Friday, December 30, 2011

We interrupt our coverage of the Investigation to wish SII a Happy Birthday

It's a little belated, the days do tend to get away from me, but on December 26, 2003, SII made its debut on the World Wide Web.  Needless to say, I certainly didn't think we'd still be at this 8 years later.

What prompted me to put up SII?  Well, to make a long story short, I grew tired of the constant talk among those not at all convinced of Scott's guilt that someone should put up a website to counteract all the misinformation out there about Laci's disappearance and Scott's arrest and hearings.  I thought to myself, hey, maybe I can do that.  I had a small personal site up so I thought I knew enough to put up an information/opinion website.  Well, I was partly right, but I gained what knowledge I needed as I went along.

What surprised me most was the sheer hatred and contempt the site would generate.  It took me a long while to develop a thick-enough skin to deal with it.  I keep reminding myself that words on paper may espouse stronger feelings than the writer actually feels.  But mostly I just ignore the hate. Sincere disagreement, however, I welcome.  

SII grew much too large to handle, and that is why I opted to use a blog to keep interested readers updated on the case and to bring new information to light.  Had I to do over again, I would have used a blog from the beginning for opinions, trial coverage, and updates, and reserved SII for only the objective information, such as court documents, transcripts, and exhibits.  But it would take too much effort to divide the content now and I believe SII readers are intelligent enough to tell the difference between a transcript and an opinion article.

Because of SII, I've learned a lot that I would not otherwise have had the need to learn.  It's good for the aging soul to have something new to learn on a daily basis.  When I was laid off in 2004, suffered a stroke a few months later, and unable to find work for years, working on SII and a few other wrongful convictions gave me something very worthwhile to fill my time and keep my mind engaged.  I love my kids and grand-kids, but the mind needs something challenging to keep aging at bay.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 26 & 27 : The search warrants and the dog trailing

Convinced that Scott was responsible for Laci's disappearance, Grogan and Brocchini determined it was necessary to do a complete search of the residence, the vehicles, the warehouse, and the boat.

Let me back up and say that the steps the Officers and Brocchini took on the night of the 24th were good police work.  They well-documented the condition of the house and visually inspected both vehicles and the boat.   Photos were taken of both the house and the boat.  If Scott had been responsible, these actions would have prevented him from successfully destroying evidence.  And that is the sum total of the praise that I can give for this investigation, for what occurred from the 26th on was nothing short of framing Scott Peterson.  Yes, I boldly say this classifies as framing.  That's essentially what tunnel vision is.  When investigators are so absolutely certain that they know what happened, even without having collected a single piece of evidence or interviewed a single witness, then at some point in time, that certain knowledge hits a stone wall -- there just simply isn't the evidence to defend the conclusion.  That is when evidence is manipulated to force it to yield the preconceived results.  That's when exonerating evidence is intentionally pushed aside, even destroyed.  The only way the ill-conceived pre-judgment of guilt can be sustained is through evidence tampering and evidence suppression.  Those are the cold, hard facts.

An important factor peculiar to investigations also breeds severe tunnel vision with its inevitable evidence tampering and evidence suppression.  That factor is actually a necessity -- the need for the other officers and individuals to fully support the core investigative team.  Only the core team knows all about a case; other officers and investigators only know their part.  And the investigators know full well that in the next case, s/he may be the lead investigator, or on the core investigative team, and s/he will be just as dependent on loyalty and just getting the job done with no second-guessing.

The working theory at this point was that Scott murdered Laci in the home and used the truck to transport her to the warehouse and then probably transferred her to the boat at the warehouse and proceeded to where ever he dumped her body.  We know that's the working theory because that is the way they manipulated the evidence.

Let me demonstrate.  The search warrant for the residence on the 26th and 27th was intended to identify and collect any evidence of a clean-up.  They were convinced that Scott used the mop and bucket and vacuum cleaner to clean up any evidence.  In a facade of looking for intruders, the entry ways were examined for forced entry and dusted for fingerprints, but not a single one of them believed it was necessary, except to show that they were being "open-minded" and willing to follow all leads.  Luminal was used in the house to indicate possible blood and any reddish or brownish stains were scraped as evidence to be tested.  The floorboards were checked, as were all the walls and even the ceiling.  The carpeting was vacuumed with a special vacuum cleaner that can pick up trace evidence.  Even the crawl space under the house was examined and all the outer sheds were inspected.  As was the pool.  Lots of evidence was collected - you can see the entire list on SII at these links, which include information not only for this search warrant, but for others.  You can follow-through on many of the items to see what the forensic testing showed, but I can spare you the effort by simply telling you that none of the tests supported this initial theory that Scott killed Laci in the house and transported her body using the truck and boat.  However, there is lots of useful information on these SII pages, so I highly recommend you spend some time reading them.

In addition to crime scene investigators from the MPD, the DOJ, and the FBI, trailing dogs were also brought in on the night of the 26th. And this is where we see our first evidence tampering by guess who?  Yes, of course, our beloved Al Brocchini.

