Peterson: Trial Stories

November 13, 2004

Neighborhood: Once again, tide of visitors flows to La Loma street

Sally Wallace and Gail Claus-Nicholas dashed over to Scott and Laci Peterson's gray-green bungalow as soon as news of an impending verdict broke.

Arriving a little after noon, they were the first of a wave of people to converge on the Covena Avenue home the Petersons once shared.

They lit a candle and placed it at the garden gate, then cranked up the volume of their silver PT Cruiser's radio.

The two longtime friends then clutched each other's hands as they listened to a court clerk declaring Scott Peterson guilty of murdering his wife and their unborn child.

"Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" Claus-Nicholas whispered as though stifling a shout in a library, her eyes watering.

Others watched coverage of the verdict on television in the quiet of their living rooms.

One Covena Avenue resident who asked to remain anonymous said she "hoped and prayed" Peterson would be found guilty as she stared intently at her TV. When she heard "guilty of murder," she clapped her hands softly, pressed her palms together, and smiled.

Within minutes, dozens of people poured onto Covena Avenue in Modesto's La Loma neighborhood, by foot and car.

Three police officers cordoned off the Peterson front yard. Still, gifts trickled onto the remaining strip of lawn. The slowly forming shrine of candles and flowers provoked a sense of déjà vu for neighbors who had watched this happen in April 2003, shortly after the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, washed up along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

Susan Medina, who lives across the street, pleaded with an officer to stop the barrage of visitors. Since Peterson's disappearance, cars have circled her block nonstop she said.

Last summer, Medina built a high-walled front courtyard that spared her the view of strange cars trolling by day and night.

Most of those who converged on Covena Avenue on Friday believed Peterson, who faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole, is getting what he deserves.

They echoed similar reasons for why they're convinced Peterson killed his pregnant wife:

  • His fishing trip to the bay on Christmas Eve.
  • His phone conversations with girlfriend Amber Frey during a candlelight vigil for Laci.
  • His sudden move to San Diego, where he dyed his hair blond and carried $15,000 in cash when he was arrested in April 2003.
  • Standoffish, strange behavior toward neighbors after his wife's disappearance.
  • "Not the grieving husband," asserted Marie-Merced Thompson, a La Loma neighbor who was visiting the Peterson home with her daughter on Friday. "It creeped us out."

    She and daughter Romy Thompson recalled seeing Scott Peterson, after his wife had been declared missing, driving his white truck, always on his cell phone. They said he'd slow down and smile, seeming flirtatious.

    Claudia Olson, another neighbor, was "very pleased" with the verdict.

    She recalled Scott Peterson and his brother-in-law, Brent Rocha, coming to her door on Christmas Eve looking for Laci. Rocha did all the talking, while Scott Peterson hung back, arms folded, leaning against a brick column on her front stoop, Olson said.

    "He just looked guilty," she said.

    Several others said they had worried that, like the way they saw it in the O.J. Simpson case, a high-powered lawyer would bamboozle the jury.

    "I don't think you should be able to buy justice," said Maureen Burgess of Modesto, a retired teacher who wore a New Year's Eve tiara, long black skirt and sparkly black top to the Peterson home.

    "It's a happy new year finally for Laci's family," she said, explaining her costume. "They've waited long enough."

    People also expressed compassion for Lee and Jackie Peterson, Scott's parents.

    "They, too," Donna Bonora said, "are going to lose a child."

    Bee staff writer Julissa McKinnon can be reached at 578-2324 or

    Bee staff writer Melanie Turner can be reached at 578-2366 or

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