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Archive for Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Prosecutors open Peterson murder trial

June 2, 2004

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— Within a day of reporting his pregnant wife missing, Scott Peterson lied about his extramarital affair, gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts and brushed off in-laws helping search for Laci Peterson, prosecutors said in opening arguments of Peterson's murder trial Tuesday.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso wants jurors to connect those dots, along with other circumstantial evidence, to conclude Peterson killed his wife.

Peterson, 31, could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted in a trial that is expected to last up to six months.

From the moment Peterson called his mother-in-law on Christmas Eve 2002 and said he had returned from a fishing trip to an empty house, things didn't make sense, Distaso said.

Distaso ticked off what he implied were a series of lies Peterson told.

Peterson told Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother, he was fishing on San Francisco Bay, but later told Laci's uncle and two neighbors he had been golfing all day.

He told investigators that he never had an affair -- a lie that would become very public once his mistress, massage therapist Amber Frey, stepped forward.

By Christmas Day, Peterson was talking in ways that Distaso suggested point to his guilt.

He called police, for example, to ask whether they were using cadaver-sniffing dogs to search the park.

"'We haven't come to the conclusion yet that Laci Peterson is dead,"' Distaso said the officer told Peterson. "That kind of sets the stage for this entire case."

Prosecutors had more than a year to prepare what California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer called a "slam dunk" case the day authorities arrested Peterson more than a year ago.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos has countered that authorities unfairly targeted Peterson from the start, ignoring important leads that didn't fit their theory.

Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his wife on or around Dec. 24, 2002, in their Modesto home because he was having an affair, then concealed her body in his truck and drove nearly 100 miles to Berkeley and heaved it into the bay from the small boat he had purchased less than three weeks before.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and her fetus, a boy the couple planned to name Conner, washed ashore in April 2003, near where Peterson told authorities he set out on a fishing trip the day Laci vanished.

Geragos has offered explanations for the behavior of his client, who was carrying more than $10,000 cash and his brother's driver's license and had dyed his hair blond at the time of his arrest.

He has floated a series of theories, including that members of a satanic cult abducted Laci Peterson and that the real killer framed Scott Peterson after learning his alibi, which was scrutinized in saturation media coverage.

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