Cindee Valentin testified in the pre-trial hearings on the dog evidence that she knew the MPD officers she met with that night were convinced Scott was responsible, and some of her statements, which were stricken from the record, showed her own bias towards Scott's guilt.  Her testimony is at, and a synopsis of that testimony is on the Timeline, which I repeat here:
  • December 26, 2002 : 1st Trail by Valentin & Merlin--starting at 523 Covena:
    • She scented Merlin using the sunglasses & case.
    • From the southern edge of the property at 523 Covena Avenue he headed immediately north on Covena, turned west on Highland Drive, went into a house on 1326 Highland Drive (which is catty-corner and behind the property at 523 Covena Avenue), down driveway and into the backyard, circled the backyard, back through the gate, continued on west on Highland Drive to Santa Barbara Avenue, several areas past that, turned back and headed south on Santa Barbara Avenue, crossed several intersections to the intersection of San Barbara Avenue and La Loma Avenue, southeast on La Loma Avenue to the intersection of La Loma and Yosemite Boulevard, turned west and continued to Santa Rosa Avenue, turned south and headed down Santa Rosa Avenue.
    • Valentin explained Merlin's interest in the Highland Drive backyard as there likely being a scent pool because of its being catty-corner to the Peterson house.
    • All the way to and down La Loma, Merlin was going into the middle of the street and checking the bott dotts.  He was going back and forth between the yards and the middle of the street.
    • On Yosemite, Merlin worked up against the buildings. Scent along the sides of buildings can come from a person riding in a car.
    • Merlin was pulling hard on Yosemite, but LE did not shut it down to traffic so Valentin could see if Merlin would trail down the middle of the street.
    • Merlin went into a parking lot on the west side of Santa Rosa, did not go into the middle of the street, even though the street had no traffic, but in and out of parking lots.
    • Valentin stopped him inside of the Gallo property at the end of Santa Rosa Avenue because he wasn't showing all the signs of being on trail, and they hit the dead end into the Gallo property. 
    • Merlin stopped giving a strong pull on the harness at Yosemite Boulevard and Santa Rosa Avenue.
    • Valentin said other things could have been done to continue the search:
      • They could have gone into the Gallo property to check for an in-and-out trail
      • They could have gone back to Yosemite to see if there was scent that continued there
      • They could have gone back to other intersections
    • Valentin told the Detectives at command center that Merlin indicated Laci left in a vehicle, not on foot, because Merlin was pretty dedicated to always going back and checking those Bott Dots as they traveled through the neighborhood.
    • Valentin was not asked to take Merlin to the park to trail for Laci's scent.
    • From the conversations among the detectives, Valentin concluded that they suspected Scott of being responsible for Laci's disappearance.

Now, if dog trailing is a good science and if Laci went for a walk into the park, Merlin would have gone into the park and then followed her to wherever she ended up.  Merlin did not go into the park.

If Scott murdered Laci and transported her in his truck to the warehouse, then Merlin would follow the trail to the warehouse.  Maps.Google identifies 3 primary ways to get from Scott's house to the warehouse.  Merlin didn't follow any one of the routes to the warehouse.  You can click on these maps to enlarge.

They already know about the Medina burglary, because the Medinas have already arrived home and reported it.  They do not yet know who did the burglary, but the fact that Merlin did not go to the Park and did not go to the warehouse surely registered in someone's head that, aha, the burglars took her.  We'll return to this first trail by Merlin in a few days when we talk more about Todd and Pearce.

But Brocchini was undaunted in his efforts to find some evidence that Scott murdered Laci.  Merlin, having failed to trail Laci to the warehouse, was brought to near the warehouse to see if he could be helped a bit, you know, nudged in the right direction. The three routes from Scot's house to the warehouse all have one thing in common, they all arrive at the intersection of Kansas and North Emerald.  

  • December 26, 2002 : Trails to and from the Warehouse
    • Brocchini asked Valentin to see if Merlin would do a trail to Scott's warehouse.
      • Valentin told Brocchini to take her and Merlin somewhere near the warehouse and she would see if Merlin picked up a trail that led to a warehouse.  She did not want to know where the warehouse was located.
      • Valentin and Merlin were taken to the intersection of Kansas and North Emerald.
      • Merlin picked up the trail and headed southbound on North Emerald Ave, in the opposite direction of the warehouse.
    • Detective Brocchini asked Valentin to stop the trail and to start from the warehouse
      • Valentin started Merlin at the B1 door of the warehouse,
      • Merlin went out of the warehouse to the street, North Emerald Ave,
      • turned south onto North Emerald Ave,
      • continued on North Emerald across Kansas Ave to Maize Blvd,
      • turned onto Maize Blvd and headed west
    • Detective Brocchini stopped Valentin after they had gone about a quarter mile down Maize Blvd, even though Merlin was pulling hard.  Valentin made no objection to the search being called off.
    • Valentin told detectives this was a vehicle trail because Merlin was constantly checking the Bott Dots in the middle of the street.
Brocchini, with Valentin's help, rationalized that Merlin didn't go from the intersection of Kansas and North Emerald to the warehouse because trailing dogs are trained to pick up the newest scent.  I'll remind you of that rationalization in a few days when we discuss another dog trail.  

