March 16, 2005: Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death


WHAT HAPPENED?


Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and sentenced to death on March 16, 2005 for his crime.


Scott Peterson's case is not to be confused with Drew Peterson, a man with a similar name who was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen, in 2012. And neither are to be confused with Michael Peterson, another man with a similar name who was also convicted of his wife Kathleen in 2001. (Moral of the story, if your name is Kathleen, or you married someone who's last name is Peterson, watch your back.)


Scott Peterson is still on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

EARLY LIFE AND MARRIAGE TO LACI


Scott Peterson was born in 1972 in San Diego, California to his father, a businessman, and his mother who owned a boutique in La Jolla. His parents had 6 children, but Scott was the only child they had together, the others being from previous relationships.


He shared a bedroom with his half-brother as a kid, enjoyed golf and dreamed of becoming a professional golfer, a dream that seemed feasible after being one of the top junior golfers in the area after his high school graduation. His teammate, Phil Mickelson, and he both enrolled at Arizona State University. Mickelson went onto be a successful PGA golfer, and Peterson's father later said that the competition he presented his son was discouraging for him.


Peterson was kicked off the team when he took his teammate Chris out to drink and meet girls, resulting in a next-day hangover. Chris's father did not want his son's association with Peterson to threaten his career, and went to the coach, who kicked Peterson off the team. (Which seems very 5th grade recreational sports to me, but I digress.)


He transferred to Cuesta College and later to California Polytechnic State University where he majored in agricultural business, and was considered a model student. While at Cal Poly, he worked at a restaurant and one of his coworkers received a bunch of visits from a girl named Laci Denise Rocha, who also attended school with them.


Laci made the first move and gave him her phone number, and immediately after they met, she told her mom that she met the man she was going to marry. He called her, and they began dating, becoming more serious quickly. They dated for 2 years and moved in together. After Laci's graduation, they got married in 1997.


Peterson finished his senior year while married, and Laci got a job nearby. Prosecutors believe that, around this time, Peterson began to cheat on his wife in the first of at least 2 affairs. He graduated in 1998 and the Peterson's opened a sports bar called The Shack in San Luis Obispo.


Though business was originally slow, it began to improve, doing very well on the weekends. They sold The Shack in 2000 and moved to Laci's home in Modesto, buying a 3-bedroom house with plans to start a family.


Laci took a part-time job as a substitute teacher, and Peterson got a job with Tradecorp U.S.A. He was working on salary plus commission, and making good money. Laci's family and friends claim that she liked being a housewife and enjoyed cooking and cleaning, and she was extremely excited when she found out that she was pregnant in 2002.


While she was 7 months pregnant in October of 2002, Peterson was introduced to a massage therapist named Amber Frey, who claimed later that he told her he was single and they started a romantic relationship.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF LACI PETERSON


On December 23, 2002, in the evening, Peterson and Laci went to Laci's sister Amy's hair salon so Amy could give him a haircut, as she did monthly. Amy said that Peterson offered to pick up a fruit basket that they had ordered for their grandfather as a Christmas gift, because he would be playing at the golf course nearby. Laci talked on the phone with her mother that evening around 8:30 PM.


Peterson said that he saw his wife around 9:30 AM on Christmas Eve when he went to go fishing. She was watching TV, with plans to mop the floor, bake cookies and walk the dog. Though, a neighbor found the Peterson's dog, McKenzie and returned him to the back yard and then another neighbor found the dog again that afternoon.


When he got home from fishing, he found the house empty and the dog in the back yard, and Laci's car in the driveway. He showered and washed his clothes, which he got wet from fishing.


Though Peterson said he reported his wife Laci missing from their home, it was reported that when Laci was not home by 5:15 PM, he called his mother-in-law and a half hour later, Laci's stepfather called the police. She was officially reported missing on Christmas Eve.


Police arrived at the house, and found that her keys, wallet, sunglasses and purse were all in a closet in their home. The dining room table was "meticulously" set in preparation for Christmas dinner the next night. A phone was found on the kitchen counter with a full-page ad for a defense lawyer.


During the search, Peterson remained calm. He was questioned that evening. He originally said he spent the day golfing, but later told police he had gone fishing about 90 miles away from the couple's home. The detectives were surprised by his calm demeanor, never asking what was next or seeming terribly worried about the ordeal.


They found a message he had left for Laci at 2:15 PM saying "Hey, beautiful. It's 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley."


Despite his bizarre behavior, police did not immediately reveal that he was a suspect. Laci's family and friends thought he was innocent, and they didn't want to say that he wasn't if it wasn't true.


