Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Hidden Harshman Tip

The story of Tom Harshman and his tip is one of the most outrageous examples of the failure by MPD police detectives to follow leads that could have found Laci Peterson alive and that were totally exculpatory for Scott.

Tom Harshman, who lived in Modesto, saw something that really concerned him near the corner of Scenic Drive and Claus Road as he was driving with Elizabeth Harshman between 2 and 4 p.m. on the afternoon of December 24. He saw a young pregnant woman being forced into a van. After driving past this scene, Harshman was so upset that he turned around and went back to the spot hoping to find the van still there and hoping to get more information about the license plate number.

He called the police on the same day he saw this. Calls before December 26 did not go to the Laci tip line but instead to 911 or to the main number at the MPD.

When Harshman’s call was not returned by MPD, he tried again. By December 28 when Laci’s disappearance had become public knowledge, he was sure that the woman he had seen was Laci Peterson.

On December 28, Tom Harshman called the Laci tipline twice. His first call on this date was listed incorrectly under the name Harsh and was given Bates Stamp number 14789. The call was given to Detective Holmes. Harsh(man) said that he had called 3 or 4 days earlier on the day that he had seen a pregnant young woman being pushed into a van. There had been a man standing over her as she squatted to urinate with her back up against a chain-link fence. The man was described as 30’s, tall, thin, with ponytail, dirty blonde to gray hair, scrubby looking. When she finished, the woman was shepherded back to the driver’s door of the car, where another man’s arm was seen pulling her into the car. He said the young woman was wearing black pants and a red shirt. He said she had a scared look on her face.

Harshman called back on December 28 with additional information, and this time his name was listed correctly under Bates stamp number 14791. This call also was given to Detective Holmes. Harshman said he had been driving on Scenic east of Coffee when he saw the woman being forced into a van. The van was an older white van with 3 windows and a tan stripe on the side, approximately a foot wide. The woman had dark hair, was wearing black pants and a red shirt. He added that the man was a white male, forties, and was wearing a ball cap.

By January 3, 2003 Harshman still had not received a call back from MPD. He knew that his information was significant; and so he tried again. On January 3, he went to the Command Post at the park and spoke to the officer on duty there. The officer made notes about his information. Harshman described the location of the sighting as the south side of Scenic near Claus Road. He repeated the information mentioned in previous contacts.

Harshman believed his report would reach the detectives and they would do something about it. He was wrong. He did not receive any followup calls during the investigation. Nothing in the 40,000 pages of discovery provided to the defense included anything about Harshman’s report to the Command Post. Only during the trial was Sergeant Cloward able to find this report in one of his binders.

About a month later, sometime in February 2003, Harshman’s wife spoke to a relative of hers who lived in New York about the sighting of Laci Peterson near the corner of Scenic and Claus. Mrs. Harshman’s relative shared this story with an NYPD detective. This NYPD detective was so concerned that he contacted the MPD and spoke personally to Detective Grogan on February 14, 2003. What did Grogan do with the information? Nothing at all. Only the tip number and a brief notation were provided in the discovery.

More than a year later during the pre-trial hearings in May of 2004, DA Investigator Kevin Bertalotto noticed the Harshman tip and insisted that Grogan call Tom Harshman and speak to him personally. Grogan did this on May 18, 2004.

Grogan provided an audiotape and a transcription of his conversation with Harshman to the defense on May 20, 11 days before the beginning of the trial. This was the first time that the defense was made aware that a woman resembling Laci Peterson had been forced into a van near the corner of Scenic and Claus on the same day that a similar van had been seen by Diane Jackson in front of the Medina’s house. Harshman specifically said in this interview with Grogan that he had seen the woman’s face when she was up against the fence. That’s what he had concentrated on. He said there was a scared look on her face.