It took a bit of work, but Brocchini finally had his evidence that Scott murdered Laci in their home, transported her to the warehouse in his truck, and from the warehouse headed West out of town.  As a detective of Brocchini's ilk, Mark Furhman, is quoted as saying, "not everything in a murder case is going to add up.  You have to look at the totality of the evidence" (Source). In other words, if it doesn't fit, ignore it or lie about it.  Merlin's failure to trail Laci from her home to the warehouse didn't fit with the working theory, so it was first ignored, then blatantly lied about.  We still hear people give as one of their evidences that Scott is guilty that the dogs trailed Laci from the house to the warehouse to the Berkeley Marina.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day, 2002

Not a Christmas that anyone would ever want to experience.  The MPD made a valiant effort through the night to find Laci.  Search parties scoured the park for hours and used every search means available to them.  In the next few days, officers went from door-to-door in the neighborhood to see if anyone had seen Laci or knew what had happened to her.  One branch of the MPD seemed to be doing everything right in the case of a missing person, while the other branch had already closed the case -- Scott was guilty, and it was their duty to prove it.

The morning started for Scott at the Modesto Police Department as Brocchini wanted to tape record an interview with him. Scott already knew that Brocchini had concluded he was responsible for Laci's disappearance, and so is it any wonder that he didn't trust the man enough to share personal information, especially when Scott didn't believe it had anything at all to do with Laci's disappearance.  He was certain Amber Frey didn't know about Laci, that has been her claim all along, and no one has brought forth any reason for Scott to have suspected that Amber was involved in Laci's disappearance.  Maybe he was just in denial, but until there is evidence that Amber was involved, Scott can't be faulted for not making his relationship with her known to Brocchini that night.  If Amber had any sense, she would appreciate how long Scott kept her out of the hands of the MPD and the media.

Other than not telling Brocchini about the affair, Scott told only the truth.  People quibble about his times not being exact, but forget that no one else's times were exact, either, and they were given the opportunity to consult receipts and cell phone records to be sure. Scott wasn't given that luxury.  If he thought he left home about 9:45, and it was found out it was closer to 10:08, then he was made out to be a liar.  Brocchini unrelentingly tried to catch Scott in every little tidbit of inaccuracy, and if he failed, he just made it up.  

After Brocchini dropped Scott off at home, Scott discovered his gun was missing from the glove box of the truck.  He called Brocchini, who admitted seizing it.  One more good reason not to trust the man.  Scott had consented to have his home visually inspected during 4 walk-throughs the previous night; he consented to have Brocchini visually inspect the two vehicles and the boat; he consented to have ID Tech Lovell come to the house to take photos -- and Brocchini wasn't honest enough to simply tell Scott he was taking the gun.  Brocchini had taken a GSR test at the MPD, to test for gun residue, which Scott consented to, so why not just tell Scott he took the gun?  He said he didn't tell Scott because he didn't want to lose Scott's trust, not just yet.  The truth is, he didn't want Scott's trust -- he wanted Scott to react, to do something to prove he was guilty.  It didn't work, because Scott is not guilty.

Because Scott told Brocchini he would take a polygraph, Agent Doug Mansfield, a polygrapher for the California DOJ, was called in.  In the meantime, Scott changed his mind.  But what everyone seems to forget is that he still met with Mansfield and Grogan for a 3-hour interview.  And Scott told only the truth, except for not admitting the affair.  For example, Scott told Grogan that he made the cement anchor in a paint bucket that he bought at Home Depot.  However, Grogan and the entire MPD labored for a whole year under the foolish notion that he made it in the plastic pitcher until Grogan was informed by an petrographer that the pitcher was not the mold for the anchor.  So Grogan scurried down to Home Depot and purchased a paint bucket and sure enough, it fit.

Mansfield and Grogan grilled Scott on a lot of details from both his and Laci's lives.  Scott held nothing back, except the affair.  

Earlier that day, Buehler interviewed Karen Servas, who was still reporting 10:30 as the time she found McKenzie.  Later that evening, Servas exposed her bias when she interpreted Scott's kindness in inviting her to join him and his parents for Christmas Dinner as something sinister.  

Modesto police and firefighters carried out a massive and futile search along Dry Creek. Her family offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to her safe return. Sharon Rocha was in the Covena Home on December 25th, and said she did not notice anything "unusual." Janet Kenworthy saw Scott on Christmas Day, as she was walking her dog in the park. "He reaches in his coat, pulls out a flier and says, 'My wife's missing,'" Kenworthy recalled. "He about broke down in front of me. I did see tears, retain-your-composure efforts." Kenworthy was especially touched, she said, to learn that the missing woman was pregnant. She said she gave Scott a hug. "I would have sworn at that time that he was innocent," Kenworthy said.  And she was right, he is innocent.

But some people besides the police were looking for evidence against Scott.  Fair-weather friends always turn their backs on someone when the going gets tough, and there aren't many situations tougher than having a best friend and loved one missing on Christmas Day.  After passing out flyers, Stacey Boyers went to the Covena home probably after 5:00 p.m. to bring a picture to Renee Tomlinson.  Boyers observed Scott vacuuming the area in front of the washer and dryer.  She said he was vacuuming that area the whole time she was there. When she reported this to the police, it raised their suspicion that Scott was still doing some clean-up.  Of course he was cleaning up.  Dozens of people had been in and out of that home all day.  Laci was a good housekeeper; he expected her to come home.  And what evidence was found from the vacuum cleaner and the vacuum bag?  Nothing.  No evidence of a clean-up.  It was all a figment of their imagination.  

