Experts say serial killer theory in Peterson case worthy of investigation

07/02/2003 9:25 AM

11/20/2007 6:41 AM

Attorneys on either side of Modesto's high-profile double-murder case aren't saying whether they're looking into a serial killer theory. But legal experts say it would be a worthy investigation, given developments in a Nevada slaying.

Las Vegas police have contacted Modesto police about a recently arrested suspect in a murder and dismemberment, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.

Why?

The basics: Suspect Perry Carl Monroe, 29, has lived in Alameda, an island city in the eastern San Francisco Bay, most of his life, except for a stint as a student at the University of California at Davis.

And Monroe has ties to areas where there have been discoveries of bodies with similarities to the Las Vegas case:

The body of Evelyn Hernandez washed ashore along the bay in July 2002. She was days away from delivering a baby when she and her 5-year-old son disappeared the previous May.

The bodies of Laci Peterson, 27, and her unborn son, Conner, were found on the bay shoreline in mid-April. Sources have told The Bee that the woman's head and feet were not recovered.

Parts of dismembered bodies were discovered in a trash bin in Davis in June.

The torso of a woman -- head, hands and feet missing -- was recovered in a Boulder City fishing pond just outside Las Vegas on June 23. Monroe was arrested the next day while sleeping in his car in Fresno -- 97 miles south of Modesto -- the woman's severed hands in his trunk, authorities said.

Some legal specialists say attempting to connect the cases is a logical maneuver.

"From the defense perspective, they would explore any reasonable alternative that might explain the disappearance of Laci Peterson," said Ruth Jones of McGeorge School of Law, a former prosecutor.

From the perspective of authorities, "You have an obligation to try and figure out if it fits," Jones said. "If there is evidence out there to suggest the defendant didn't do it, you have an obligation to look at it and turn it over."

Scott Peterson, 30, awaits a September preliminary hearing on charges that he killed his wife and their unborn son. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty -- and have made it clear that the evidence points only to Peterson.

A gag order and several court-sealed documents have made it difficult for anyone not directly connected to the case to assess the strength of the evidence against Peterson.

Modesto police and Peterson's attorneys, citing the gag order, have refused to comment on the Monroe case.

Las Vegas police Lt. Tom Monahan, who is heading the Monroe case, has not returned several calls placed by The Bee. But he told the Review-Journal that there is no evidence to suggest Monroe is a serial killer or that he had anything to do with the Peterson slayings.

Monroe also told the Review-Journal he called Modesto police in a snit after he was questioned about possible links between his case and the Peterson murders. He called that an "absurd theory."

But Stanislaus County Deputy Public Defender Kent Faulkner, who briefly represented Peterson during the early stages of his case, said the circumstances surrounding the Monroe case require a closer look.

"You don't find dismembered bodies very often," Faulkner said. "I think you're obligated to look into it."

But getting information on the cases could be "extremely difficult" for the defense because those investigations are ongoing, Faulkner said.

"These other jurisdictions are trying to protect an ongoing investigation for a lot of reasons," Faulkner said. "They might have a suspect in mind."

The San Francisco city attorney's office has balked at turning over information from the Hernandez case to Peterson's defense, and a hearing on the issue is scheduled for July 9.

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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