On May 24, 2004 Mark Geragos filed a Defense Motion for Sanctions Against the Prosecution for the use of an unqualified hypnotist with Diane Jackson and also for hiding the details of the Harshman tip. On May 27 the Prosecutor filed his response and hearings were held. The prosecution motion contains this misleading paragraph:

The defense neglects to tell the court that the alleged sighting took place on December 28, 2002 (four days after Laci Peterson disappeared) and that the witness had previously spoken to Modesto Police Detective Denis Holmes on that same date. Further, the witness's description of the woman's clothing did not match the clothing Laci Peterson was wearing when she was ultimately found. Finally, the witness's name, address, telephone number and a description of his statement were previously provided to the defense on May 14, 2003 in the initial discovery.

Ruling that these incidents together constituted exculpatory evidence and to exclude them would be a Brady violation, Judge Delucchi allowed the prehypnosis interviews of Diane Jackson along with the Harshman information into the trial. However, he did not impose sanctions on the prosecution. Judge Delucchi concluded that the van seen by Jackson and Harshman could have been the same vehicle.

GERAGOS:... Both people initially say they think it's a white van but it's a little darker and they describe it as tan.
DISTASO:...Miss Jackson says a white van, and she changes it then to say a beige or tan van.
GERAGOS:...He says it looked white but it was really a little darker, it was kind of cream. They both are describing the same thing.

As far as the descriptions of the men associated with the van, consider this. Diane Jackson did not see the driver of the van. She saw only the 3 dark-skinned men outside the van. Harshman saw only the driver of the van and another man’s arm. There could have been other men inside the van that he did not see; or the other men may have stayed behind at this point.

The timing of these sightings can be explained in this way. Diane Jackson saw a van, 3 men, and a safe in the front yard at Medina’s at 11:40 a.m. on the 24th. She was witnessing the final step in a burglary which had started approximately an hour before, shortly after Medina’s left home and around the time Laci was abducted and taken away, probably in this same van. Apparently Laci was held in another location in Modesto for a while, probably some place in the airport neighborhood, and then a few hours later was being transported in the van at the time Harshman saw her near the corner of Scenic and Claus. She was probably being taken out of town. Claus Road is a good alternate route leading out of Modesto to points north.

During the trial Mark Geragos decided to bring information about the Laci sightings in through the testimony of Detective Grogan. Grogan’s testimony about Tom Harshman and his tip verges on perjury. He claims that he did not know that the tips from Harsh and Harshman on the same day were from the same person even though they contained the same call back number and similar information.

Grogan also backtracked after saying that red dot #41 on prosecution exhibit 267-8 (far right on the map) was Tom Harshman’s tip even though the location and the time of day are exactly the same. Grogan said #41 could not be Harshman because Harshman did not witness this incident until December 28, and #41 was a tip for a sighting on December 24. Grogan said that the dot for Harshman’s tip could be found on the United States map. When Harshman made the call to MPD on the 28th, he specifically stated that this was something he had seen 3 or 4 days before and that he had initially called in with the information shortly after he saw it. Grogan misrepresents this by saying that Harshman said he called in on the same day he saw this incident and that because he called in on the 28th, he must have witnessed the event on the 28th.

Many concerned citizens tried to get the Modesto Police Department to listen to their valid sightings of Laci Peterson. Even one credible sighting of Laci after Scott left home is proof of his innocence. There are several credible sightings. Tom Harshman’s tip is one of the most compelling and the most disturbing because of MPD’s failure to respond to it and their subsequent decision to cover it up. Tom Harshman was persistent. He tried and tried again. His repeated efforts were met with silence.


Kandimann said...

Mrs. Marlene Newell, you honestly need to get together with a team of people and put together a youtube Scott Peterson documentary. A real 10 parter featuring all evidence along with video and the dishonesty of the MPD.

Trust me Youtube is getting stuff done and even showing up on CNN and other news. Scott CANNOT win in a courtroom without public perception. Thats the real deal about the world we live in. They will hide the truth if the general populations still beleive Scott to be guilty and in turn still hates him.

Kandimann said...