And memories began to fade over time to Scott's detriment.  Witnesses had different accounts of where Scott was on Christmas morning.  Brent Rocha gave three different accounts in his interviews.  In the first, he said Scott was unaccounted for from 9:00-12:00 Noon, in the second that he saw Scott around 11 am, and in the third report that he joined with Scott at 10:30 to go hang flyers in the neighborhood.  In his trial testimony, he said the latter is the most accurate.  He didn't seem aware that his mother saw Scott during that time -- she met Scott coming out of the park with McKenzie and Scott accompanied her to her friend Jane's house around the corner from Laci's, and he was at the house later that morning when Sharon was there.  That was one of the problems - Brent didn't see where Scott was every minute, so assumed he must have been up to something very sinister.  No one seemed to be able to give Scott the space to be himself and to deal with this traumatic event in his own way.  He was the outsider, and they were too quick to become suspicious over the least little thing.  Laci's maternal aunt Susan Aquino, who didn't even know Scott, thought it was suspicious because Scott said a sighting wouldn't be Laci because she didn't cross the footbridge in her walks.  Everything looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.  

At 7:20 p.m., Scott called Brocchini to ask him if they were using cadaver dogs to look for Laci in Dry Creek Park. Brocchini told Scott he hadn't considered her being dead yet, so they hadn't used cadaver dogs. What a lie -- he did already consider that Laci was dead.  It's Scott that hadn't considered that she was dead, and that's why he wanted to know if they were using cadaver dogs, as he had heard they were.  Brocchini's hubris wouldn't allow him to be wrong about Scott, so he twisted whatever Scott did or said in whatever way he needed to prove Scott had murdered Laci.  

Meanwhile, Todd and Pearce had already started to give away some of the Medina jewelry as Christmas gifts to their women-folk, and to sell off some of the jewelry, guns, and other items.  Somehow or other, Deanna Renfro ended up with Laci's croton watch.  It was probably the nicest piece of jewelry she ever owned.  

The only bad thing that happened to Amber on Christmas day is that Scott didn't call her as he had promised.  I'm sure that was better than spending the day in hours of grueling interviews with detectives trying to prove she didn't have anything to do with Laci's disappearance, which is surely what would have happened if Scott had revealed he had an affair with her.  

Friday, December 23, 2011

That fateful day so many years ago . . .

December 24, 2002

9:30 a.m., or thereabouts, Scott loaded the umbrellas into the pickup bed.  He was seen by Kristen Dempewolf, who said he smiled and said Hello.

9:48 a.m., Scott was in the house with Laci watching Martha Stewart -- long enough to know she and her guest were making cookies and talking about meringue.

Shortly after the meringue mention, Scott left for the warehouse.  Somewhere along the way, or even from the warehouse, he checked his voice mail.  He had a voice message from his employer.  At the warehouse he fiddled around with email, put together a mortiser, and then hooked the boat trailer to his pickup truck and headed for the Berkeley Marina.

Meanwhile, Laci finished her mopping and went for a walk - not in the park, but around the neighborhood.  Credible witnesses -- unknown to each other -- identify that walk-route. (

Exactly what happened to Laci is still shrouded in mystery.  The same people who swallowed hook, line, and sinker the State's theory with its massive gaping holes are quick to reject any other explanation because every single moment can't be accounted for.

But we know that Diane Jackson saw the Medina burglary in progress, at 11:40 a.m. -- she saw a van, 3 men, and the safe being removed from the house.

We know that Steve Todd and Glenn Pearce participated in that burglary, lied about when they did it, and apparently have failed to identify others that were involved.  Jackson saw 3 men by the van, and the safe being removed from the house, which requires at least 1 other person; so that's 2 persons still unaccounted for.

We know that Todd's friends, the Tenbrink brothers, were overheard talking about how Laci confronted Todd during the burglary and he threatened her.

We know that when Scott arrived home that evening, Laci was missing.

We know that Scott called Sharon at 5:17 p.m. to ask if Laci was there.  She instructed him to check with neighbors and friends.  When he called back to report no success, she instructed him to meet her in the park, and Ron Grantski was to stay at home and call 9-1-1 and also call local hospitals.  The 9-1-1 call was made at 5:48 p.m.

We know that the Modesto Police Department responded immediately.  Officer Evers responded at 5:48, Officers Letsinger and Spurlock soon followed, and Sgt. Duerfeldt was there by 5:58 p.m.  They responded to the Park because that is where Scott thought Laci was going to go for her walk.

We know that at 6:15 p.m., Duerfeldt advised Communications Center to notify all local hospitals.

We know that Officers Evers, Letsinger, and Spurlock went with Scott to the home at 523 Covena and secured the home, not allowing Scott to enter.  They did an initial walk-through, looking for any signs of what may have happened to Laci.

