Laci Peterson’s father, Dennis Rocha, died Sunday at age 72.
People far and wide who were captivated by her murder remember Rocha in an emotional state when his 27-year-old pregnant daughter went missing at Christmastime 2002, weeping and pleading for her safe return. The remains of mother and child washed ashore in San Francisco Bay nearly four months later, and her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted of double murder in 2004.
“Laci loved her dad, and now they will be together again,” said her mother, Sharon Rocha, in an email Monday. She continues to go by that name even though they divorced four decades ago, when Laci was 2.
Her “other” father, Ron Grantski — Sharon Rocha’s longtime companion, who helped raise Laci — also died this year at age 71. Dennis Rocha remained on good terms with them and privately praised Grantski at his graveside service in April.
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Dennis Robert Rocha had moved with his family when he was very young from Gilroy to Escalon, where he lived 70 years. He was a member of the US Marine Corps Reserves and operated a dairy for several decades before retiring, said his oldest child, Brent Rocha, in a telephone interview Monday. His father had a passion for team roping and calf roping and participated in annual Mule Days celebrations in Bishop back in the day, Brent said.
“He was a good dad and a hard worker,” his daughter, Amy Woodard, — Laci’s half-sister — said Monday.
Growing up, Brent and Laci lived with their mother and Grantski in Modesto and spent many weekends at their father’s ranch in Escalon.
Hard-core observers of the Peterson case may recall that Laci’s family was appalled when Scott traded in her 1996 forest green Land Rover as part of a purchase of a used pickup six weeks after she disappeared. Dennis Rocha bought it from Roberts Auto Sales on Modesto’s McHenry Avenue for $1 only days later. “(Scott) would keep the car if he knew she was coming home,” Mr. Rocha told The Modesto Bee at the time.
Mr. Rocha assumed a lower profile during Scott Peterson’s blockbuster trial, which was moved to Redwood City to escape pervasive publicity here. Always wearing cowboy boots, Mr. Rocha attended when he was able. He cried when graphic photos of his loved ones’ remains were displayed for jurors, and drew a warning from the judge when using salty language toward the defendant in the penalty phase, just before Scott Peterson received a death-penalty sentence.
“He was a very kind and loving-type person,” Brent Rocha said of his father. “He was always very affectionate and loving toward us.”
He is survived by his children, Brent and Amy, and six grandchildren between them, as well as a sister, Robin Rocha, and stepson Nathan Hazard.
Information on Friday services will appear at The Bee’s obituary website.