An FBI surveillance camera used to monitor Scott Peterson's Modesto home may have been attached to a utility poll directly across the street in January, neighbors said Friday.
Peterson's defense is seeking copies of the surveillance logs and videos, saying they could contain evidence that exonerates the 31-year-old fertilizer salesman of double-murder charges.
Three small, boxlike devices -- including one "pointed" at Peterson's home -- appeared on the pole in January after work was performed by a man who identified himself as a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. subcontractor, one neighbor said.
PG&E provides natural gas in Modesto, not electricity.
"I told him PG&E is underground," the neighbor said. The man dismissed the comment and continued working.
Some of the equipment that the neighbors saw attached to the pole may have been installed so media companies could have phone service while camped in front of Scott and Laci Peterson's Covena Avenue home, according to a spokeswoman for telecommunications company SBC.
But the question of surveillance tapes, if they exist, could play a role in the case, legal observers said.
Those tapes are "enormously significant," defense attorney Mark Geragos said Thursday during Peterson's preliminary hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Geragos indicated that the tapes could shed light on a burglary across the street from the Peterson home that police said took place Dec. 26.
Geragos suggested that the burglary could have happened Dec. 24, the day that Laci Peterson was reported missing.
"That would tend to undercut some of the clearance, if you will, of the burglars" in connection with Peterson's death, Geragos said.
If a camera were placed on the utility pole in January, it would not have captured any details of that burglary. It could contain information about a burglary at the Peterson home on Jan. 18, a day after The Bee reported that police had informed Laci Peterson's family that Scott Peterson had been having an affair with a Fresno woman.
Wedding dress burglary
Sources close to the case said Kimberly Ann McGregor, a neighbor who had been active in searches for Laci Peterson, went into the couple's home early on Jan. 18 and left with several objects, including Peterson's wedding dress.
No charges have been filed in that incident, and police origin-ally said it was not connected to Laci Peterson's disappearance. Police have since refused to release information on the break-in, saying it may be part of the case against Peterson. Mc- Gregor declined to comment previously.
Defense attorneys could cite the break-in as yet one more piece of the puzzle in Peterson's disappearance, countering the charges against her husband. He is accused of killing his 27-year-old wife and their unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The surveillance camera came to light when Geragos suggested in court that he would seek to have the charges against his client dismissed if the information is not turned over to the defense.
An internal FBI memo contained in about 27,000 pages of documents already provided to the defense referred to a closed-circuit television camera placed "across the street," Geragos said. The memo did not say when the camera was installed or how long it was in operation.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso said prosecutors did not have such surveillance videos, but would provide them to the defense if they are received from the FBI.
Fellow prosecutor Dave Harris said the defense has yet to show how such videos might exonerate Peterson.
It is "not that uncommon" for FBI agents to use surveillance cameras, said Rory Little, a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and a former federal prosecutor.
"It's actually an inexpensive way to do the surveillance you could do with two FBI agents sitting across the street in a car eating doughnuts," he said. "They can put it on a telephone pole, and it looks like part of the cable system."
Often the camera feeds are not monitored live, but the images are recorded and collected daily for review, he said.
FBI officials did not return calls Friday seeking comment.
The neighbors, who asked not be identified, said they thought something was odd about the man working on the utility pole from a cherry picker rig rising from the rear of his white truck, similar to a pickup.
The vehicle had license plates from Alabama, Georgia or another Southern state, the neighbors said. When they asked the man what he was doing, he said he was a subcontractor for PG&E.
Any subcontractors that the utility hires are for natural gas work, and they are local companies, PG&E spokesman Mark Hendrickson said.
"There is not a plausible reason we would have a gas serviceman having anything to do with transmission lines, or a subcontractor for that matter," Hendrickson said.
One neighbor said that after the man finished his work, neighbors noticed a small box apparently attached to a cross bar on the pole, a second device roughly 10 feet off the ground and another attached at the base. It was unclear whether the man installed those devices on the pole.
Box could be for media use
The middle box was the only one of the items that remained Friday. It was labeled "SBC-Pacific Bell Telephone Network Interface."
A spur of severed tan wire protruded. That wire had been connected to the box formerly at the base of the pole, a neighbor said.
An SBC technician Friday removed the network interface, which typically is used for additional phone connections, company spokeswoman Heather Alexander said.
She suggested that the device, which was not connected, may have been installed for media companies.
SBC service records for January were not immediately available, but Alexander said any SBC technician would be in uniform and in a logo vehicle.
"We rarely use contractors," she said. "For the most part, the contractors we use are in-state."
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.