But he became more and more suspicious as his inconsistencies grew, and information about his affairs surfaced. His affair with Amber Frey became public on January 17, 2003, after she came forward upon realizing that the man she was with was the husband of the missing woman. Laci's family withdrew their support of Peterson's innocence upon learning of the affair.


Laci's brother Brent said that the family was not necessarily angered by the affair, but that he had told Frey that he had "lost his wife" and would be spending Christmas alone on December 9, 2002, 2 weeks before she disappeared. Police suspect and her family agrees that this was indication that he had planned to kill her weeks before he did.


Frey allowed police to tape phone conversations between she and Peterson, hoping that he would confess. The recordings revealed that in the days after she went missing, he told Frey that he was going to Paris to celebrate the holidays, but in reality, he was minutes away from arriving at a candlelight vigil for his murdered wife.


On April 13, 2003, a couple found a decomposing body of a late-term male fetus on the shore of the San Francisco Bay, with its umbilical cord still attached. An anonymous AP source revealed that nylon tape was found around the fetus's neck and there was a large cut out of the body, though the judge sealed the autopsy results. It is believed that the tangling and injuries were caused in the water, after he had been separated from his mother.


One day later, someone found the torso of a recently pregnant woman that washed up on the rocky shoreline of the same park her unborn baby was found. The corpse was decomposed to the point of barely looking like it once belonged to a human being. The head, arms, legs, and internal organs besides the uterus were missing.


On April 18, 2003, the bodies were verified as Laci's and her unborn son. The couple had planned to name him Conner. Conner's skin was not at all decomposed, but part of his body was mutilated. Laci's cervix was still intact. She suffered 2 cracked ribs, but it was not possible to determine if that happened before she died. Laci's upper torso was emptied of internal organs, besides the uterus, which protected the fetus, explaining why there was not much decomposition.


The forensic pathologist concluded that the fetus had been expelled from Laci's body while decaying, but he couldn't determine if he was dead or alive when that happened. Laci's exact date and cause of death was never determined.


There is speculation that she died from strangulation or smothering, as it wouldn't leave behind evidence, but because her head, neck, arms, legs and organs were all missing, it is impossible to tell for sure.


The detectives worried given the closeness to the Mexican border that he would try to flee. He was arrested on April 18, 2003, the same day the bodies were determined to be those of his wife and son. He was arrested near a golf course in La Jolla, claiming he was meeting his father and brother to play golf, but his hair had been dyed, and his car was full to the brim with items such as: $15,000 in cash, Viagra, survival gear, camping equipment, several changes of clothes, 4 cell phones, and his brother's driver's license.


On April 21, 2003, he was arraigned and charged with 2 felony counts of murder with premeditation. He was charged with the first-degree murder of Laci, and the second-degree murder of Conner. He pleaded not guilty to both charges.

THE TRIAL OF SCOTT PETERSON


Peterson was defended by high-profile criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos. They moved the trial to Redwood City from Modesto, because he was experiencing hostility from the residents of Modesto.


The trial started on June 1, 2004, and the media was closely engaged with it. Prosecutors claimed that Peterson had made cement anchors to sink his wife's body down in the San Francisco Bay, but no anchors were found.


The defense argued that the investigation was not thorough, stating that a prostitute had been stealing mail from the Peterson's mailbox and she was never interviewed. They also said there was a lack of evidence, and that the fetal remains meant that somebody had kidnapped Laci, held her until she gave birth, and then dumped both bodies.


The prosecution's medical experts explained that the baby died at the same time as Laci. They also presented a hair that was found in a pair of pliers on Peterson's boat. Also presented as evidence was the full car and new hair color that Peterson had sported, with the obvious intent of fleeing. Only 2 days after her death, he had added 2 porn channels to his TV service, and had traded in her car.


The prosecution claimed that financial problems, impending fatherhood, and his relationship with Frey and subsequent desire to be single were the motives for the murder.


On November 12, 2004, Scott Peterson was convicted on 2 counts of murder for both his wife and his unborn son. On March 16, 2005, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection and ordered to pay $10,000 for Laci's funeral. The jury stated in later press appearances that part of the reason for their guilty verdict was his demeanor, lack of emotion, and phone calls to Frey in the days after her disappearance that did not align with a grieving, scared husband.


There are so many unknowns in this case. Did her husband do it? Yes, most likely. How did she die? Why did he decide to kill her? This case received a lot of media attention when it was happening, and continues to interest true crime fanatics to this day. Though often confused with one of the other 2 man-named-Peterson-murders-his-wife stories, this one is interesting by its own merit, and beyond being interesting, it is heartbreaking. That day, on Christmas Eve, a loving wife and excited future mother saw her family for the last time and likely died at the hands of the person who was supposed to love her most.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Peterson

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