Peterson: Moving Toward Trial

February 12, 2004

Peterson movie: It's not 'Perfect'

Made-for-TV movies never have been known for their tact. Crime capers ripped from the headlines and tear-jerkers about women done wrong are pretty much the bread and butter of this genre. Laci Peterson's story has both.

But watching the USA Network movie "The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story," one can't help but think, why?

Why rehash what we already know? Why leave so many questions unanswered? Why make a film about a case in which we haven't heard the opening statements in the trial?

In a story so thoroughly, exhaustively, unendingly covered by every news outlet in America, Hollywood is left with little to exploit. Seems truth beat fiction to the punch.

Just about the only thing filmmakers can do is get there first. In its rush to beat the pack, USA has done the seemingly impossible. It has made a movie that has no ending -- and the ethics of this are dubious at best.

"The Perfect Husband" spans the period from Christmas Eve 2002 -- the day the pregnant Laci Peterson was reported missing -- to April 18, 2003 -- the day Scott Peterson was arrested.

Title off the mark

For starters, the title is misleading. "The Perfect Husband" correctly conveys its focus on Scott Peterson. But the subtitle "The Laci Peterson Story" would suggest that she plays a large role. She does not.

Save for the once-ubiquitous missing posters and a few photographs, Laci Peterson never appears.

As the movie opens, police, family and friends swarm around the Peterson home. A seemingly bewildered Scott Peterson (Dean Cain of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") tells investigators, "Our marriage is perfect."

As is predestined in movies, those who brag about their blissful marital situations are headed for heartache, prison or both.

A chilling portrayal

The former Man of Steel is an interesting choice to play a man on trial for the alleged murder of his wife and unborn child. As Peterson, he mixes casual charm with creepy detachment. In several scenes, especially the "Good Morning America" interview, his dead-on portrayal is chilling.

The movie relies heavily on TV reports and press conferences to move the plot forward. And let's face it, not much entertainment value can be wrung from the re-enactment of a press conference. Composite characters fill in the rest and provide the most dramatic storylines.

Tommy and Kate Vignatti (David Denman and Sarah Brown), the made-up best friends of Scott and Laci Peterson, are at the heart of the movie. Their journey from support to skepticism and finally disgust mirrors the tide of public opinion.

The real-life turning points -- the New Year's Eve vigil; the emergence of Amber Frey, Scott Peterson's girlfriend; the sale of Laci Peterson's Land Rover; Scott Peterson's trip to Mexico; the discovery of the bodies along the shore of San Francisco Bay -- lead to his arrest near San Diego.

Modesto in name only

Modesto-area viewers will recognize little of the Central Valley. The first few minutes show a police helicopter spotlighting the Modesto arch, the McHenry Museum, Brenden Theatre and the old Southern Pacific train station. For the rest of the movie, sound stages and San Diego sites stand in for Modesto.

Scott and Laci's families have limited screen time, too. But their pain and anger come through, particularly in Dee Wallace Stone's portrayal of Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother. While none of the actors did any of the scenes in Modesto, Stone visited the city in September as part of a film festival.

Since Peterson's guilt or innocence remains -- rightfully -- up in the air, the crime remains an enigma. As the movie lurches to its inevitable non-conclusion, viewers will know or understand little more about the case.

So if you are going to watch wild speculation and redundant coverage anyway, why not tune into Larry King? At least he is live.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at 578-2284 or .

"The Perfect Husband: the Laci Peterson Story," airs Friday at 8 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 9 p.m. on the USA Network.


“The Perfect Husband” takes liberal artistic license with fabricated conversations and the creation of a married couple that are supposed to be friends of Scott and Laci Peterson. The couple, which producers say are composites of real people, play significant roles.

The two main detectives in the film also are composites, producers say, with made-up names.

Other inconsistencies, most based on Bee reports and testimony at Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing in October and November, include:

MOVIE: Peterson realizes he’s coming under suspicion some time after his wife is reported missing, when officers search his home and bring him to the police station for questioning.

