Police describe trips to bay

11/14/2003 8:25 AM

10/20/2014 9:58 AM

Scott Peterson went to San Francisco Bay three times in January as police divers searched for his missing pregnant wife, and lied to a second woman about being a widower, a detective testified Thursday.

Intriguing testimony by four witnesses on several fronts concluded with an announcement that Peterson's former girlfriend, Amber Frey, won't be called to testify at his preliminary hearing on double-murder charges.

The 31-year-old former fertilizer salesman is charged with killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.

Laci Peterson's mother left the courtroom when testimony turned to the recovery and condition of the 27-year-old's remains and those of her son.

After Thursday's session, lead defense attorney Mark Geragos of Los Angeles pronounced it "a very good day." Geragos has used the same words after previous sessions without being specific.

Geragos and defense attorney Kirk McAllister spent much of the day grilling a police detective about evidence handling and authorities' dogged focus on Scott Peterson.

Geragos hinted that the preliminary hearing could conclude Monday, which would be 13 calendar days longer than prosecutors initially predicted.

Additional revelations Thursday:

  • Conner would have been a "viable baby" had he been born Dec. 23, the last day Laci Peterson visited an obstetrician's office, an investigator said. The next day she was reported missing.
  • Laci Peterson's remains were clad in tan maternity pants with duct tape attached to the groin area, a detective testified. The pants were the same style as a pair that she or her husband had purchased at a Modesto store.
  • The victim's sister, Amy Rocha, had testified earlier that Laci Peterson was wearing tan pants when Rocha saw her the evening of Dec. 23.

    Laci Peterson's remains were recovered April 14 along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, a day after Conner's body was discovered about a mile away.

  • A neighbor of the Petersons' provided testimony that conflicts with a key defense theory that relies on people saying they saw Laci Peterson walking her dog Christmas Eve morning.
  • Investigators did not detect a single dark human hair found in needle-nose pliers in Scott Peterson's fishing boat until Feb. 11 -- several weeks after the evidence had been gathered.
  • A state Department of Justice forensic evidence report stated that "there was no indication the wire cutters or needle-nose pliers had been used recently," Geragos said while questioning a detective.
  • Police tailed Scott Peterson to San Francisco Bay on Jan. 5, 6 and 9, and he briefly gazed out at the water before driving away in cars he had rented shortly before the trips, Modesto police Detective Al Brocchini testified.

    Geragos suggested that Peterson made the trips to check on search efforts for his missing wife, pointing to Bee articles detailing police search efforts on the bay.

    The detective said he never asked Peterson about the trips to the bay.

    "You'd rather just come to the conclusion that it's suspicious because he's returning to the scene, is that it?" Geragos said.

    Brocchini didn't answer after Judge Al Girolami ruled the question was argumentative.

    On Peterson's first trip, he stood at the boat launch and gazed out at the water for five minutes, Brocchini said. Peterson didn't make any stops on the roughly 170-mile round trip, Brocchini said.

    On the second, he made no stops on the outbound leg, "stared out into the bay about two minutes" after arriving at the Berkeley Marina, and "immediately began doing counter-surveillance" tactics when he left, Brocchini said.

    The shadowing officers lost Peterson after he stopped his car on the side of the highway, did U-turns in the middle of city blocks and drove through parking lots, Brocchini said.

    Geragos suggested that Peterson thought he was being followed by the media and attempted to shake them.

    "We were following him, and we didn't see any media people following him," Brocchini said.

    On the third trip, Peterson drove to the marina in a rented truck, briefly got out and then drove to a reservoir near Santa Nella. He stayed that night at a hotel in Bakersfield, Brocchini said.

    The detective also testified that Peterson was introduced to Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey though a friend of hers whom Peterson met in October at an agricultural conference in Anaheim.

    Frey was Peterson's girlfriend at the time his wife went missing. Frey has said she didn't know he was married when they met Nov. 20.

    After the court session Thursday, Frey's attorney, Gloria Allred of Los Angeles, announced at a press briefing that prosecutors had decided not to call her client to the witness stand during this hearing.

    When questioning turned to the site where Laci Peterson's remains were recovered along Point Isabel Regional Shoreline near Richmond, her mother, Sharon Rocha, left the courtroom.

    Laci Peterson's stepfather, Ron Grantski, appeared to intently watch Scott Peterson at the defense table.

    A doctor who examined Laci Peterson on Dec. 23 said Conner would have been "a viable baby if the baby was born on that day, with some assistance," Modesto police Detective Phil Owen said.

    Peterson's defense team is scheduled to cross-examine Owen this morning.

    In other testimony, Karen Servas, who lives next door to the Petersons' Covena Avenue home, said she put their golden retriever in their back yard at 10:18 a.m. Dec. 24.

    That conflicts with independent statements by La Loma neighborhood residents Homer Maldonado and Vivian Mitchell, who have told The Bee they saw Laci Peterson walking the dog between 9:45 and 10 a.m. and between 10 and 10:30 a.m., respectively.

    Servas said a wet and dirty leash was attached to the dog, McKenzie, when she found it running free.

    Servas acknowledged that she had told police that the Petersons "seemed to get along very well" and that both were "excited about the upcoming baby and pregnancy," as paraphrased by Geragos.

    Also Thursday, Geragos asked Brocchini if he handled Laci Peterson's hairbrush while examining other evidence in February -- specifically, pliers found in Scott Peterson's boat. Brocchini said he did not.

    A black hair remains at the center of a legal battle over mitochondrial DNA evidence. Brocchini testified Thursday that he and Detective Craig Grogan discovered "pliers with a big long hair sticking out of it" Feb. 11 while reviewing evidence pictures taken some weeks before.

    Geragos argued strenuously that the picture should not be accepted as evidence because a copy of the picture provided to him was "overexposed" and "absolutely illegible." He said he had arranged for an expert to compare the print with film negatives on Tuesday.

    Co-defense counsel McAllister for a third day pressed his campaign to discredit Brocchini's police work, charging that the detective rejected other theories for Laci Peterson's disappearance.

    Under McAllister's questioning, Brocchini:

  • Acknowledged having called in a tip to a hot line operated by Scott Peterson's family. The detective said he covertly passed along information that police had received to see whether it would be reported back to them.
  • Confirmed that he never attempted to contact Maldonado or Mitchell, both of whom have said they saw Laci Peterson walking her dog in the La Loma neighborhood the morning of Dec. 24 -- after the time authorities claim she was slain.
  • Acknowledged having passed information on Scott Peterson's spending habits to officials of Tradecorp, the Spain-based fertilizer firm that employed Peterson.
  • Brocchini denied, however, trying to get Peterson fired. He said he provided a federal grand jury with Peterson's spending documents that the firm provided to police.

  • Denied having told Mike Richardson, a close friend of the Petersons, that he was "going to take Scott Peterson down."
  • "It got personal, didn't it?" McAllister asked the detective.

    Brocchini said, "We weren't zeroed in on anybody. We still had an open mind."

    Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

    Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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