Peterson: Moving Toward Trial

February 20, 2004

Police pursuing Peterson leads

ATWATER -- An Atwater woman says Modesto police questioned her Wednesday in connection with the deaths of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, even as Scott Peterson's murder trial is about to get under way.

The contact came the same day that Peterson's attorney, in a Redwood City courtroom, berated authorities for withholding information that he said could clear his client.

The 30-year-old Atwater woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said Modesto police Detective Ray Coyle called to ask her where she was on Dec. 31, 2002 -- one week after 27-year-old Laci Peterson was reported missing.

"He asked if I knew Laci Peterson," the woman said.

Stanislaus County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said Thursday that he could not confirm whether police continue to follow leads in the case, which was moved to San Mateo County because of media attention.

"I'm sure if there still is remaining investigation to do, they're going to be out there doing it," Goold said. "If they stop, the defense will complain that they stopped."

The Atwater woman said she briefly lived in south Modesto in 2000, but did not know Scott or Laci Peterson.

The detective told her, "'Your name is one of the ones that came up,'" the woman said. "He said there were 300 people he had to check."

The woman produced pay stubs indicating that she was working in Texas on Dec. 31, 2002. The woman said she moved to Texas in June 2002 and did not return to Atwater until April 2003.

She said she has no idea why authorities contacted her. She said Coyle told her that some people he was checking were required to register with authorities because of convictions for certain sex crimes.

The woman admitted being a heavy drug user in the past with a history of auto theft. She said she was convicted of misdemeanor charges of annoying or molesting a child younger than 18, which requires her to check in with law enforcement.

She said she served time in Merced County Jail and in the state women's prison in Chowchilla, but none of her offenses was a violent crime.

"They better look at all the people with violent records," she said. "I think they're fishing for different people. I do have a record, but not that bad."

The woman said Coyle asked if she would take a lie-detector test regarding her whereabouts on Dec. 31, 2002, and she said yes.

"I don't have a problem with that," she said.

The conversation ended without arranging a polygraph, she said.

The significance of Dec. 31 to the investigation remains unclear. More than a thousand people gathered that evening for a candlelight vigil for the missing mother-to-be, including her husband.

The day before, Scott Peterson's girlfriend contacted police for the first time and agreed to cooperate with their investigation. Amber Frey, a Fresno massage therapist, said she did not know Peterson was married when they began dating in late November 2002, learning the truth in news reports.

Peterson, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing his wife and their unborn son. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

Peterson's lawyer Mark Geragos complained passionately Wednesday, saying authorities only this week handed over hundreds of pages of documents that he should have been given long ago.

Geragos said the documents list seven people connected to the case, one of whom could provide information clearing Peterson of murder.

Geragos did not name any of the people, saying he did not want to run afoul of a gag order preventing trial participants from talking about evidence.

Bee staff writer Mike Conway can be reached at 381-0208 or

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or


Thursday's developments

  • WIRETAPS -- The investigator who coordinated wiretaps on Scott Peterson's telephones spent four hours Thursday behind closed doors with a judge and the defendant's attorneys at the courthouse in Redwood City. Stanislaus County prosecutors joined them periodically. At 3 p.m., Judge Alfred Delucchi said proceedings will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday in open court. Defense attorney Mark Geragos wants the judge to exclude from the trial recordings of more than 3,000 phone conversations Peterson had before his arrest in April.
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