Friday, October 24, 2008

The Case Against Scott Peterson

The Case Against Scott Peterson
January 19, 2005

I have been arguing for months that the State of California had no substantial case against Scott Peterson. What they had against Scott barely withstood the test of probable cause sufficient to get search warrants, let alone the beyond reasonable doubt standard required for conviction.

More are beginning to come out now in agreement with my point that the evidence wasn't sufficient to convict Scott. On December 15, 2004, Dotty Lynch, senior political editor for CBS News, wrote an online column entitled "Where's the Outrage," and noted that the evidence presented against Scott did not fit the penalty of death, as the evidence was only circumstantial.

Labeling her column as a "liberal outburst that is even more embarrassing than Dan Rather's claim that the bogus documents he used on the air may someday and somehow turn out to be authentic," Cliff Kincaid responded with his assurances that Scott Peterson was duly convicted on solid evidence (Link). Kincaid's response was published by AIM, which is an acronym for Accuracy in Media. AIM's objective is "Fairness, Balance and Accuracy in News Reporting."

I find AIM's publication of Kincaid's article rather laughable, because the media has been anything BUT fair, balanced, and accurate in its coverage of the Scott Peterson murder trial -- or for that matter, in any of its coverage of this case since Laci was first reported missing. I also find it laughable that those who come to Scott's defense are always labeled as liberals. I am Republican and fairly closely aligned with the Religious Right in my political opinions.

But what I want to address in Kincaid's article is his list of the evidence against Scott. He didn't come up with his own list, probably because he didn't follow the trial that closely and just relied on the media for his information, but borrowed from the list prepared by Marin Independent Journal reporter Josh Richman, in a story headlined, "The Case Against Scott Peterson."

1. A strand of dark hair, probably from Laci, on a pair of pliers found in Peterson's boat.

No one who followed the trial very closely would ever have listed this as the number one evidence against Scott Peterson. The hair not only could not be positively identified as Laci's, the pliers themselves were in no way connected to any part of the crime of which Scott was convicted. The pliers were of interest to the MPD because of a theory they had that Scott used some chicken wire, taken from a roll found in his pickup, to either wrap around Laci or to attach the supposed anchors to Laci, and used the pliers to cut the wire. They theorized that Scott caught some of Laci's hair in the pliers as he cut the chicken wire. Of course, the pliers were sent to the California DOJ lab for analysis, and were shown to have never cut the chicken wire in question and actually hadn't been used for some time before December 24, 2002. The acquisition of the pliers obviously pre-dated the acquisition of the boat, and were probably household pliers that Laci used on occasion.

So, not only was the hair only "probably" Laci's, the pliers were fully excluded by expert criminal analysts from having any role in the murder of Laci Peterson or the disposition of her body.

2. Peterson had downloaded information from the Internet on currents in bodies of water where Laci's body may have been dumped and eventually washed up on shore.

So far, we have a "probably" and a "may have been." Do "probably' and "may have been" measure up to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt?

But more to the point, this behavior that is considered so incriminating against Scott is exactly what any sensible person who intended to take a boat out onto the San Francisco Bay for the first time would have done. It is not in any way peculiar to wanting to dispose of a body.

Furthermore, the reason "may have been" has to be used is because the Prosecution could not prove that Laci and Conner were ever at the same place in the Bay. That's right. Dr. Cheng, their expert witness, produced a trajectory for Conner's body as it would have moved through the water, taking into consideration where his body was found and the known weather factors and tidal currents for the hours preceding the discovery of his body. He precisely identified a 1/4 square mile area in the Bay where Conner would have separated from Laci. The problem is, he could not produce a trajectory for Laci, given the facts of where her body was found and the same weather and tidal current conditions, that brought her back to the same place. No prodding of the information by Dr. Cheng could get Laci and Conner back to the same place.

Armed with the information provided by Dr. Cheng, Detective Dodge Hendee set out to literally comb the Bay floor for the missing anchors and body parts, or any other evidence that Scott Peterson dumped Laci's body in the Bay on December 24. He assigned the best FBI dive team in the country to the 1/4 square mile area identified by Dr. Cheng. That team concluded their search a day early, telling Detective Hendee there was nothing to be found.

