Scott Peterson

Stanislaus County, California
Date of Crime:  December 24, 2002

Scott Peterson was sentenced to death for the murders of his pregnant wife, Laci, and his unborn son, Connor. The prosecution argued that Scott killed Laci late on Dec. 23, 2002 or early on the morning of Dec. 24. A neighbor saw Scott in the bed of his truck, which was backed in his driveway, around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24. It was alleged that he was loading Laci's body into it. Cell phone records establish that he left his Modesto residence at 523 Covena Ave. around 10:08 a.m. to go to a warehouse at 1027 N. Emerald Ave., where his boat was stored. The warehouse is 9 minutes away.

At the warehouse, Scott logged onto his computer at 10:30 a.m. and sent an email reply to his boss. Scott then assembled a mortiser woodworking tool he had bought. He later attached his 12-foot aluminum boat to his truck. Based on estimated travel time, Scott left the warehouse at 11:18 a.m. and traveled 90 miles to the Berkeley Marina. At the Marina parking lot he bought a ticket that was time stamped 12:54 p.m. Scott went fishing for a little over an hour and left the Marina about 2:12 p.m. He got caught in traffic and made a gasoline purchase in Livermore at 3:25 p.m. Based on travel time from Livermore, he arrived back at the warehouse at 4:26 p.m. Scott estimated that he arrived home from the warehouse between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m.

On arrival, Scott found his dog McKenzie in his fenced yard with a leash on. A neighbor later stated that she found McKenzie running loose and put him back in Scott and Laci's yard. Scott removed the leash and put it on the patio table. Although Scott had repeatedly tried to reach Laci from his cell phone during the day, he assumed that she was at her mother's house. He put the clothes he was wearing, which were a bit wet, in the washer and got a shower. He then checked his home phone messages and got a message from the companion of Laci's mother asking Scott and Laci to bring whipped cream when they came over for a Christmas Eve gathering. Scott then called Laci's mother at 5:17 p.m. and confirmed that Laci was missing.

By December 30th authorities began searching San Francisco Bay near Berkeley Marina, looking for Laci's body. Searches were conducted for 26 days and turned up nothing. Authorities discovered that Scott was having an affair with another woman, Amber Frey. On April 13, 2003, the body of a baby boy was found on the shore of San Francisco Bay. This boy was later confirmed to be Conner, Scott and Laci's unborn (or newly born) son. The following day, the body of Laci was found nearby. Both bodies were found about 3 miles from Berkeley Marina. On April 18 Scott was arrested for their murders.

While the location of the found bodies is incriminating, other evidence supports Scott's innocence. Six witnesses saw Laci walking her dog, McKenzie, near her home shortly after Scott left on the day of her disappearance. A home across the street from the Petersons' was burglarized at 11:30 a.m. that morning. One witness said she saw Laci confronting the apparent burglars. The body of another pregnant woman, who disappeared on May 1, had been found across the bay from where Laci was found. Some have suggested Laci was a victim of a satanic cult killing because May 1 and Dec. 24 are Satanic holidays and the area is home to three Satanic churches.

Scott was completely forthcoming about his whereabouts on the day Laci went missing. If Scott dumped Laci's body in San Francisco Bay, it did not make any sense for him to use the Marina as an alibi. Police failed to find blood or other evidence in any location where the murder might have taken place. Nor did they find any evidence of a clean-up. Police found evidence that Scott had purchased cement, which they suggested he used to make anchors to hold down Laci's body in the Bay. Even without anchors attached to Laci, Scott's boat was so small that it would have capsized if he threw her body out of it.

All evidence suggests Scott's affair with Amber was just a temporary fling, not a motive for murder. Laci was prettier than Amber, and Scott had had other flings in the past. Police had Amber secretly tape her conversations with Scott, to no avail. In one of the conversations, Scott wondered if Amber had anything to do with Laci's disappearance.

In interviews, jurors said that they convicted Scott for the most obvious reason, namely because the bodies were found near where he went fishing. One juror added that he never would have convicted Scott, but for this fact. However, the location of the found bodies is not as incriminating as it might first appear. Scott's whereabouts on the day Laci went missing were well publicized. If someone else killed Laci, it is plausible that the killer might dump Laci's and Connor's bodies near where Scott had gone fishing as such a location would throw any suspicion off of himself and onto Scott.

Evidence from the found bodies creates additional doubt regarding Scott's guilt. According to the prosecution, Scott strangled Laci and cleanly disposed of her intact body, leaving no blood or bodily secretions as evidence. Conner allegedly separated from Laci after decomposition opened up her abdominal cavity.

However, Connor had clearly been separated from Laci at the time he was dumped. Plastic tape/twine was found looped over his right shoulder and under his left arm. The twine was tied tight with only one inch of slack and knotted with a bow. The prosecution suggested the twine was debris that happened to slip over Conner's body, but pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who examined Conner, said that this could not happen in “a million years.” He also conjectured that Connor's body had been covered with a bag at the time of his disposal and that the twine had been used to hold the bag in place.

Conner's body was found in a swampy location above the normal high tide debris line of the bay, indicating it was dumped there and did not float in from the bay. The prosecution never tried to prove otherwise.

On Sept. 24, 2002, Laci had ultrasound measurements performed on her fetus indicating that Conner then had a gestational age of 19 weeks and 2 days. Thirteen weeks later, on the day of Scott's visit to the Marina, Conner would have been 32 weeks and 2 days old. However, post-mortem measurements indicated that Conner had lived till he was 35.1 to 36.3 weeks old. While measurement-based age determinations can vary, only about 5% of fetuses show a discrepancy of 4 weeks or more due to unusually fast or slow fetal growth. Since Conner's measured age was close to 4 weeks ahead, the post-mortem measurements raise a significant statistical doubt that Conner was dead at the time of Scott's Marina visit.

Laci's body was found without her head and her first six neck vertebrae. While the separation of her head and her first two neck vertebrae can be readily explained as due to decomposition in the bay, the other neck vertebrae do not easily separate and generally remain with the spine while the rest of the body decomposes. This evidence suggests the killer cut off Laci's head at the neck prior to disposal, severing most of her neck vertebrae. If Scott killed Laci, his removal of her head as well as her fetus complicates any prosecution scenario of the murder. Many books were written about the case including a 2005 pro-defense book entitled Presumed Guilty by Matt Dalton, a former Long Beach City and L.A. County prosecutor.  [8/10]


References:  PWC,, American Justice

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Northern California Cases, Wife Murder Cases