DNA retrieval still uncertain

04/18/2003 9:00 AM

11/20/2007 6:16 AM

Lab technicians still did not know Thursday if they could get usable DNA from the body of a woman found earlier this week along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, a lab official said.

If they can, they will test it against DNA provided by Laci Peterson's family to see if the body is that of the missing woman from Modesto.

The body was found Monday, one day after the discovery of a baby boy's body along the shore about a mile away. Analysts at the state Department of Justice DNA laboratory in Richmond said Wednesday that they had enough intact DNA from the baby's remains for comparison with the woman's body.

Determining the identities of the bodies and whether they are related could take weeks, officials said.

Peterson was eight months pregnant -- with a boy -- when her step- father reported her missing Dec. 24.

Her husband, Scott, told investigators that he went fishing out of the Berkeley Marina that day and that his wife was gone when he returned home that evening. The Berkeley Marina is three to four miles south of where the bodies were found.

Scott Peterson has not been named as a suspect, nor has he been cleared, police repeated this week.

His attorney, Kirk McAllister of Modesto, would not disclose where his client was Thursday, but he said they speak daily.

"I know his whereabouts, and yes, we're in regular contact," McAllister said. "His thought is that certainly, for somebody, this represents a tragedy."

McAllister said Peterson was holding out hope that his wife and their child would come home.

"As he has been for the last several months, he is hoping to find Laci and the baby alive," McAllister said. "He is hoping this doesn't mean that his search for Laci and the baby is over."

McAllister said he had not been in contact with police about the bodies discovered earlier this week.

"Law enforcement and I are not talking," McAllister said.

Police have searched the Petersons' home on Covena Avenue twice since Laci Peterson was reported missing. After the second search in February, Scott Peterson only has been seen a few times at the home, neighbors said.

He has vacated a Modesto warehouse that he used in his work as a regional sales representative for Tradecorp, a Spanish fertil- izer company. Police searched the warehouse, on Emerald Avenue, in January.

Forrest Aarvig, who owns the warehouse property, confirmed Thursday that the warehouse is empty. He said Peterson moved out weeks ago, but Tradecorp has the property leased through October.

"I've never met the man," Aarvig said, adding that another company manages the property for him. "But when I opened the paper a few days after Christmas and saw police searching my unit, I thought to myself that I was going to have a vacancy soon."

Detective Doug Ridenour, a police spokesman, said by law, police cannot restrict Peterson's movements.

"Scott Peterson is not a suspect," Ridenour said. "We have no restrictions on him. We cannot have restrictions on him. The only institution that can restrict someone's Fourth Amendment right is a judge or the courts."

Ridenour said he would not discuss whether police knew Peterson's whereabouts.

He also downplayed meetings by detectives and representatives of the Stanislaus County district attorney's office in Su- perior Court on Thursday.

Detective Craig Grogan, lead investigator in the Laci Peterson case, and Detective Phil Owen, who flew to Richmond to observe the recovery of the woman's remains on Monday, met with prosecutors from the district attorney's office in the chamber of Judge Wray Ladine.

The group remained inside for 20 to 30 minutes. None would comment as they left, and it was not known if they were meeting in regard to the Peterson investigation.

Father keeps busy

While investigators waited for DNA test results, Laci Peterson's father, Dennis Rocha, went back to work.

"The best thing I can do is keep busy," Rocha said Thursday. "It's hard to keep waiting by the phone."

Rocha runs a trucking business out of his Escalon home. He said he recently was hired for an 11-month contract for a construction project in Tracy.

"I'll be on the job for a while, which is good," Rocha said.

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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