Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino said this week that he did not detect "much grief" from Scott Peterson when the two met 10 days after Peterson's pregnant wife, Laci, was reported missing.
Sabatino said Peterson showed "anxiety" when they met for about 25 minutes at Starbucks Coffee near Tenth Street Place on Jan. 3.
By then, hundreds of volunteers had joined in the search effort in and around East La Loma Park, and more than 1,000 people had attended a New Year's Eve candlelight vigil for the missing woman.
Recalling his chat with Peterson, Sabatino said: "I guess I was impressed that there wasn't much grief."
But Sabatino said Peterson told him that evenings and mornings were difficult compared to daytime hours, when he busied himself with efforts to find his wife.
Later that day, Sabatino summarized the meeting in a one-page report to Police Chief Roy Wasden. The Bee obtained a copy of the memo this week; Sabatino's signature does not appear on The Bee's copy, but the mayor confirmed that he wrote it.
The mayor was under criminal investigation at that time, and still is. He said he was not asked to write the memo, but volunteered the information "in case anybody ever questioned me about it."
"At no time did I ask, nor did (Peterson) volunteer, his activities on Dec. 24," Sabatino wrote, referring to the day that Laci Peterson's family reported her missing from her Modesto home.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Peterson in the slayings of his wife and unborn son, Conner. Their bodies were recovered along the San Francisco Bay shoreline a few days before Peterson was arrested April 18.
Sabatino said he ran into Peterson at the volunteer search headquarters in the days following his wife's disappearance. Peterson asked if they could meet privately, Sabatino said, and the mayor agreed.
"(Police) kept telling me he wasn't a suspect," Sabatino said this week.
He said Peterson thanked him for the city's efforts to find his wife. He praised "the community" for staging the candlelight vigil, and he praised Wasden, according to Sabatino.
Lee Peterson, Scott Peterson's father, joined the two about halfway into the conversation. The elder Peterson said he wanted to thank Wasden and reached for his cellular phone, but Sabatino suggested waiting, the mayor wrote in the memo.
Sabatino said he and Peterson have not spoken since.
The mayor generated widespread media interest when he said in April that he felt Peterson could not get a fair trial in Modesto.
None of three national television shows that carried his comments mentioned that Sabatino was being investigated by the same authorities who would fight an attempt to move Peterson's trial.
Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton said Thursday that he hopes soon to ask a criminal grand jury to indict Sabatino. A search warrant affidavit indicated that "large-scale embezzlement" played a role in the investigation.
As a target of law enforcement, Sabatino said he is the first to presume innocence until guilt is proved. He said he has kept an open mind on the Peterson case.
"Logic would indicate that by now I should have an opinion," Sabatino said, "that I'd have enough information to form an opinion. But I don't know. It's now in the hands of the attorneys and the judge."
Sabatino's Jan. 3 memo about his conversation with Peterson is available online, www.modbee.com.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.
* THE PETERSON FILE
SAN FRANCISCO CASE --
San Francisco authorities rebuffed a request from Scott Peterson's defense team for copies of police documents in the case of another pregnant woman whose body was found in San Francisco Bay. The authorities say the case file would not solve Laci Peterson's murder, and disclosing the file would hurt the Evelyn Hernandez case.
HEARING DELAY -- The prosecution and defense agreed to delay a hearing on a motion filed by lead defense attorney
Mark Geragos, who is seeking sanctions against the district attorney over wiretap handling.
MAYOR'S MEMO -- Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino reported that he did not detect "much grief" in Scott Peterson when the two met for coffee on Jan. 3.
JULY 9 -- Hearing set on media coverage of the preliminary hearing and any potential defense request to close that hearing.
JULY 16 -- Preliminary hearing scheduled.