Scott Peterson's girlfriend may have secretly begun taping their telephone calls a week before his pregnant wife disappeared, a defense attorney suggested Wednesday in a courtroom revelation.
Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey previously said she began cooperating with police Dec. 30 after learning of Peterson's marital status in media reports about his wife, who was reported missing Christmas Eve.
Frey told Modesto police Detective Al Brocchini that she didn't tape her chats with Peterson before then, the detective testified Wednesday at Peterson's preliminary hearing on double-murder charges.
Modesto defense attorney Kirk McAllister suggested that was "a lie," and asked Brocchini if he had heard that Frey began recording Dec. 16. The detective said he had not.
Frey, 28, who has yet to testify, has said she didn't know Peterson was married when they met last Nov. 20. Brocchini testified last week that Peterson, now 31, told her about Dec. 9 that he had "lost his wife."
Brocchini said he gave Frey a tape recorder Dec. 30 and bought equipment at a Radio Shack store to help her with taping. Investigators hoped Peterson would not realize she was cooperating with them, the detective said.
"(Peterson) wasn't talking about Laci" in chats with Frey, Brocchini testified. "He was talking about himself," including a faked trip to Europe in late December, the detective said.
Authorities believe the fertil- izer salesman murdered his pregnant wife, Laci, Dec. 23 or 24. The bodies of mother and child were recovered in mid-April. Prosecutors are seeking the death pen- alty.
In another development Wednesday, authorities acknowledged having withheld from Peterson's defense camp three roughly one-hour recordings made by a surveillance camera mounted Jan. 3 on a pole across the street from his La Loma-area home.
Lead defense attorney Mark Geragos of Los Angeles called the lapse "a monumental problem" and referred to "a rogue element out there." But prosecutor Rick Distaso said tapes would be turned over to Geragos late Wednesday or early today, and Judge Al Girolami said he is satisfied with that promise.
"What we've got here is nothing better than a shell game in a capital case," Geragos fumed in frustration at having been denied the material. "The FBI is now saying, 'Go pound sand.'"
Agents from a local drug enforcement agency, who handle wiretaps and surveillance in Stanislaus County, installed the 8mm surveillance camera to monitor Peterson's movements from a nearby van, Distaso said. Brocchini said the camera alerted investigators, who could then follow Peterson.
The defense wants copies of the recordings in case they contain information that could exonerate Peterson, and shed light on a Jan. 18 burglary of his home by a neighbor.
Brocchini testified that he does not know whether the camera captured Kimberly Ann McGregor breaking into the Co-vena Avenue home. Sources have said she drank alcohol and took Laci Peterson's wedding dress, although it was later returned and no charges were filed.
Regarding taped phone conversations, Brocchini said he and other detectives coached Frey on what to say to Peterson. Responding to questions from McAllister, Brocchini acknowledged urging Frey to paint herself as a possible suspect, in the event that Peterson would admit guilt to deflect blame from her.
McAllister asked Brocchini about another tack, with Frey suggesting to Peterson that "maybe there was an accident, something happened and you (Peterson) panicked." The detective responded: "It could have happened. I don't remember it."
Laci Peterson's mother and brother, Sharon and Brent Rocha, also cooperated with authorities in their phone calls with Scott Peterson, Brocchini said.
A state Department of Justice officer sat in on some strategy meetings, Brocchini said. He said she is "not a psychologist," but he did not pin down her position and McAllister moved on.
Brocchini also acknowledged urging a friend of Peterson to read information in The Bee, regarding an insurance policy on Laci Peterson, that later turned out to be inaccurate. But the detective said he didn't know the information was false at the time.
"You were trying to poison his mind against Scott Peterson," McAllister charged.
A member of Laci Peterson's family had provided the information to The Bee, saying Scott Peterson had taken out a $250,000 policy on his wife in the summer of 2002. He actually had obtained the policy in June 2001, court documents show.
The inaccurate report was printed Jan. 17 -- the day before the burglary at Peterson's home.
Brocchini said he questioned as many friends of both Petersons as he could find. McAllister asked if Brocchini were willing to lie to them, but Girolami agreed with a prosecutor's objection and the detective did not answer.
Brocchini is expected to return to the witness stand today.
Also Wednesday, Geragos sparred with a second FBI scientist who testified that the bureau's DNA testing is sound.
Geragos suggested that the bureau's technique can produce misleading results and relies on a flawed database, echoing a defense expert who testified last week. But Bruce Budowle, a sen-ior scientist from the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va., insisted Wednesday that the testing is generally accepted in the scientific community.
Testing showed that a hair found in pliers in Peterson's boat was not his but could have come from his wife, another FBI expert testified two weeks ago.
A computer used to analyze DNA data from the hair malfunctioned four times in 16 tries, but the glitches did not affect the results, Budowle said. He refused to call the glitches "problems."
"When the machine malfunctions, is that a problem?" Geragos asked.
"It depends on what you mean by problem," Budowle said.
"It didn't work," Geragos said.
Budowle responded that the machine ultimately did work and produced valid results.
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.