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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1 + 1
Date of murder: December 24, 2002
Date of arrest: April 18, 2003
Date of birth: October 24, 1972
Victims profile: His pregnant wife, Laci Peterson and their unborn child Conner
Method of murder: The exact cause of death for Laci and Conner were never determined
Location: California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 16, 2005

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Scott Lee Peterson (born 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.

He currently resides on the death row in San Quentin State Prison after being sentenced to death on March 16, 2005.

Early life

Scott Peterson 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 in 1997.

Disappearance of Laci

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.

Scott held 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.

Peterson was 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.

However, 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 proven.

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.

Autopsies were 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 single hair.


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 driver's license.

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 public eye.

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 wife's funeral.

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 appeal.

Like some other high-profile criminals judged physically attractive by society's standards, Peterson receives large amounts of fan mail and wedding proposals in prison.

Among his 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.


The evidence 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.

More evidence 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 travel.

The affair 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.

In January 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.

Her publisher 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.

Dr. Charles 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 his report.

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.


Peterson's 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.

Alternatively, 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: 978-0743286954

  • Stone Cold Guilty The People v. Scott Lee Peterson by Loretta Dillon, (self-published?) ISBN 1411634535

  • We, the Jury: Deciding the Scott Peterson Case, compilation (2007) ISBN 1597775363


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