Marlene Newell It would be so nice to see a real Scott Peterson youtube documentary on the total dishonesty of the criminal justice system and the MPD. A team of people involved in such a project would really help Scott and bring recognition to the need to end the death penalty.

To be honest, Scott will never see justice in a courtroom as long as public perception has him guilty. As long as people view him as guilty, they CJS will hide the truth, his appeal will not be granted due to the slick response by prosecutors in which a young judge will be happy to oblige for the sake of his peers.

People have little faith in the CJS, I on the other hand have reason to have zero faith in the CJS. They will hide stuff till the public forgets about it. Please, you know more than the rest of us, take heart that a full documentary titled "Scott Peterson is Innocent" will change this entire situation.

Bruce Dombrowski said...

Diane Jackson sees a van, looks suspicious, she notes the time as 11:40...pretty good, certain account of the time....harshman say he actually sees a possible kidnapping happening right in front of him, and gives a 2 hour window for the time? now this is 4-6 hours after laci is snatched. and they are only 3 miles away from the crime scene...and the killers let her stop to take a leak on the side of a busy intersection?????? any explination for this?

Marlene Newell said...

Most people aren't aware of exact time unless something specific has called their attention to it. Jackson knew the time because she was concerned about getting home in time to make lunch for her husband, so she was time-conscious. Ron Grantski wasn't time conscious, and he gave a lot of abouts and approximate times for his activities that day, and even specifically said he's usually not very time-conscious. Sharon Rocha also gave broad generalities for the times of her activities that day. She was able to be precise for the call from Scott because she had become time conscious, she needed to get ready for her guests to arrive. So I'm not at all suprised that Harshman couldn't narrow it down to a specific time, like Jackson did. It's just reality that most people are not time-conscious. As for why they stopped to let her urinate, No, I don't have an explanation for that. Neither do I have an explanation for why people burglarize other people's homes in broad daylight. It all seems way too risky for me.

Bruce Dombrowski said...

well, as a former police officer, i would think the guy would be able to come up with a somewhat smaller window of time...he had a very vivid description of the van, the man standing over her, was even so concerned that he turned around to try and get a plate...then what does he do? does he call 911? no, "He called the police on the same day he saw this" so, to recap, a former police officer see what he believes to be a kidnapping, and does not call 911 right away, does not try to find a police officer on partrol, but continues on with his day, and "sometime later" calls police to report it....and you wonder why this "sighting" is dismissed?

Marlene Newell said...

Bruce, I don't understand why you object to a former reserve police office calling the police. And I also don't know that your assumption that he gave a 2-hour window for the occurrence is correct. Can you cite the testimony that says that? I know he did not call 911 right away, that is, at the moment he saw the event. But he did call a few hours later, and the police were the proper ones to call, as there was nothing 911 could do at that point. It absolutely was not reasonable for them to dismiss this tip. Not at all! They dismissed the tip because it did not point to Scott Peterson, not because it did not warrant follow-up. And they were pretty stupid at that, as how did they know that Scott didn't have someone hired to do the deed?

Bruce Dombrowski said...

Marlene, I don't object to a former reserve police officer calling the police when he is witnessing a crime, or what he believes is a crime. But to wait "a few hours later" A few hours?????? Is that how you would handle a situation like that? I don't know you, but i would think least i would hope other thing...i seem to recall laci beign described as a "in your face" type of person, the type to interupt a burglary in her neighborhood with no hesitation, so she get kidnapped, held for hours either in a van or in a house, then is being transported, for some reason she is allowed to pee, on the side of a road with traffic, and she doesnt make a break for it? doesnt try to break away and wave her arms and scream at passing traffic...and the witness was so close he could see the expression on her face, the clothes she was wearing, a full description of the guy standing over her, as well as a good description of the van...this is not a drive by at 50 miles an hour, only seeing the scene for a brief moment or two...and he was so upset that he turned his car around, yet not upset enough to call the cops right away, he was so upset that he waited a few make great arguments about alot of stuff here, but this does not pass the smell test for me...

