Scott Peterson told his lover Dec. 9 he had "lost his wife," then told Modesto police he was not having an affair at the time his pregnant wife disappeared Christmas Eve, a detective testified Thursday.
That contradicted Peterson's statement in a nationally televised interview in late January that he told police about the secret romance "immediately."
Police Detective Al Brocchini also revealed Thursday that he confiscated a loaded handgun from Peterson's pickup on Dec. 24 while responding to a missing person report regarding Laci Peterson.
Brocchini took the witness stand in Stanislaus County Superior Court on the seventh day in Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing on charges that he killed his wife and their unborn son, Conner.
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Brocchini's testimony yielded many statements casting doubt on Peterson's alibi. A defense attorney countered with attempts to discredit the investigation.
Lead defense attorney Mark Geragos of Los Angeles called Thursday's hearing "a very good day."
The same day -- Dec. 9 -- that Peterson reportedly misled his girlfriend about his marital status, Peterson paid $1,400 cash for a small fishing boat, Brocchini said. Peterson looked at the boat the day before, Brocchini said under cross-examination. Authorities believe Peterson used the boat to carry his pregnant wife's body.
Remains of mother and son were recovered along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay in mid-April, a few miles from where Peterson told police he fished alone on Christmas Eve.
Thursday's flurry of revelations from the detective included testimony that Peterson bought a Mercedes-Benz using his mother's name shortly before his April 18 arrest.
Also, on Christmas Day, Peterson asked if police were using cadaver dogs to search for his wife -- when police initially sought a missing woman, not a corpse, Brocchini said.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Scott Peterson's former girlfriend, said Peterson's comment about cadaver dogs was in a vein similar to last week's testimony by Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha.
She testified that she was concerned when Scott Peterson called Dec. 24 and said Laci was "missing" rather than "she wasn't there, or he couldn't find her."
Perhaps most intriguing were Brocchini's statements about Amber Frey, the Fresno massage therapist who said she did not know that Scott Peterson was married when they started dating in November.
Frey, under subpoena to tesify, is not likely to be on the witness stand until late next week -- if prosecutors decide to call her. The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday to accommodate a vacation for Judge Al Girolami. Defense attorney Kirk McAllister also said Thursday that he has more questions for Brocchini.
After Thursday's hearing, Allred said of her client: "There is a lot of pressure. It's a stressful time."
Inconsistencies to Frey
Frey apparently learned Dec. 9 that Peterson had been married, when he told her that he had "lost his wife," Brocchini testified Thursday. The detective said he interviewed Frey shortly after she called a police tips line; Frey has said she placed that call Dec. 30, a point substantiated by phone records.
Cooperating with authorities, Frey taped her ensuing phone conversations with Peterson and gave them to investigators, Brocchini said.
Peterson told Frey in late December that he was out of the country, that it was his first holiday without his wife and that he "would be able to be with (Frey) more exclusively like January 25," Brocchini said Frey told him.
Peterson appeared to listen dispassionately as the detective testified, but occasionally leaned in and spoke with Geragos during the cross-examination.
Peterson came clean about the affair in TV interviews starting Jan. 28 -- four days after Frey revealed their romance at a news conference arranged by Modesto police.
Used mom's name to buy car
Brocchini testified that Peterson was driving a maroon convertible Mercedes when he was arrested. He used his mother's name when he bought the car with 36 $100 bills, the detective said. And, Peterson had changed his appearance, Brocchini testified.
According to Brocchini, the car seller said he asked about Peterson's supposed name, Jacqueline Peterson, and Scott Peterson said his parents gave him the name. He said it was "a boy-named-Sue kind of thing," Brocchini said the seller told him. A Johnny Cash song tells the story of "A Boy Named Sue."
Peterson told the seller that "they called him Jack for short," and provided a number for what he said was a Florida driver's license, Brocchini said.
Brocchini said Peterson decided the morning of Dec. 24 to fish alone in San Francisco Bay, changing previous plans to play golf because "it was too cold to go golfing."
Laci Peterson's sister, Amy Rocha, testified last week that Scott Peterson offered on Dec. 23 to run an errand for her the next day, picking up a gift for her grandfather. The gift was to be waiting at a store near Del Rio Country Club, where Peterson was a member.
Brocchini said he listened to a message that Peterson left on his wife's cellular phone after apparently leaving the Berkeley Marina on Dec. 24. Referring to his police report, Brocchini read Peterson's words on the witness stand:
"Hey, Beautiful. I just left you a message at home. It's 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley. I won't be able to get to Vella Farms to get the basket for Papa. I was hoping you would get this message and go on out there. I'll see you in a bit, Sweetie. Love you. Bye."
Brocchini testified that Peterson said he washed his clothes upon returning home Dec. 24 because they were wet from fishing and rain. Although a hamper in the master bedroom was "overflowing" with clothing, Peterson washed only three items from his fishing trip, the detective said.
Brocchini said that when he searched Peterson's pickup on Christmas Eve, he saw a blue tarp wrapped around umbrellas in the truck bed, against the tailgate.
When asked about the umbrellas, Peterson said he was going to drop them off at a warehouse that he used for his work, but had forgotten, Brocchini said.
The umbrellas were in the back yard of the Petersons' Co-vena Avenue home three days later when police returned with a search warrant.
Brocchini also testified that he found two fishing lures, in unopened packages, in Peterson's pickup.
Defense focuses on police work
Brocchini testified that Peterson said he last saw his wife mopping in the home the morning of Dec. 24. The Petersons' house cleaner testified last week that she mopped the kitchen floor the day before.
In cross-examination, McAllister -- who on Tuesday suggested that Brocchini planted evidence -- appeared to be trying to build a case for sloppy police work.
On the witness stand, Brocchini admitted neglecting to list, in his report, a pair of yellow-handled pliers among items in Peterson's boat.
An FBI expert on DNA testing last week said a hair found in needle-nose pliers in the boat could have been Laci Peterson's but not her husband's.
McAllister also drew an admission from Brocchini that he forgot his car keys in Peterson's truck on Dec. 24, then left his investigation notes in Peterson's warehouse a couple of hours later.
In his report, Brocchini said he found the keys under a canvas tarp in the boat. After initially testifying that he found the keys on top of a wheel well, Brocchini said they were on the wheel well but partially covered by the bunched-up tarp.
Also, the detective said he was aware that Peterson had received a fax and sent an e-mail from his warehouse office Dec. 24, but did not question Peterson's claim that night that the office had no electricity. They navigated through the dark with a flashlight and car headlights beamed through a rolled-up door.
Nor did Brocchini ask Peterson what he was trying to catch when fishing, the detective acknowledged.
Earlier in the day, Geragos said an internal FBI memo indicated that federal agents had a surveillance camera set up across the street from the Peterson home, but that no related documents or tapes had been provided to the defense.
McAllister added that subpoenas had been sent for a federal grand jury in Fresno in connection with the investigation.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso said he did not have any FBI surveillance tapes, and was unaware of any testimony before a federal grand jury.
It was unclear what federal charges, if any, were looked at in the case.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Fresno refused to comment Thursday.
Geragos, who has done the lion's share of questioning for the defense, did not address Brocchini on the stand Thursday. As he left the courtroom after the hearing, Geragos said, "Mr. McAllister is a top-flight, A-list lawyer."
Outside the courthouse, Geragos spoke briefly with reporters but declined to comment on the strength of the prosecution's case, citing Girolami's gag order.
"All I'm going to say is, today was a very good day," Geragos said, then went to chat with Peterson's parents before their sport utility vehicle pulled away from the courthouse.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or email@example.com.