We know that Sgt. Duerfeldt arrived at the Covena home at 6:20 p.m. and spoke for about 5 minutes with Officers Evers, Letsinger, and Spurlock.  Based on that conversation, Duerfeldt concluded that Scott was responsible for Laci's disappearance and called Sgt. Carter to request a homicide detective.

We know that Officers Evers, Letsinger, and Spurlock went with Scott back into the home for a 2nd walk-through.

We know that Ron Grantski asked Scott, in the presence of Evers and other officers, if he had gotten in any golfing that day.  When Scot said No, he had gone fishing instead, Grantski remarked that 9:30 or 10:00 was too late in the day to go fishing, which was a very strange comment to make since he himself had been fishing that very afternoon.

We know that about 9:30 Detective Brocchini arrived, and he and the 3 officers did another walk through -- the 3rd that night.  Later, he, Evers, and Scott did a 4th walk-through.

We know that the only thing they found suspicious were some dirty white towels on the washing machine, two mops and mop bucket by the door, and a rug out of place.  Yet, Brocchini, Evers, Letsinger, Spurlock, and Duerfeldt were absolutely certain that Scot was responsible for Laci's disappearance, and that she was already dead.

We know that later that night, Brocchini visually inspected the Land Rover and the Ford Pickup Truck, seizing a gun that Scott had in the glove box of the truck. Then he asked to see the boat, and Scott took him to the warehouse where Brocchini visually inspected the boat and took some photographs.

We know that Brocchini called for ID Tech Lovell to go to 523 Covena to take photographs of the inside of the house.

Finally, we know that Brocchini took Scott to the police department to tape record an hour long interview.

And so it is that on this fateful day, so many years ago, a beautiful young woman, pregnant with her first child, innocently encountered danger across the street from which she most likely was not allowed to walk away from.  It wouldn't be till a few days before people became aware that the Medina home had been burglarized, as they were visiting children in southern California, but by then it was too late, because Evers, Letsinger, Spurlock, and Duerfeldt knew Scott was responsible within 45 minutes of the 9-1-1 call, and Brocchini was just as certain before he even arrived at the Covena home.

In the coming weeks and months, we'll revisit the investigation as it proceeded, to see just what the MPD focused on and how they were able to so completely miss the mark.

Expert bias, continued

The links in my previous post no longer work, so I am copying the articles in full here.  To refresh your memory, these are articles about the cases overturned in North Carolina because of the egregious misconduct by SBI Agent Duane Deaver.  One of the cases involved is the infamous Michael Peterson case, and he is getting a new trial.  The last of the 3 articles focuses on the District Attorney involved.

Novelist Michael Peterson will get new trial in wife's death
By Joseph Neff
The (Raleigh) News & Observer
By Joseph Neff 
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Michael Peterson reacts after Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that he will get a new trial. Hudson found that former SBI agent Duane Deaver misled the judge and jury in 2003, when his testimony helped convict Peterson in the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

Michael Peterson's daughter Martha Ratliff hugs investigator Ron Guerette after Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that Peterson will get a new trial. Hudson found that former SBI agent Duane Deaver misled the judge and jury in 2003, when his testimony helped convict Peterson in the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

Michael Peterson listens to witness Tom Bevel at his hearing.

Michael Peterson, the former Durham novelist convicted of murder in 2003, will get a new trial, a judge ruled today.

Judge Orlando Hudson found that former SBI agent Duane Deaver misled the judge and jury in 2003, when his testimony helped convict Peterson in the death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

Deaver misled the jury about the validity of his experiments at the trial, Hudson said.

Hudson also found that Deaver gave perjured testimony.

"Is a new trial required?" Hudson asked. "The answer is yes."

Peterson put his hand to his forehead and closed his eye as Hudson ruled. His family and friends crowding the court bench behind Peterson hugged each other, with several of his children quietly sobbing. 

Clayton Peterson said he has always believed in his father's innocence and was shocked as evidence of Deaver's misconduct accumulated over the six days of the hearing. David Rudolf, Peterson's attorney, presented video clips of Deaver's testimony at trial and then contradicted them with SBI records and expert testimony.

"I became increasingly angry and disgusted," Clayton Peterson said. "Seeing the evidence presented, I am just disgusted."

A bond hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. 

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline argued that Peterson should be denied a new trial because Rudolf could have discovered all the evidence about Deaver before the 2003 trial.

"The same information was available back in 2001," Cline said. "There is no new evidence that would make the jury reach a different verdict."

Cline declined to discuss whether she would pursue a perjury investigation against Deaver, given Hudson's ruling that Deaver presented "perjured testimony."

In general, perjury investigations are difficult, Cline said. 

A prosecutor must first establish the truth, Cline said. 

"And we have to show that he knew the truth and testified otherwise, and that is difficult," Cline said. 

SBI assistant director Erik Hooks said in an interview last year that he could find no instance of an SBI agent being charged with perjury. 

