Retired L.A. Superior Court Judge
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Scott Peterson’s defense attorney Mark Geragos described the case against Peterson as overwhelming. In television interviews before he became Peterson’s attorney, Geragos said, “His defense … is, ‘Oh my God, somebody else must have done it and was trying to set me up … by dumping the bodies into the general vicinity of where I was (on the boat)…'” That’s right, folks. Kind of reminds you of Alan Dershowitz’s famous remarks, when interviewed in Israel, suggesting that O.J. was guilty of the murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman before Bob Shapiro invited Dershowitz to join the defense team. You just gotta love the lawyers for their facility to turn 180-degrees faster than Spiderman or the great NFL running back Jim Brown.
Geragos’ remarks may come back to haunt. The most damning evidence against Peterson is the recovery of his wife’s and son’s bodies in the San Francisco Bay, a relatively short distance from where he claims to have gone fishing on the day his wife disappeared-Christmas Eve day. But it is true that there were no smoking guns presented by the district attorney. After four months of trial and 170 witnesses, is there enough evidence to convict Peterson? That will depend upon whether the jury is resistant to using common sense to apply a great deal of seemingly fragmented and unrelated pieces of evidence to establish a coherent whole. Also in play is whether the defense will be able to further muddy up the murky waters of doubt by sending in such heavy hitters as famed pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and world-renowned forensic scientist, Dr. Henry Lee of O.J. fame.
Ultimately, the jury is going to have to ask itself whether it has a deep-gut feeling that Peterson killed his wife and child. If it does, then it will grab these seemingly prosaic pieces of evidence and tie them together one by one to complete a knot of guilt. So, for example, they may look to Peterson’s lies, first telling friends that he was playing golf and then admitting to the police that he went fishing on the day his wife disappeared when it became apparent that there were records at the San Francisco boat marina showing he was there-not golfing.
They will look to his affairs with other women, particularly Amber Frey, and his apparent angst in being trapped in a marriage with a pregnant wife about to have a baby that would further restrict his freedom and substantially increase his responsibilities. And don’t forget the jury will consider the $250,000 insurance policy he took out on his young wife’s life-a pretty hefty sum for a fertilizer salesman. And the district attorney won’t let the jury forget about Peterson dying his hair and being in possession of more than $13,000 and possibly heading for the Mexican Border just before his arrest.
But the most compelling evidence against Peterson may be his character and persona. He comes off as self-possessed, disinterested and emotionally uninvolved most of the time. One witness said, “I was so god-damned mad that the man went to play golf when his wife was pregnant, and I saw more reaction out of him when he burnt the damn chicken than when his wife was missing.”
The jury just might believe that a man who never appeared during Laci Peterson’s parent’s candlelight vigil for his wife on New Year’s Eve-before his wife’s body was found, before it had been confirmed that she was dead-but rather spent time on his cell phone with his paramour, Amber Frey, just might be callous enough to murder his wife and unborn child.
The defense is yet to be heard. Geragos is charismatic compared to the district attorney. He will attempt to get Wecht to opine that the baby was born full term-meaning that the baby was not born until February 2003, two months after Laci Peterson disappeared. The significance is, if that is true, then Scott Peterson was under close watch by that time and could not have murdered his wife. Remember, the defense has some witnesses who purportedly claim to have seen Laci Peterson walking with her dog on the day of her disappearance. To complicate matters worse, Lee, as in O.J., will be asked to comment on the prosecution forensic evidence and the lack thereof; he will point to alleged mistakes that were made in the examination of Peterson’s house and possibly failing to examine and collect evidence that might point to another person’s involvement. In a case such as this, a case with no smoking gun, this may be enough to defeat the prosecution case.