing her true identity in March.

During The Bee's nine-hour April meeting with Thomas, she refused to be photographed or to allow the interview be tape recorded. She arranged that day for a bank officer to notarize a statement reading, "I, Donna Thomas, will not publish any book pertaining to Scott Peterson if (The Bee) publishes any articles that contain information that predates January 2005."

She told The Bee she is fluent in many languages, including French, but failed to respond when addressed in French.

Thomas said she spent years and tens of thousands of her own money digging for clues that would help her condemned friend. When major publishers showed no interest in her first book proclaiming his innocence, Thomas turned to LuLu Enterprises, a North Carolina self- publishing company, which binds soft-cover manuscripts upon receiving individual orders.

Self-publishing offers an option to authors unable to land book deals with mainstream publishers.

'Manipulated' and 'betrayed'

The Bee in November 2006 obtained a copy of Thomas' first book -- printed with a soft cover and without page numbers -- written under the pen name Kathrynne Belmont. But Thomas pulled the book and discontinued publication shortly after, saying her visit to San Quentin a few weeks earlier had proved his guilt beyond any doubt.

"He used me, he manipulated me and he betrayed me," she said in a November 2006 telephone interview.

Thomas was 29 and Peterson 19 when they met in Coronado near his San Diego home in June 1992, she wrote in the first book. Her "open marriage" left her free to pursue other relationships, she said, and she met Peterson in Tijuana soon after for the first in a string of erotic encounters in various countries, sometimes coinciding with his business trips. He worked for a company based in Spain.

The affair continued, Thomas said in the first book, in the four months between Laci Peterson's disappearance and Scott Peterson's arrest.

San Quentin officials in March refused to release names on Peterson's approved list of visitors and refused to reveal or confirm names on a visitors log.

Thomas' former attorney forwarded to The Bee scanned copies appearing to confirm state Department of Corrections approval for Thomas to visit Peterson. All potential visitors are subject to background checks and an inmate's permission.

Anni Williams, 71, in May confirmed that Thomas stayed at Williams' Napa home last fall after previously meeting her at San Quentin while they waited to see inmates. Williams has been ministering to death row inmates for 17 years, she said, but would not try to see Peterson because, "He doesn't want to be visited by someone who would preach at him."

The Bee is unaware of any record listing Thomas as Peterson's attorney, and she wrote in "I'm Sorry I Lied to You" that she always listed herself as "friend" on prison passes when requesting to see him at San Quentin. But she wrote in her first book, "I asserted an attorney-client privilege" so that they could meet in person, without glass between them and without having to communicate through microphones and speakers.

In her new book, Thomas roundly criticizes Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, and Scott Peterson's half sister, Anne Bird, for profiting from the victims' deaths by writing best sellers. Thomas considers her book different because, she told The Bee, she can put to rest speculation about the circumstances of Laci Peterson's murder.

Thomas said she hopes to recoup some of the money she spent trying to prove Peterson's innocence with money from the book deal.

"I think I'm entitled," she said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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