Read more:

SBI agents' testimony is critical of Deaver
By Joseph Neff
By Joseph Neff 
Posted: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011

Modified: Friday, Dec. 09, 2011 Michael Peterson had the fourth day of his hearing in quest of a retrial Friday at the Durham County courthouse. CHUCK LIDDY -

The hearing into Michael Peterson's request for a new trial resumes Tuesday morning in the Durham courthouse.
David Rudolf, Peterson's lawyer, said his final two witnesses - an expert and a detective - will testify Tuesday. Rudolf said he does not plan on calling Duane Deaver.

District Attorney Tracey Cline did not specify whether she will call any witnesses.

DURHAM The pro-prosecution bias of former State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver was so strong that it angered and discomforted fellow agents re-examining evidence in the case of Greg Taylor, a Raleigh man later exonerated in a 1991 murder, two agents testified Friday.

Deaver repeatedly insisted Taylor was guilty, the agents said. Deaver was hostile to their efforts to re-examine evidence, they said. And Deaver was indignant when one agent refused to testify he could identify a stain on a car as blood solely by looking at a picture of the vehicle.

"Could I identify it as blood in the picture without testing?" agent Russell Holley testified Friday. "I can't do that."

The two agents testified at a hearing for Durham novelist Michael Peterson, who is seeking a new trial because of what his lawyer calls a history of misconduct and bias by Deaver, a key expert witness for the prosecution at Peterson's 2003 murder trial. Peterson was convicted of the murder of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks executive who was found dead at the bottom of a bloodstained staircase in their Forest Hills mansion.

David Rudolf, Peterson's lawyer, has spent the week tearing into the credibility of Deaver, arguing that Deaver had a pattern of fabricating evidence of guilt, hiding evidence of innocence, and tailoring his testimony to fit the prosecution theory.

The evidence Friday did not come from expert witnesses or defense lawyers, but from inside the SBI, an agency whose inner workings are seldom seen in public.

SBI agent Kristin Hughes, a forensic biologist and DNA expert, was assigned to re-examine the evidence in Taylor's case before a September 2009 meeting of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission. Deaver had done the original lab work, and Hughes left repeated messages for Deaver asking for help to understand his lab notes.

"He was not willing to come over and help decipher his notes," Hughes said.

'Well, why not?'

Hughes then described a meeting she attended in August 2009 with Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford, Deaver and Holley.

Deaver showed up with "an attitude" and without his case file or notes, even though it is standard practice to bring case files to a meeting with prosecutors, Hughes said.

When Hughes and Holley asked where his case file was, Deaver was dismissive, saying "I don't have these any more."

Ford brought a photo of Taylor's truck, which was stuck in the mud at the crime scene. There was a small reddish-brown stain on the truck.

"Deaver said, 'That's blood,' " Hughes testified.

Holley disagreed. They needed lab tests, not a picture, to identify blood.

Hughes said Deaver quickly shot back condescendingly: "Well, why not? You're a trained analyst. You should have enough experience to say there's blood in the picture."

That stain was crucial in exonerating Taylor. A preliminary test for blood was positive. In his 1993 lab report, Deaver wrote that the stain contained "chemical indications of blood."

Deaver also ran a more specific, confirmatory test for blood that came back negative. He did not mention that negative result in his lab report. At Taylor's trial, police and prosecution referred to the stain as "blood." The stain was the only physical evidence against Taylor, who insisted on his innocence from his first encounter with police.

Ford did not return a phone message left at his home. Deaver and his lawyers have declined to comment.

New tests, different results

Holley, who examines blood and other body fluids, said he ran tests on the same item of evidence where Deaver noted chemical indications of blood. Holley said all preliminary tests came back negative, and he did not run confirmatory tests.

Holley also examined slides taken from a vaginal swab of the murder victim, Jacquetta Thomas. Deaver had written that there was no sperm present. Holley said he identified sperm; so did two lab trainees who looked at the slide at Holley's request. (The sperm was tested, but did not match Taylor, his friend with him the night of the murder or anyone in a national DNA database.)

Holley described the meeting with Deaver and Ford as "strange and uncomfortable."

Holley recalled Deaver was adamant Taylor was guilty, saying "I know he's guilty. Why are they doing this to us? They are dragging us through the mud."

Hughes said she had a similar recollection about a series of comments from Deaver: "He's guilty." "He did it." "He's where he needs to be." "He'd never survive a hearing." "This was all to see if they can get him out."

Neither Hughes nor Holley thought Deaver's comments were appropriate; forensic scientists are tasked with being unbiased, using science to find facts irrespective of whether the truth helps prosecution or defense. "I didn't care if he (Taylor) was innocent or not," Holley said. "If he was guilty, that's fine. If he's innocent, that's fine."

Holley said he wasn't able to say why Deaver found blood but not sperm, or why Deaver was so insistent on Taylor's guilt. But Deaver's behavior made the agents angry and uncomfortable, they testified.

"We got out of there as quick as we could," Holley said.

Confusing the defense

The final witness Friday was Chris Swecker, a former assistant director of the FBI who, following Taylor's exoneration, conducted an audit of blood cases handled by the SBI crime lab at the request of state Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Swecker and another retired FBI assistant director identified more than 200 cases where the official SBI lab reports did not reflect the results obtained in the laboratory. The most serious mistakes, where the official reports and lab bench notes contradicted each other, were contained in reports written by Deaver, Swecker said.