Hendee employed sonar teams more advanced than those used in the original January-March searches and a host of dive teams to expand Cheng's 1/4 square mile area to an area 1 3/4 miles square. That essentially covered the entire route Scott made during his fishing trip. Though this sophisticated equipment identified pop bottles, it found no anchors or body parts.

This information alone should have been sufficient for the Jurors to see "where Laci's body may have been dumped" was a figment of someone's imagination. Add to that the absolute refusal of the responding law enforcement to examine the discovery sites for evidence of the bodies having been placed there, not washed ashore, you should have serious questions about the integrity of this piece of evidence.

3. Peterson lied about what he was doing when Laci disappeared.

I am really at a loss to understand this claim. I guess the author simply means that Scott didn't admit he was murdering Laci and disposing of her body, so therefore he lied.

But let's examine what Scott said he was doing the night of December 23rd and the morning of December 24. His timeline for the night of December 23 has been confirmed. He and Laci went to Salon Salon to get his haircut, they ordered pizza, and then went home. Laci spoke on the phone at 8:30 with her mother, Sharon Rocha. No lies here.

For the activities of the morning of December 24, everything he told Detective Brocchini was proven to be true, much to Brocchini's embarrassment when he had to admit that on the witness stand. The Martha Stewart show Scott said Laci was watching did have a meringue segment, and McKenzie was found by a neighbor with his leash on.

Scott's timeline was not precise. But neither was Karen Servas'. In fact, she was off by more than Scott when she first gave her timeline, as much as an hour for the activity she went to in the afternoon/evening. She was allowed to refine her timeline by using receipts and cell phone records -- Scott was not.

Ron Grantski was using a very general time frame to describe his activities for December 24. He used phrases such as "probably around 11 or 11:30 or 12" and "sometime between 2:30 and 3:30." He even said he was not one to pay much attention to time.

Sharon Rocha's sense of time was just as vague, as she used "about 3:00-3:30" to describe when she arrived home from the movies. Sandy Rickard, Sharon's best friend, said she and Sharon were at the movies from "approximately 2:00 to 4:00."

These people were allowed considerable latitude in their timelines, but Scott was required to be precise to the minute.

Scott certainly didn't lie about being at the Berkeley Marina. Amy Krigbaum did testify that he told her he was golfing that day, and Amy's companion Terra Venable testified that she overheard that conversation. However, both Amy and Terra testified that they became quite frantic when he told them Laci was missing, and that Scot was quite frantic, too. Thus, this "lie" may not have been anything other than a simple misunderstanding. Harvey Kemple testified that Scott told him he was golfing, but the credibility of Kemple's testimony was seriously challenged when other statements he made under oath were proven to be false. Those are the only two persons who reported that Scott said he was golfing. All others, including every family member and every police officer, he told he was fishing.

4. Peterson washed the clothes he wore when he murdered and dumped Laci's body in the water.

I certainly wish I had a husband guilty of the capital crime of washing his own clothes after a fishing trip. Would Kincaid and other Scott accusers prefer that he had put them in the hamper, with Laci's clothes. I'm sure Laci wouldn't have appreciated that.

But, the implication is he washed them to remove any evidence of the crime. Washing clothes does not remove all traces of forensic evidence, and Scott's clothes were sent to the California DOJ crime lab for analysis. The results were negative for evidence of a crime.

5. Peterson had made anchors that could have been used to wrap around and sink Laci's body.

I have two issues with this so-called evidence. First, obviously, we again have "could have been used" phrase that readily admits the use of anchors to weigh Laci down was never proven.

Phil Devan, a very interested trial watcher, conducted his own experiment, determined to prove that Scott Peterson used that 14 foot Gamefisher boat to dump Laci's body in the Bay. He used 4 8-lb. weights, the same size and number as the ones Scott was supposed to have made, and a dummy. He was able to get the weighted dummy overboard without capsizing the boat, but he had one problem. The weights weren't sufficient to sink the body. It kept bobbing up.

