24 October 1972 in San Diego, California) is a former
agriculture chemical salesman convicted of the murder of his
pregnant wife, Laci Peterson and their unborn child, which in
California is treated as murder if the other requisite elements
of murder are met.
resides on the death row in San Quentin State Prison after being
sentenced to death on March 16, 2005.
was born in San Diego, California. Peterson's father worked for
a trucking company, and later owned a packaging business. His
mother was owner of a tiny boutique in Modesto, California,
called "The Put On." While a student at University of San Diego
High School, he worked as a caddy at a local golf course, and
participated on his high school's golf team.
He was working
in a San Luis Obispo cafe as a waiter while attending Cal Poly,
when he met his future wife, then Laci Rocha. The couple married
On December 23
or 24, 2002, Peterson murdered his wife, Laci, while she was
eight months pregnant with their unborn child (who was due on
February 10, 2003) who was to be named Conner; the exact date
and cause of death for Laci and Conner were never determined. He
initially reported her missing on Christmas Eve and the story
quickly attracted nationwide media interest.
press conferences and had wide support from the Peterson family
and his home community of Modesto, California. He claimed that
he had been fishing at the Berkeley Marina at the time of the
disappearance, which turned out to be near the area where the
bodies of his wife and unborn son washed up.
not a prime suspect immediately, largely because Laci's family
and friends maintained their faith in his innocence until much
later. Later, when it became known that he'd had numerous
affairs, the latest with a massage therapist named Amber Frey, a
woman he had lied to numerous times (apart from other things, he
told her that his wife had died the Christmas before Laci went
missing), the media and law enforcement attention grew to a
fevered pitch. Frey was a key witness in the case because she
agreed to tape their phone conversations secretly in hopes of
getting him to confess.
Peterson did not confess to Frey (or to any other person). He
not only claimed innocence in numerous tapes, but even
questioned Frey about her possible involvement. It has been
reported that Scott knew of the taping, but this has never been
Recovery of bodies
On April 14,
the body of an infant boy with umbilical washed ashore at the
San Francisco Bay, followed on the next day by a partial female
torso missing its hands, feet, and head which was later
identified as Laci's.
performed, but due to decomposition the specific method of death
was never determined. Some prosecutors and people from the media
speculated that Laci may have been suffocated or strangled;
Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Modesto Police
Department forensic searches of the couple's home, Scott's
truck, the tool box in the back of his truck, his warehouse and
his boat only turned up only one piece of forensic evidence, a
Peterson was arrested on April
18, 2003, in La Jolla, California, in the parking lot of the
Torrey Pines Golf Course, where he said he was meeting his
father, brother, and Zak O'Regan for a game of golf. At the time
of his arrest, Peterson was in possession of the following
non-golf specific items: approximately $15,000 in cash; four
cell phones; multiple credit cards belonging to various members
of his family; an array of camping equipment, including knives,
implements for warming food, tents and tarpaulins and also a
water purifier; a dozen pairs of shoes; several changes of
clothing; a t-handled double-edged dagger; a MapQuest map to
Frey's workplace (printed the previous day); a shovel; rope; 24
blister packs of sleeping pills; Viagra; and his brother's
His hair and goatee had been dyed blond,
although he claimed the lighter hair color was the result of
chlorine from swimming in a friend's pool. (The pool's owner
later testified that, to his knowledge, Peterson had never swum
in his pool, or made use of his hot tub.)
Prior to his arraignment,
Peterson had been represented by veteran criminal defense
attorney from Modesto, California, Kirk McAllister. McAllister
had met with Peterson prior to Peterson's arraignment. When
Peterson was arraigned, he told Judge Nancy Ashley that he could
not afford the services of a private attorney.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Kent Faulkner
was also one of the attorneys assigned to the case. Subsequently,
Peterson indicated that he had sufficient funds to hire private
counsel and attorney Mark Geragos, who had done other high-profile
criminal defense work.
On January 20, 2004, due to increasing
hostility to Peterson in the Modesto area, a judge moved
Peterson's trial from Modesto to Redwood City, California.
The trial, the People of
the State of California vs. Scott Peterson, began in June
2004 and was followed closely by the media. The lead prosecutor
was Rick Distaso, and Geragos led Peterson's defense.
Prosecution witness Amber Frey engaged her
own attorney, Gloria Allred, to protect her from the news media.
Allred was not bound by the gag order imposed on everyone else
involved in the trial. Although she maintained that her client
had no opinion as to whether Peterson was guilty, Allred was
openly sympathetic to the prosecution. She appeared frequently
on television news programs during the trial. Allred played a
key role in keeping many facts about her client's past from the
Peterson's defense lawyers based his case on
the lack of direct evidence, and downplaying the significance of
circumstantial evidence. They suggested that the remains of the
fetus were that of a full-term infant, and theorized that
someone else had kidnapped Laci, held her until she gave birth,
and then dumped both bodies in the bay. However, the
prosecution's medical experts were able to prove that the baby
had never grown to full term, and died at the same time as his
mother. Geragos suggested that a Satanic cult kidnapped the
pregnant woman. He also claimed that Peterson was "a cad" for
cheating on his pregnant wife, but not a murderer.
Early in the trial, one juror
was removed due to juror misconduct and was replaced by an
alternate, this on a complaint by CourtTV. A videotape showed
the juror and Brent Rocha, Laci Peterson's older brother,
speaking as they passed one another in the courthouse. Later,
during jury deliberations, the jury foreman, attorney Gregory
Jackson, also requested his own removal, most likely because his
fellow jurors wanted to replace him as foreman.