Under cross examination by Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline, Swecker said he found no evidence that any SBI employee had intentionally withheld or fabricated evidence.

The problem, Swecker said, was a cultural bias within the SBI in favor of the prosecution.

Swecker said he asked Deaver for whom he was writing his reports.

Deaver's answer: police and prosecutors. If he reported a negative test result, there may be a misunderstanding because tests can deliver a false negative. A negative test result did not necessarily mean there was no blood, he told the retired FBI agents. Who would misunderstand or be confused by a negative test result? Rudolf asked. The jury?

"I had in my notes that it would confuse the defense," Swecker said. "The defense might say there was not blood." 

Read more:


First hearing set on Cline's BY J. ANDREW CURLISS The News and Observer 

Lawyers have started attacking arguments that Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline made in a series of court filings late last month as she seeks to prevent Judge Orlando Hudson from handling criminal cases while she pursues a complaint of 
misconduct against him.

A first decision point on Cline's efforts to disqualify Hudson has been set: A hearing is scheduled for Monday. Hudson, the senior resident Superior Court judge, will not handle it. He has asked Carl Fox, the senior judge in Orange County and a former district attorney, to handle the arguments.

Cline has alleged in her filings that Hudson cannot be fair to her or her office based on his rulings in several recent cases, including the dismissals of two murder charges in part because he found misconduct by Cline. The district attorney says she has done nothing wrong. 

Cline wrote in court documents that Hudson's rulings have "raped" victims and are based in "fictitious findings." Cline disclosed that she has filed a complaint with the state commission that oversees judges' conduct, though her exact complaint is not public. The filings are similar to appeals that are ongoing before the state Court of Appeals in the dismissed murder cases.

Hudson disputes Cline's allegations, and said he welcomes any review.

Cline's writings have garnered national attention and brought criticism from judicial experts who called them an unprecedented attempt to sidestep the appeals or recusal processes.

Upcoming cases

In the meantime, cases that Hudson would be handling are coming up on the court calendar, prompting a new round of filings - and Monday's scheduled hearing.

Cline has filed papers seeking to remove Hudson from deciding an appeal by convicted murderer Michael Peterson, a former novelist whose case has been the subject of documentaries and intense media coverage. Peterson's bid for a new trial is scheduled to be heard next week.

In another, Cline wants Hudson off a post-conviction appeal being advanced by convicted rapist David Yearwood, who was featured in a News & Observer series of articles about Cline in September. The series, "Twisted Truth," reported that Cline had withheld evidence from defendants and had made misstatements to judges in several cases.

Cline said Hudson should be prevented from overseeing the Peterson case because he is commissioned to serve in another county until next year as part of the court system's regular rotation of judges.

Peterson's lawyer, David Rudolf of Charlotte, has responded in a filing that says state law provides wide latitude for appeals to be heard by the judge who presided at a trial, including that the law says a judge can take action "even though he is in another district or even though his commission has expired."

Hudson was the judge on the Peterson trial, which lasted three months.

The reason Hudson should remain, Rudolf wrote, is clear: He oversaw the trial and listened to the testimony. The issue in the Peterson appeal focuses on the work of an SBI agent whom Hudson qualified as an expert.

Rudolf said Hudson is in a "unique position" to assess new evidence he wants to bring forward.

Rudolf wrote also that the conduct of Cline and the district attorney's office is not at issue in Peterson's appeal and that Cline's allegations have no relevance to the case.

In the Yearwood case, Cline alleges that Hudson improperly appointed a lawyer, Heather Rattelade, to work for Yearwood and that Hudson is behind allegations Rattelade made about misconduct by Cline.

Cline and Rattelade have previously exchanged pointed court filings about the case, particularly about documents filed under seal that were obtained by The N&O that Cline has not been able to review.

Lawyer responds

In a response this week to Cline's efforts to remove Hudson, Rattelade wrote that Cline's request to remove the judge should be stricken from the record. She argues that Cline's filings are "unsupported by facts," are based in "inflammatory conclusory statements," and are designed to "shop for a more favorable judge."

The appropriate response, Rattelade wrote, is for the request to be dismissed or for Cline - not the judge - to step out of handling the case if there is some concern about partiality.

"District Attorney Cline's 'Request' should be stricken from the record because it is solely intended to disrepute and to destroy public confidence in the integrity of the Durham County General Court of Justice," Rattelade wrote.

Curliss: 919-829-4840 

Read more:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Expert bias

Many people willingly admit there is expert bias on the part of experts hired by Defense Counsel.  They have no problem calling these experts "hired guns" that will tell the Judge and Jury whatever the Defense Counsel wants them to say.  I'm sure some experts do in fact sell themselves for profit and gain.

Most people, however, are extremely reluctant to concede that State expert witnesses are just as capable of such immoral and unethical behavior.  Once again, however, we have solid evidence that some State experts will not only conceal exonerating evidence in their reports, but provide perjured testimony.

This most recent example comes to light as Michael Peterson is granted a new trial because SBI Duane Deaver "misled the jury about the validity of his experiments" and "gave perjured testimony."

