Peterson held to stand trial

11/19/2003 9:25 AM

10/20/2014 9:58 AM

A judge Tuesday held Scott Peterson to answer to charges that he murdered his wife and unborn son, ending a 12-day preliminary hearing and paving the way for a trial.

The ruling came amid emerging details about Peterson's relationship with his girlfriend Amber Frey and after testimony that he had $15,000 cash and extensive camping gear with him when he was arrested.

"Basically, all it means is the case can go forward," Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said after the ruling was announced, adding that the defense is "in the driver's seat" on when the case goes to trial.

The 31-year-old former fertilizer salesman is charged with killing his wife, Laci, and their son, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

No trial date has been set, and a wave of defense motions on evidence and moving the trial appear likely to keep the case backed up for months and possibly years. Peterson is due in court Dec. 3 for arraignment.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos of Los Angeles didn't indicate when a trial might occur.

"Obviously, we're gratified at least that we're this much closer to trial," he said outside Stanislaus County Super-ior Court.

Peterson's mother, Jackie, said after the court session that she didn't know if her son was anxious to be done with the hearing.

"He didn't comment to us like that," she said. "We talk about family."

Girolami's ruling Tuesday followed a short day in court that included testimony that Scott Peterson had $15,000 cash and a camp stove, water purifier, fishing pole and other gear with him when he was arrested April 18 just outside the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, north of San Diego.

A driver's license issued to Peterson's brother was on the center console of the car next to Peterson's wallet, Detective Jon Buehler testified Tuesday.

Geragos suggested that the license had been used to obtain a resident's discount at the golf course.

Prosecutors also presented testimony apparently designed to show that Peterson was heavily involved with a girlfriend and had a possible motive.

Peterson began a relationship with Fresno massage therapist Frey in November and told her he wasn't married, detectives testified.

In a Jan. 6 phone call -- nearly two weeks after his pregnant wife disappeared Christmas Eve -- Peterson said he was "longing to hold onto" Frey, Buehler testified.

Frey taped that call and others for police and Buehler said he was present when the Jan. 6 call took place.

During the call, Frey con- fronted Peterson about his comments that they had a "future" together and that he "didn't want to have any children," according to a transcript of the call submitted into evidence.

"Sweetie, I I'm so sorry that I can't tell you everything," Peterson said, repeatedly deflecting questions about why he had lied about his wife and how he would explain a newborn baby to Frey, who is a single mother.

Peterson also hedged when Frey challenged him on a Dec. 9 conversation in which she allegedly held his hand as he tear- fully said he had "lost" his wife.

"How could you lose your wife before she's already lost?" Frey asked.

"There are different kinds of loss, Amber," he said in the transcript.

During the conversation, Frey asked Peterson why she should "not go to police with this" -- an apparent reference to the couple's relationship.

"It's your decision," he replied.

Buehler acknowledged in court that during hundreds of phone calls between the couple, Peterson never sought to dissuade Frey from going to police.

Peterson exchanged 241 cell phone calls with Frey in a 93-day period starting five weeks before his pregnant wife disappeared, an investigator testified Tuesday.

Peterson and Frey called each other nearly every day until

Feb. 19, said Steve Jacobson, an investigator with the Stanislaus County district attorney's office. The calls include seven on Christmas Day and 16 the next day.

Conspicuous was a lack of calls between the pair Dec. 24, the day authorities believe Peterson dumped his wife's body in San Francisco Bay.

Peterson told police that night he had been fishing alone in the bay early that afternoon.

A series of cell phone calls made that day seemed to bear out that Peterson went to the Berkeley Marina, where he told police he launched his fishing boat.

Jacobson led the courtroom through Peterson's movements Dec. 24 as indicated by which cell phone towers received his calls. The defendant appeared to call his voice mail at 10:08 that morning while in or near his home. The call was then transferred to a cell phone tower in the direction of his warehouse, indicating that Peterson likely was moving while making the call.

Peterson had told police his wife was at home when he left at about 9:30 a.m. that morning. He said he picked up his 14-foot aluminum fishing boat from the warehouse and went to the bay.

He made three calls near the Berkeley Marina starting at 2:12 p.m. -- to his voice mail, his home and his wife's cell phone.

Later phone calls show he was on the move from Berkeley to Oakland, Castro Valley and Livermore as he returned from the bay, Jacobson indicated.

Geragos appeared to draw the image of a man concerned at having returned to an empty house. Responding to the attorney's questions, Jacobson confirmed that Peterson made numerous calls the evening of Dec. 24, including several to his wife's mother, Sharon Rocha, sister, Amy Rocha, and later to 911.

The defendant also called his next-door neighbor, Karen Servas, who last week testified that she found the Petersons' dog roaming free with a leash attached at about 10:18 a.m. Christmas Eve.

Peterson told police his wife had plans to walk their golden retriever that day.

Jacobson also said he was aware that drug task force agents had mounted a surveillance camera on a pole across the street from the Petersons' Covena Avenue home, but had not relayed that information to officials in the district attorney's office, where he works.

Prosecutors said early in the preliminary hearing, after Geragos raised the issue, that they did not have any surveillance tapes from a camera placed across the street.

Three one-hour tapes from the camera were turned over to the defense last week after the existence of the camera was revealed in court.

The preliminary hearing closed without the defense calling any of its own witnesses, a typical move given the rela- tively low threshold for having a defendant held for trial at a preliminary hearing.

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

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

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