Agencies mobilize quickly to sudden breaks in case

04/19/2003 8:05 AM

11/20/2007 6:18 AM

Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden was sitting at the Familia Juarez restaurant in Modesto on Monday afternoon when his pager went off.

He peeked down at the message, which had been sent from Assistant Chief Dave Young.

Call the office as quickly as you can

Moments later, Young told Wasden the East Bay Regional Park District police chief had called, saying a woman's body had been found along the shore there.

Young also said that the body of an infant had been discovered along the coast in Richmond the day before.

The break police had waited nearly four months for had finally arrived.

"My first thoughts were that I hoped it would bring us some answers," Wasden said. "I would have liked for us to have been wrong in declaring this case a homicide."

The decomposing bodies washed up only a couple of miles north of the Berkeley Marina, where Scott Peterson told authorities he went fishing the day his wife disappeared.

Modesto police detectives -- who had been putting the finishing touches on a no-body homicide case -- flocked to the scene, some in helicopters and some in cars. They arrived that afternoon and did not finish their work until about 2 a.m. Tuesday.

The news of the grisly discoveries also gave police a new concern: tracking Scott Peterson.

Since Laci Peterson had been reported missing on Christmas Eve, police had kept tabs on her husband's actions, Wasden said. Investigators knew that he had been spending most of his time in the San Diego area, potentially a quick run from the Mexican border.

"Starting with the discoveries of the bodies, it became our desire to know where he was at all times," Wasden said. "We were very worried he might flee. He did work outside the country. He knows other countries. So, yes, we wanted to make sure he was in our grasp."

The state Department of Justice and several Southern California agencies formed surveillance teams that began following Peterson's every move, Wasden said.

As Peterson made his rounds, which included stays at the homes of several friends and family members, the fertilizer salesman became aware he was being followed.

At one point, Wasden said, Peterson pulled his vehicle over, got out and walked back to talk to the agents. He asked them why they were following him.

"It was relayed to me that his behavior was unusual at times," Wasden said. "He was driving erratically, sometimes looking around for surveillance."

Throughout the investigation, police indicated Peterson had been somewhat less than helpful. A month into the case, police publicly called on Peterson to be more cooperative.

"The lack of cooperation was a frustration in the case," Wasden said. "There was an arrogance on Scott's part, and maybe that was fear, I don't know."

As investigators awaited word on DNA samples from the state laboratory in Richmond, they spent Tuesday in and out of meetings discussing timelines and jurisdictions. Wednesday involved more of the same.

On Thursday, police got the news they were hoping for: There were viable DNA samples obtained from both bodies. The results would be available the following day.

Thursday afternoon, a group of police and district attorney's office representatives was spotted entering and leaving the chambers of Judge Wray Ladine. They obtained a warrant for Peterson's arrest.

Soon thereafter, Detective Sgt. Al Carter and detectives Craig Grogan, Jon Buehler and Al Brocchini left for San Diego in two cars. They arrived early Friday.

Later that day, Peterson drove up and down a freeway, aware of the surveillance teams tailing him, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Friday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"(He) was waving at them and being, you know, kind of a smart aleck," he said. "So they finally decided that they ought to just pull him in."

State agents and San Diego- area law enforcement officers stopped the purple Mercedes-Benz that Peterson was driving.

Several hours later, investigators got word that DNA results conclusively showed that the bodies found were those of Laci and her son.

At about 5:30 p.m., Wasden and Capt. Greg Savelli went to the home of Laci's mother and stepfather, Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski, to tell Laci's family the news.

"This is just a tragedy," Wasden said. "Modesto's lost a beautiful young mother, a schoolteacher, a daughter, a sister. Not to mention her unborn son. And it's a tragedy on the Petersons' side: a son charged with the murder of his wife and unborn son. There are no winners here."

Late Friday night, two cars headed north on Interstate 5 bound for Modesto. Carter and Brocchini rode in one car. Buehler and Grogan sat in the front seat of the other.

In the back seat sat a man an entire nation has come to recognize during the past four months. Peterson sat with his hands cuffed behind him, staying quiet the entire ride, detectives said.

Reached by cell phone at about 10 p.m., Detective Jon Buehler said Peterson was to be booked at Stanislaus County Jail on charges of two counts of murder early this morning.

"We're in Bakersfield right now," Buehler said. "We're making our last stop of the night. We've got the package with us."

Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at 578-2331 or tphillips@modbee.com.

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