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.