REALITY: Detectives immediately began probing Peterson’s alibi, including a lengthy interview at the station that started early Christmas morning. They served the first search warrant Dec. 26.

MOVIE: Peterson tells his friend that he had a tee time to golf Christmas Eve but went fishing instead.

REALITY: Del Rio Golf & Country Club doesn’t require members to reserve tee times.

MOVIE: Policemen discuss smelling bleach in the Peterson home Christmas Eve. Later, during questioning, Peterson says he had mopped the floor after returning from his fishing trip.

REALITY: Officers testified that they did not smell bleach or other cleansers at the house. Peterson told them that his wife mopped the floor Christmas Eve, a detective testified.

MOVIE: An anonymous caller phones Peterson on New Year’s Eve and urges him to confess and lead police to the bodies. Peterson then phones girlfriend Amber Frey and says he lied when he previously told her he had never been married. He says his wife disappeared a year ago.

REALITY: A detective testified that a friend of Frey’s confronted Peterson about his marital status in early December. Peterson told Frey Dec. 9 — nearly two weeks before his wife disappeared — that he had lied about never being married and that he had “lost” his wife, the detective testified. Peterson told Frey that the upcoming holidays would be his first without his wife, the detective said.

  MOVIE: After the bodies are found, a clean-shaven, dark-haired Peterson talks about leaving Modesto. A few days later, he is arrested near San Diego sporting a full goatee and lightened hair.

REALITY: Peterson had a short goatee Feb. 18, when police searched his home a second time. He was spotted several times in the San Diego area over the next few weeks. His mother, Jackie Peterson, said April 3 that her son no longer lived at the home.
MOVIE: Frey realizes her boyfriend is at the center of a media maelstrom as she watches a telecast of a New Year’s Eve vigil for Peterson’s missing wife. She later calls police and offers to cooperate.

REALITY: Phone records and police testimony show that Frey first contacted police Dec. 30.

MOVIE: Frey realizes her boyfriend is at the center of a media maelstrom as she watches a telecast of a New Year’s Eve vigil for Peterson’s missing wife. She later calls police and offers to cooperate.

REALITY: Phone records and police testimony show that Frey first contacted police Dec. 30.

  MOVIE: After his wife disappears, Peterson stares at the bay from the Berkeley Marina at night. He is monitored by two detectives, one saying, “He’s worried, starting to feel trapped.”

REALITY: A detective testified that police followed Peterson to the marina three times, all in the day. The defense suggested Peterson went to the bay those days after reading Bee articles indicating searches would be going on.

MOVIE: Peterson talks on the phone with Frey after the bodies of his wife and son are found in April, saying he didn’t kill them, “but I know who did.”

REALITY: Phone records and police testimony show that the last call between Peterson and Frey came Feb. 19 — nearly two months before the bodies were recovered.

MOVIE: Peterson laments moving to Modesto, with one of his wife’s friends replying: “Laci wanted to raise Conner here with her family.”

REALITY: Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson’s mother, testified that her daughter moved to Modesto because she was concerned about her paternal grandfather’s health. After the move, she expressed a desire to have a baby, Rocha testified.
MOVIE: During questioning, Peterson says he fished for sturgeon Christmas Eve. Asked what bait he used, he says, “I don’t know.”

REALITY: Police testified that on Christmas Eve, Peterson “didn’t know” what kind of fish he hoped to catch that day.
MOVIE: A sign on a government complex building reads “East County.”

REALITY: Modesto is in Stanislaus County.
MOVIE: The Petersons live in a typical tract home with garage facing the street.

REALITY: A garage at the Covena Avenue home has been converted to living space. There is no garage.
MOVIE: A woman at the search center says “Tuolumay.”

REALITY: The Tuolumne River running by Modesto is alternatively pronounced “Tuolumey” or “Tuolumney.”

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