Modesto’s Scott Peterson was convicted by police with tunnel vision, complicit media and a bloodthirsty public, claims an unfinished full-length documentary shown for the first time Saturday.
“There wasn’t any evidence in this case,” attorney Mark Geragos, interviewed at length for the movie, told a large crowd at the American Documentary Film Festival during a question-and-answer session just after the screening of “Trial by Fury: The People v. Scott Peterson.”
“It was a “complete media lynching,” Geragos said.
Geragos represented Peterson, now 43, in the blockbuster 2004 trial that ended with the Modesto man sent to death row for the murders of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.
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The media convicted him.
Mark Geragos, attorney, Los Angeles
The movie has not been picked up by a film distributor, producer Hugo Perez said. Film editors won’t finish their work for several months, he said, and it isn’t known when audiences might see it, or where.
Laci Peterson’s family had no part in the making of “Trial by Fury,” other than appearing in old news clips used by directors.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that justice was served,” Sharon Rocha, the victim’s mother, told The Modesto Bee in a separate interview Saturday. “Scott Peterson is guilty.”
Film directors Shareen Anderson and Elena Konstantinou thought there was “something wrong with the story” that captivated audiences across the United States and beyond as portrayed by most media and one of two made-for-TV movies, Anderson said. The case also spawned more than a dozen books and various true-crime shows, including Reelz channel’s “Murder Made Me Famous” series segment last year and another airing since in Japan.
The directors wrote a letter to Scott Peterson in his cell at San Quentin State Prison, Anderson said, and Peterson put them in touch with his family members and attorneys. The filmmakers requested interviews with jurors, Modesto police and Stanislaus County prosecutors but ended up doing “Trial by Fury” without them, she said.
I think the film stands for itself. Peterson did not have a fair trial. That’s it.
Elena Konstantinou, director, “Trial by Fury”
A private investigator and several defense attorneys appear in the documentary, including Modesto’s Frank Carson – apparently interviewed before he was arrested and charged with murder. He and other co-defendants are in the middle of a months-long preliminary hearing.
“Trial by Fury” has been “quite a journey,” said Anderson, who is based in New York and has made several independent films. She and Konstantinou “both feel at this stage (Scott Peterson) does deserve a new trial,” she said.
The filmmakers relied heavily on news footage captured in the case and clips from The Bee, starting Christmas Eve 2002 when Scott Peterson reported his wife missing, and nearly four months later when the bodies of mother and fetus were discovered on the shore of San Francisco Bay. He had told authorities he went fishing there the day Laci Peterson vanished, then returned to an empty house, but they believed he dumped her body in the water.
Authorities manipulated media to turn Laci’s family and the public against Scott, the film claims, including news conferences revealing his affair with Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey.✔ She became a star witness for the prosecution, providing a turning point in the 2004 trial.
Geragos of Los Angeles has represented celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, and he provided television cable news commentary on the Peterson case before signing on to lead the defense team.
“This was far and away (my) worst defeat,” Geragos told the audience Saturday. “Scott is clearly not just not guilty. … Scott is innocent. I will believe that till the day I die. What happened in this case was one of the worst abominations of the criminal justice system I ever experienced.”
Geragos’ worst misstep was not arguing for cameras in the courtroom because unfiltered trial footage would have convinced people his client was innocent, he said.
Three jurors were excused during the course of the lengthy trial. They included two during jury deliberations, one of which was the jury foreman.
“This wasn’t captured in the film,” Geragos told the crowd, “but when (Judge Alfred Delucchi)✔ took the foreperson off was the only time I told a judge to f--- (expletive) off. I literally told the judge to f--- (expletive) off; I was so out of my mind” at the perceived injustice, Geragos said.
Cliff Gardner, one of Peterson’s appellate lawyers, also took questions Saturday and said his appearance in the documentary represents the only interview he has ever granted.
“Media can be a way of fixing a problem they at least in part created,” said Gardner, who has filed two of Peterson’s three post-conviction appeals briefs.
Gardner took no issue with Geragos’ performance in the trial, while the third appeal did. It was authored by another attorney who heaped blame on Geragos and who did not appear in the documentary.
Media can be a way of fixing a problem they at least in part created.
Cliff Gardner, appellate attorney
“Trial by Fury” does not focus on most questions raised in the lengthy appeals documents, including the gestational age of Conner Peterson, Scott and Laci’s unborn child; the reliability of scent-dog tracking evidence; Delucchi’s guiding of trial proceedings; and a so-called stealth juror who reportedly lied in order to sit in judgment of Scott Peterson.
But the documentary says that a lieutenant at the California Institution for Men in Chino overheard a taped telephone conversation between an inmate and his brother, who was not in custody, regarding a burglary across the street from the Petersons’ Modesto home that could disprove authorities’ theory of how events unfolded.
Although law enforcement had known about the burglary for months they revealed it to Geragos’ team on the day that jurors delivered Scott’s guilty verdict, Geragos said, providing no time for investigation.
The prison lieutenant initially indicated he would cooperate with Peterson’s defense team but later changed his mind, and a recording of the telephone conversation somehow vanished, the documentary says.
That could prove valuable in Peterson’s appeal, Gardner said. Oral arguments before the California Supreme Court could be scheduled anytime in the next five years or so, he said.
“Trial by Fury” also interviewed people who said they saw Laci Peterson walking her golden retriever in the couple’s La Loma neighborhood after the time authorities believe she was murdered. Most had appeared in Bee reports but were not called to testify at trial.
California has 748 condemned inmates but has executed none since 2006. The average time served on death row is 18 years.
A federal judge declared executions unconstitutional last year, but appellate justices overturned that ruling, and competing initiatives could appear on the ballot this fall, one asking to abolish the death penalty and the other hoping to fast-track it.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that justice was served. Scott Peterson is guilty.
Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson’s mother
A woman in Saturday’s audience reminded the crowd that “there is enough heartbreak to go around” and evoked memories of Laci and Conner Peterson, who were mostly ignored in Saturday’s panel discussion.
Janey Peterson, Laci’s sister-in-law, acknowledged sadly that Laci “was part of our family.”
Once the documentary is finished it may be shown at other film festivals and could be shopped to television and movie outlets, said Perez, the producer.
More than 150 movies from around the world were selected for viewing at Palm Springs’ six-day American Documentary Film Festival, which ends Monday. “Trial by Fury” has a Monday showing at 3:30 p.m. at the Palm Desert satellite of California State University, San Bernardino.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390