The Peterson Trial, Defense Attacks Police Focus on One Suspect
Stacy Finz and Diana Walsh, San Francisco Chronicle
Modesto, Calif. police detectives didn't follow up on reports of Laci Peterson sightings, ignored possible suspects in the missing-person investigation and had crackbrained theories about the case that never panned out, according to attorneys representing Scott Peterson.
For the third day Tuesday, defense attorney Mark Geragos quizzed lead investigator Craig Grogan about the double-murder case, in a Redwood City courtroom. The day got off to a shaky start, when jurors felt their chairs moving from an earthquake centered in Monterey County. The court took a short break so members of the panel could calm their nerves, and then Geragos resumed his cross-examination.
Geragos, whose mantra throughout the trial has been that police wrongly focused on Scott Peterson in the disappearance of his pregnant wife and ignored any information that undermined their theory, spent the day trying to show that the prosecution's case was riddled with holes.
For instance, when, during the investigation, Grogan contacted Dr. Boyd Stephens, San Francisco's retiring medical examiner and an expert on bodies dumped in the bay, the coroner's theory of what would have happened to Laci Peterson's corpse had it been dumped in the water contradicted what police believed.
Stephens, according to Grogan, doubted that 30 pounds of cement anchors would have held Laci Peterson in place and that her body most likely would have drifted along the bay floor.
Prosecutors have suggested to jurors that Scott Peterson wrapped his wife's body in a tarp and then tied it up with four handcrafted anchors made of concrete that weighed about 8 pounds each. Despite exhaustive bay searches, no anchors were ever found.
Stephens also told Grogan that if Laci Peterson's body had been wrapped in plastic and thrown into the deeper, colder waters of the bay, her remains could still be in pristine shape -- even after being submerged more than three months.
Laci Peterson's badly decomposed remains washed ashore in April 2003, less than two weeks after Grogan's conversation with Stephens. Her head, hands and most of her legs were missing. A day earlier, the body of the couple's unborn son was found near the same spot. The baby's body appeared largely intact.
Although authorities found a black tarp, a pair of panties, a piece of elastic and some fabric near the bodies, police never had the items tested, Grogan testified.
Geragos also tried to show that police found nothing to support their belief that, because they found no physical evidence of a crime scene at the couple's Modesto home, Peterson might have drugged or poisoned his wife.
Grogan said investigators had seized a mortar and pestle from the home to test it for chemicals but to no avail.
By the afternoon Geragos had moved on to Kim McGregor, a mentally ill woman who had broken into the Petersons' home nearly a month after Laci Peterson had vanished. Geragos tried to show that although McGregor had stolen a number of Laci Peterson's clothes and rifled through the couple's belongings, no one looked at her as a possible suspect in the 27-year-old's disappearance.
Geragos has contended that Laci Peterson was abducted by strangers and then kept alive for two to three weeks. He asked Grogan about the stolen clothing, suggesting that McGregor might have been aiding the abductors.
Then, Geragos turned his attention to a mysterious van that was reported to have been seen by at least three different witnesses in the area at the time Laci Peterson disappeared on Dec. 24, 2002.
"I know that we made some efforts to find that van or what people were talking about," Grogan said, adding that police were never able to locate the vehicle.
Grogan admitted that not much investigation was put into tracking down several witnesses who said they had seen Laci Peterson with two unsavory characters on the day she disappeared.
One witness, a reserve Martinez police officer in the 1970s, said he had seen a man pull a woman who looked like Laci Peterson into a van not far from the Petersons' home.
Grogan said that by the time the sightings were reported, corroborating them was "not so much of a priority."
Prosecutors say Scott Peterson began plotting to murder his wife and the couple's unborn child in early December, after he had fallen in love with a Fresno masseuse.
The trial is scheduled to resume today. Judge Alfred Delucchi, who is presiding over the case, told jurors that the prosecution could rest their case and the defense start presenting their evidence by next week. He said he was hoping that the jury would begin deliberations in the capital-murder case sometime in October.