You can read about Deaver's gross misconduct in these two articles, one of which provides information about his gross misconduct in another case.

SBI agents' testimony is critical of Deaver

Novelist Michael Peterson will get new trial in wife's death

This is the proper attitude for all experts to have, be they consulted by the State or by the Defense:
Neither Hughes nor Holley thought Deaver's comments were appropriate; forensic scientists are tasked with being unbiased, using science to find facts irrespective of whether the truth helps prosecution or defense. "I didn't care if he (Taylor) was innocent or not," Holley said. "If he was guilty, that's fine. If he's innocent, that's fine."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

California Supreme Court voids two death row convictions!

California Supreme Court voids two death row convictions
Justices rule that Judge Charles Horan acted improperly in removing a juror who questioned a witness' reliability in gang members' murder trial.

Cleamon "Big Evil" Johnson was charged with ordering the killings of two rival gang members. (Associated Press / December 5, 2011)

December 5, 2011, 10:38 p.m.

After upholding nearly 50 death sentences in a row, the California Supreme Court on Monday broke its pattern by overturning the convictions of a reputed gang leader in Los Angeles and his alleged accomplice in two killings that sent both men to death row for 15 years.

The state high court unanimously ruled that Cleamon Johnson and Michael Allen, convicted of killing rival gang members Peyton Beroit and Donald Loggins in 1991, were denied a fair trial when a judge removed a juror who appeared to be critical of the prosecution's case.

In a ruling written by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, the court cited a lack of evidence to support then-Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles Horan's decision to remove the juror for prejudging the case and relying on evidence outside the 1997 trial.

Johnson, known as "Big Evil," headed a gang called the 89 Family Bloods during the 1980s and early '90s that authorities contend was responsible for about 60 killings in South Los Angeles.

Johnson was convicted of ordering Allen to kill the two rival gang members with an Uzi. Johnson also was charged with a third killing and two attempted killings but another jury deadlocked on those charges in 1999.

In reversing the convictions that sent Johnson and Allen to death row, the state high court said the juror who was removed was deliberating properly and relying on experience, not bias, to evaluate a prosecution eyewitness.

"It may be argued that Juror No. 11's conclusion was based upon a weak premise or rested upon an over-broad inference," Corrigan wrote. "Jurors, however, are the judges of credibility, and conscientious jurors may come to different conclusions.

"It is not the province of trial or reviewing courts to substitute their logic for that of jurors to whom credibility decisions are entrusted."

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said a decision on whether to retry Johnson and Allen would be made after the office reviews the ruling and assesses the case.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, said her office is considering a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We're disappointed but reviewing our options," Gledhill said.

Supervising State Deputy Public Defender Andrew Love, who represented Johnson, said he was thrilled by the ruling but also "angry and frustrated" that it took so many years for the state high court to decide the case.

"This case involved truly outrageous conduct by the trial judge, who kicked a juror off the case in the middle of deliberations because it was reported by another juror that he was not persuaded by the prosecution's case," Love said. "Reversal was a foregone conclusion."

He said Johnson was on death row for five years before getting a lawyer to handle his appeal, and the California Supreme Court waited many more years to decide the case after it had been fully briefed.

"One of the primary reasons these cases take so long is the shortage of competent lawyers willing to handle capital appeals in the California Supreme Court — and a key reason why is the perception that the court does not undertake a careful, meaningful review of these cases," Love said.

Prosecutors said Johnson was a "shot caller" in the street gang and presented a witness who testified that he heard Johnson order Allen to kill the victims.

The juror who was dismissed had expressed doubts about the witness' credibility. After two other jurors complained about him, Horan interviewed the entire panel before discharging the juror.,0,2865203.story

Click Here to read the Opinion

Extension of Time Granted


Case: S132449, Supreme Court of California

Date (YYYY-MM-DD):                      2011-12-07
Event Description:                           Extension of time granted
On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file appellant's opening brief is extended to and including January 30, 2012. 

Greta's Blog

Greta Van Susteren has a recent blog article on the Scott Peterson case.  You can read it and post a response at

I have already posted my response.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Moral Imperative

For many people, the case of The People vs. Scott Peterson is closed, and rightly so.  They are satisfied that he is guilty and justice has been served.  They have no moral imperative to do anything more.

But others of us do have a moral imperative.  Through our analysis of the evidence and through our own investigations, we have discovered that it's not possible that Scott Peterson committed these murders.

So many want to put criminals behind bars and throw away the key.  They want no more than the barest of existence for them.  But that is not the attitude Jesus Christ had.  He did not want crime to go unpunished, but he did want charity towards prisoners.  In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25, we read:

31 ¶When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Christ then went on to say in this parable that those who did not do likewise unto the least of these were cast into everlasting fire.

That's a sobering thought, that we are supposed to care not only for the needy and the sick, but also for the imprisoned.  If the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the moral imperative to visit the imprisoned, how much greater is the moral imperative to fight to correct the injustice of a wrongful conviction?

Letting the System run its course is an option for someone who believes Scott is guilty, but not for those who know he is innocent.  Christian principles demand that whatever can be done must be done until the injustice is corrected.