By Brian Anderson, Contra Costa Times (Concord, Calif.)
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Scott Peterson's defense attorney tried to show this morning that police -- working in an emotionally charged environment -- solicited tainted information focusing on Peterson during their investigation of his wife's disappearance.
In a return to the witness stand, Modesto police detective Craig Grogan said today that he asked Laci's friends and family whether they had noticed any oddities when talking to Peterson. Grogan had just told them about Peterson's affair with Amber Frey and believed some bits of information that may have been dismissible before could take on greater weight given the information about Peterson's infidelity, he said.
Police had suspected early on that Peterson had something to do with his wife's Dec. 24, 2002 disappearance. Suspicions grew after they learned on Dec. 31 of Peterson's relationship with Frey.
Police investigators secretly recorded Peterson's conversations with his mistress while keeping their knowledge of the woman under wraps. They told Laci's mother Sharon Rocha about the affair in mid-January, asking her to recall anything about Peterson she considered unusual, Grogan said.
Rocha testified in June that Peterson had used the word "missing" when he called her on Dec. 24 to ask if Laci was at Rocha's house. She found his use of that word unusual, she said.
"I remember hanging up the phone, walking back toward the door to the bedroom down the hall and that's when I realized he said she was missing," Rocha said. "He used the word 'missing.' "
Grogan said, however, that Rocha never told him about the incident until Jan. 28. Geragos suggested her suspicions about Peterson stemming from the phone call were magnified or, perhaps, manufactured by a charged emotional environment that erupted in and around Laci's Modesto home after she vanished. Geragos pointed out that the trial was moved to Redwood City in part to get away from the emotion that led to thousands of tips from people "doing their damnedest" to get Scott Peterson.
Grogan acknowledged that emotions were running high at the time, something that can create trouble for investigators.
"That's true, you need to try to corroborate the information," he said.
But under cross-examination, Grogan said Laci's relatives were in denial about Peterson's possible involvement in Laci's disappearance for quite some time. They tried to stay close together, he said, answering a question from prosecutor Birgit Fladager.
Geragos also tried to back up his suggestions that Peterson was trying to outrun on the day of his arrest who he thought were private investigators.
In an April 18, 2003 phone conversation with his brother Joe Peterson, Scott Peterson declined an invitation to golf that day and talked about the possibility that officials had determined the identities of two bodies that washed ashore days earlier.
"Oh, I can't lose these private investigators," he said. "And these guys, they know I'm on to them."
Agents with the state Justice Department have testified that Peterson drove erratically on the day of his arrest, giving obscene gestures and on several occasions confronting them. After his arrest, Peterson even apologized to one agent who almost crashed her car during the chase, telling her that he believed she was with the media.
Geragos has suggested he drove erratically and altered his appearance to escape the constant tracking of reporters.
Testimony resumes this afternoon.