The State provided no expert claim that 32 lbs. of weight would have been sufficient to sink Laci's body and keep it submerged. The area where Scott was fishing is shallow, only 3-4 feet deep at low tide. The buoyancy caused by the gases forming in her decomposing body would have eventually caused the body to float.

Second, the State provided no evidence that the 4 anchors even existed. As noted above, Detective Hendee could not find them, even when Dr. Cheng told them where they would be and using the best dive teams and sonar equipment in the country. If they could find a pop bottle, why couldn't they find at least one of those 8 lb. anchors?

I doubt very much that a body lying on the bottom of the Bay in 3-4 feet deep water for nearly 4 months would have gone unnoticed. This portion of the Bay is not isolated. It is used heavily for recreational purposes. To add further, Dr. Brian Peterson, who performed the autopsy on Laci, said the Laci's dismemberment was caused by a combination of natural decomposition and the action of the currents/waves moving the limbs back and forth as they hung down from her body. I believe it would be impossible for Laci to have been enough off the floor of the Bay for her arms and legs to hang down and not be visible to someone -- not in water only 3-4 feet deep and heavily used for recreational purposes.

6. Peterson bought a get-away car before his arrest using cash and a fake name.

This misstates the evidence. Scott did use cash to purchase the car, but if I were selling a used car to a complete stranger, I would want to be paid in cash. So, what is suspicious about that?

Furthermore, Scott did not use a fake name. He used his mother's name, and his mother's real driver's license number, and his mother's real mailing address. Hardly what he would do if he were purchasing a "get-away" car, since that information would trace it directly back to him. Yes, all of America knew at that time that Jackie Peterson was Scott's mother.

Finally, the supposed "get-away" car was purchased on April 12, the day before Conner's body was found and 2 days before Laci's. Yet, the news of the bodies broke very quickly, and, even more importantly, that they were suspected of being Conner and Laci. Yet, on April 18th, Scott is still in San Diego. Why didn't he break for the border on the 12th, immediately after purchasing the car? Why didn't he break for the border on the 13th or the 14th, when he heard about the bodies being found? We have a simple answer: he had no intention whatsoever of breaking for the border.

7. The most damaging evidence was found in Peterson's car when he was arrested about 30 miles from the Mexican border. Court TV noted that the final prosecution witness, Modesto police detective Jon Buehler, said the car was packed with survival gear, including a water purifier, axe, saw, snorkel mask, several changes of clothes, and knives. Buehler said that Peterson was carrying $14,932 in cash, Mexican currency, his brother's driver's license, and charge cards in the names of his mother and sister.

Every time I hear or read the "arrested about 30 miles from the Mexican border" claim, I just can't help asking, When did they move San Diego? Hasn't it always been about 30 miles from the Mexican border? Perhaps Kincaid does not know that Scott grew up in San Diego, and his parents lived in the area, as well as most of his siblings, so when he left Modesto, he was returning to familiar environs. Of course he was near the Mexican border. Why would he stay in Modesto? So he could continue to be harassed by shock jocks with bull horns? The fact is, he had been in San Diego for a couple of weeks, and the MPD knew full well he was there. After all, they didn't have any trouble at all identifying his precise location after the bodies were found.

Perhaps Kincaid doesn't know, or has forgotten, that Scott was in Mexico in early February, on a business trip. Or that Ted Rowlands, reporter from KTVU-2, talked to him on the phone and told him that word from MPD was that an arrest was imminent. Yet Scott returned to Modesto. Strange behavior for someone planning to flee the country to escape prosecution.

If Scott was planning his "get-away," I doubt he would have paid for anything with credit cards that could be traced to any member of his family. That would leave a definite trail for bounty hunters anxious to cash in on the public conviction of Scott Peterson.

In conclusion, and to paraphrase Kincaid's analogy to Dan Rather, he and others have convicted Scott on bogus evidence that they hope someday and somehow will turn out to be authentic.

This article originally appeared on SII as an editorial: