Peterson: Preliminary Trial

August 13, 2003

Defense outlines cult theory

Scott Peterson's defense team Tuesday briefed two forensic experts on a satanic cult theory, including paintings and artwork near San Francisco Bay and an experiment showing that the pregnant Laci Peterson's body could have been placed in the water at the art site.

Attorney Matt Dalton, using a laptop computer, showed artwork that he said depicted ritualistic killings and occult practices, and said the artwork could be found near the end of a peninsula in the bay.

Dalton also said that the defense team placed weighted flotation devices in the water at the end of the peninsula, and they ended up in the Richmond Inner Harbor, not far from where Laci Peterson's body and that of her unborn son, Conner, came ashore in mid-April.

Scott Peterson is in Stanislaus County Jail, charged with both their murders.

Dalton gave the briefing to criminalist Dr. Henry Lee and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht while the three waited to review prosecution evidence held at the state crime laboratory in Ripon.

Tuesday afternoon, the bayside presented evidence of its own: more than a dozen paintings on plywood and scrap lumber mounted on wooden frames at what East Bay residents call The Bulb, the rounded point at the end of the peninsula that holds the Albany Waterfront Trail, an area popular with dog owners.

Some of the artwork features decapitation and devil figures. Many of the paintings portray sexual activity, and several show pregnant women.

But, if the defense is trying to link the painters to Peterson's death, "that's utterly ridiculous," said Bruce Rayburn, a member of an artist collective known as Sniff. "That's reaching for straws."

He said he and three friends painted much of The Bulb artwork over the past five years.

Rayburn, a 50-year-old general contractor, said Tuesday from his El Sobrante home: "We're regular guys with full-time jobs who go down there once a week on Saturday mornings with our families."

Rayburn said neither law enforcement nor defense investigators had contacted him about the paintings.

One shows a man with an ax beheading a man in a rowboat on a body of water; a topless woman kneels next to the beheaded man.

Another shows a devil figure beheading a well-dressed couple in a theater balcony. And another portrays three children, their umbilical cords attached, in a body of water as a giant octopus wraps its tentacles around a naked woman.

"This is all done in fun and games," Rayburn said. "We've had a lot of criticism by certain groups of people who are offended by some of the paintings. There's a lot of good themes going on, but if you're looking for something to criticize, you can find it."

On the inside of a concrete structure on the peninsula, Rayburn's group painted a goat-headed figure spearing a caged man as a demonic image lurks.

"We called the inside of that place hell, because that's what it was to paint," he said. "You had to lay on a board in a foot of water to paint it."

The Bulb for years was a landfill at the edge of the city of Albany. The dump closed, and the land evolved into an encampment for homeless people before becoming part of a plan for a waterfront park between Richmond and Emeryville.

Albany police Sgt. John Geissberger said he was not aware of any ritualistic activity at The Bulb -- but that does not mean that it has not occurred, he quickly added.

"There are things that happen that we never hear about," Geissberger said.

Karla LaVey, founder of the San Francisco-based First Sa-tanic Church, said the Peterson defense team was using the satanic tactic as an attempt to deflect blame on a misunderstood and unfairly vilified group.

"Satanism does not involve any type of sacrifice or ritualistic killing," LaVey said. "Satanism obviously is a subject people are ignorant of, and so they tend to be biased and prejudicial."

The experiment

Dalton, in his briefing with Lee and Wecht, said defense investigators experimented with flotation devices -- putting them in the water at the end of The Bulb, between Berkeley Marina and Point Isabel. The current then carried them away.

Laci Peterson's body was found at Point Isabel, and her son's body was found about a mile away in south Richmond.

Scott Peterson has told police that he launched his 14-foot aluminum boat from Berkeley Marina on Christmas Eve, then went fishing for sturgeon off Brooks Island.

He said his wife was gone when he returned home. Family members reported her missing at about 6 p.m.

Dalton, an attorney with lead defense counsel Mark Geragos' Los Angeles law firm, hinted at another possible defense strategy -- telling Lee and Wecht about a man accused of killing and dismembering a woman in Las Vegas.

Geragos said little as he and his team left the Ripon lab less than an hour after arriving, apparently without viewing prosecution evidence.

Geragos entered the lab carrying a manila envelope labeled "evidence" and accompanied by Lee. He declined to comment on what took place inside other than to say, "We accomplished something."

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said a gag order in the case prevented him from talking about what specifically occurred in the lab but said no arrangements had been confirmed for the defense to view prosecution evidence Tuesday.

"If they're going to look at the evidence, I imagine we're going to be present," Goold said. "Nobody (from the prosecution) was out there today."

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or

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

1. The route Scott Peterson said he took while fishing on Christmas Eve day.

2. Artwork found painted on boards and walls. Defense attorneys contend the artwork has satanic meanings.

3. Defense team members dropped buoys from the point and tracked their movement. They washed ashore in the Richmond Inner Harbor near where the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson were found.

Complete Peterson Case Coverage

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