Bruce Dombrowski said...

p.s. the two hour window comes from you.

"Tom Harshman, who lived in Modesto, saw something that really concerned him near the corner of Scenic Drive and Claus Road as he was driving with Elizabeth Harshman between 2 and 4 p.m. on the afternoon of December 24."

Marlene Newell said...

Bruce, you don't know what Laci had already been put through. To assume that no ill treatment from her abductors would have subdued her is, I believe, foolish. She was after all pregnant, and she may have chosen to cooperate rather than resist. It's not unheard of, Bruce. I just think it's foolish to assume we could know what was going on in her head under those circumstances when we really don't even know what circumstances she was under. As far as why Harshman didn't immediately call 911, he may have assumed it was a domestic violence case and just didn't want to get involved. IIRC, it was his wife that insisted he call. Just because he is a former reserve police officer doesn't mean he would always act nobly in every situation. And, he had no way of knowing there had recently been an abduction fairly close by because the news about Laci's disappearance hadn't yet broke. I think you should give Harshman a break, and not be so demanding that he act perfectly in an unknown situation. Or at least put an equal burden on the MPD for not following up immediately on his tip. After all, Mrs. Harshman had to complain to a NY cop who had to call the MPD before any of Harshman's tips got any attention. That's pretty pathetic, Bruce. I just wish you could admit that it was irresponsible for the MPD to ignore Harshman. Harshman's failure to call instantly, on the spot, doesn't excuse the MPD for ignoring the tip.

Marlene Newell said...

Bruce, thanks for the correction.

Bruce Dombrowski said...

"the failure by MPD police detectives to follow leads that could have found Laci Peterson alive"

not with the report of the sighting coming hours after the fact..had 911 been called right away, maybe the woman could have been rescued....i understand your point as far as the guy acting nobly, but he demonstrated nobility, by 1, seeing a scene and recognizing it as a problem, 2, was so upset that he turned around to investigate. #3 should be call 911... not upset enough to make a quick phone call? i don't expect perfection from citizens, but geez, to do all he did, and stop short of making the phone call...

let me ask you this, lets say they did investigate the sighting, how were they going to do it, go to the scene hours after the fact and look at an empty spot on the side of the road? how would you handle that investigation? keep in mind, you don't know laci is missing yet...if you were the police, what exactly would you do with that report?

p.s. if harshman thought it was just a domestic and didnt want to get involved, why would he turn around and try to get a plate off the vehicle? why would he get such a detailed description of the people there, as well as the van?

Marlene Newell said...

I expect the police to:

1. Interview Harshman and get as much information as possible.

2. Put out an APB for the van and its occupants based on his descriptions.

3. Go to the scene where he said he saw the van and see if there was any evidence. Doesn't urine have DNA?

4. Put some basic facts together (this isn't rocket science): Jackson saw the van, 3 men, and the safe being removed from the Medina house; Todd and Pearce are arrested, confess to the burglary, and the Medina safe is found at Pearce's house. Have Harshman do a photo line-up (blind line-up) with Pearce and Todd in it and see if he identifies either one.

That would be good police detective work.

Bruce Dombrowski said...

well, with a 2 hour head start, any chance of finding them would be a long shot.

after 2 hours, any urine would be dried up. and good luck finding the exact spot she was squatting.

and i believe it would be days later that we find out about diane jackson, and the robbery. had the guy called 911 and got a cop out there right away, then a report is made, and the cop who writes up the report says later, after laci goes missing, "hey, there was a call i went on about a pregnant woman being shoved into a van earlier today, maybe their connected?"

had he called this right in, maybe they find the van, and the woman. (not laci, just some pregnant woman who had to pee really bad, and her husband was pissed at her(no pun intended)because he was in a hurry, and the arm was the driver reaching over to help her in)

nice debating with you today Marlene, have a great night!!