Geragos told reporters that Jackson had
mentioned threats he had received when he requested to be
removed from the jury. Jackson was also replaced by an alternate.
On November 12 the reconstituted jury convicted Peterson of
first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing Laci
and second-degree murder for killing the unborn baby she carried.
The penalty phase of the trial began on November 30 and
concluded December 13, when at 1:50 P.M. PST, the twelve-person
jury recommended a death sentence for Peterson.
In later press appearances, members of the
jury stated that they felt that Peterson's demeanor—specifically,
his lack of emotion, and the phone calls to Amber Frey in the
days following Laci's disappearance—indicated that he was guilty.
They based their verdict on "hundreds of small 'puzzle pieces'
of circumstantial evidence that came out during the trial, from
the location of Laci Peterson's body to the myriad of lies her
husband told after her disappearance." They also decided on the
death penalty because they felt Peterson betrayed his
responsibility to protect his wife and son.
Conviction and aftermath
On March 16,
2005, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi formally sentenced Scott Peterson
to death, calling the murder of his wife "cruel, uncaring,
heartless and callous". The prescribed method of execution was
lethal injection. He also denied the defense's request for a new
trial (which was based on evidence of juror misconduct and media
influence) and ordered Peterson to pay $10,000 towards his
In the early
morning hours of March 17, 2005, Scott Peterson arrived at the
infamous San Quentin State Prison. San Quentin, which overlooks
the bay where Laci's body was discarded and houses the men's
death row, is about 20 miles (30 km) north of San Francisco. He
joined 643 other inmates there awaiting death by lethal
injection in California. His case is currently on automatic
other high-profile criminals judged physically attractive by
society's standards, Peterson receives large amounts of fan mail
and wedding proposals in prison.
correspondents was Richelle Nice, a member of the jury in his
case, who initially wrote to Peterson at the advice of her
therapist. May 25, 2006 CNN story; Nice is the red-haired woman
dubbed "Strawberry Shortcake" by trial observers.
against Peterson was largely circumstantial. Hounded by the
press, Peterson changed his appearance and purchased a vehicle
using his mother's name. He sold Laci's Land Rover, but the
automobile dealer, after finding out who it belonged to, gave it
back to her family free of charge.
supporting the case for Peterson's guilt was the testimony
provided by Ralph Cheng, a hydrologist with the United States
Geological Survey, and an expert witness on tides, particularly
in the San Francisco Bay. However Cheng admitted, during his
cross-examination, that his findings were "probable, not
precise"— tidal systems are sufficiently chaotic that he was
unable to develop an exact model of the bodies' disposal and
with Amber Frey also provided much support for the case against
Peterson. Allegedly, he had told Frey that he had lost his wife
before the December 24 disappearance. In these tapes, he was
shown to have lied to Frey about his location—claiming, for
example, to be in Paris when he was not.
2005, still during the trial, Amber Frey released a book about
her experiences with Scott Peterson, launching widespread
criticism that she was using her involvement in the case for her
own personal gain, and fueling speculation that Frey
was working on the book during the trial which would have in
effect violated the gag order placed on all witnesses in this
trial by the judge.
allegedly told Frey that a not guilty verdict would
result in no book deal for her. Laci's family also criticized
her for placing her photograph between Scott's and Laci's on the
cover of her book.
March was expected to be a crucial witness for the defense in
Scott Peterson's double-murder trial -- one who could
single-handedly exonerate the former Modesto salesman by showing
that the defendant's unborn baby died a week after prosecutors
say the child did.
But by the end
of his testimony, legal analysts and jurors closed their
notebooks, rolled their eyes and snickered when they thought no
one was looking. By the end of his testimony, March slumped in
his chair, made an exasperated noise with his lips and begged
prosecutor Dave Harris to "cut me some slack" about a "typo" in
March had to
admit that a date in his report was incorrect, but said it was a
typographical error. However, the prosecutor pointed out that
the date appeared in two different places in the document. When
the prosecutor pressed him on the discrepancies, March became
flustered. "When an expert says, 'Cut me some slack,' it's all
over," said former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, who
observed the case.
affair with Amber Frey was never presented to the jury as a
probable motive for the crime. However, the prosecution did
present the affair as indicative of Peterson's bad character.
Another scenario that was considered but ultimately ruled out
was Scott's fear of having an unattractive, unhealthy child.
some have claimed Peterson murdered Laci out of a desire to
return to the "bachelor" lifestyle, where he would be free from
the obligations of his impending family life.
Books about the case
A Deadly Game: The Untold
Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation
by Catherine Crier, Cole Thompson (2005) ISBN 0060766123
Blood Brother: 33 Reasons My Brother
Scott Peterson Is Guilty by Anne Bird (2005 Regan Books)
Dr. Henry Lee's Forensic Files: Five
Famous Cases Scott Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, and more...
by Henry C. Lee, Jerry Labriola (2006) ISBN 1591024099
Presumed Guilty: What the Jury Never
Knew About Laci Peterson's Murder and Why Scott Peterson
Should Not Be on Death Row by Matt Dalton with Bonnie
Hearn Hill. (Atria, 2005) ISBN-10: 0743286952 ISBN-13:
Stone Cold Guilty The People v. Scott
Lee Peterson by Loretta Dillon, (self-published?) ISBN
We, the Jury: Deciding the Scott
Peterson Case, compilation (2007) ISBN 1597775363