Laci Peterson went missing on Christmas Eve, 2002 in Modesto, California, where she lived a seemingly happy, trouble-free life, with her husband, Scott Peterson. She was eight months pregnant when she disappeared while Scott was out fishing. Nearly four months later, on April 13, the body of a late term fetus was found washed up in the San Francisco Bay. The next day, Laci’s body was found, limbs hacked off and badly decomposed.
What followed was a series of circumstantial events that would lead Laci’s husband to receive the death penalty for murdering her and their unborn child. Scott Peterson is still on death row now, and has launched an appeal to reopen his case this year. Many believe he did it, but with no forensic evidence to say that he did, some think the jury convicted him based solely on emotion. You can find out more about the crime and the intricacies of the trial by watching Oxygen’s two-part special "Snapped Notorious: Scott Peterson on Sunday, May 7 at 6/5c.
1. The media was suspicious of Scott from the start
The Laci Peterson case was high profile: a beautiful, young, pregnant, trouble-free woman went missing, and the media was all over it. Scott was reluctant to talk to the media after she went missing. Reporter Gloria Gomez said that after one encounter with Scott where she urged him to talk to the press, she felt no “connection” to him, and that there was a “wall." Meanwhile, when Gomez did finally interview him, his phone wouldn’t stop ringing, but he ignored it. Gomez decided this was strange, as anyone with a missing wife would be hanging by the phone for news. Accounts and stories like these shared among reporters could have addes some inadvertant bias to the reporting.
2. There was no evidence in the Peterson house of foul play
The last place Laci was allegedly seen (more on this later) was in her marital home. However, there were no signs of a struggle, or any kind of blood or forensic evidence to suggest she’d been hurt or killed there. Regardless, the prosecution would later argue that Scott killed her in the house, and the jury would accept this as fact.
3. Statistics biased police
Detective John Buehler, who worked on the case, said the leading cause of homicide for pregnant women is by their husband. This statistic made Scott the prime suspect, even without a crime scene. Police said they had a “strange feeling” about Scott. Anne Bremner, a criminal defense attorney, said “gut feeling” is not evidence. There was a rush to judgment, suspecting him on the basis of feelings rather than evidence.
4. Scott’s general attitude wasn’t hard evidence
Police and media questioned why a man would go fishing on Christmas Eve, leaving his pregnant wife at home alone. When scott called Laci’s mom, the first thing he said was “Laci is missing”, even though her purse was still at the house, and he hadn’t been home all that long himself, or looked very hard to find her. He didn’t ask if she was there with her family. Meanwhile, Scott had left a voicemail on Laci’s phone that day using loving and “flowery” language, but police thought this didn’t match his demeanor or level of panic over Laci being missing. He seemed blasé about the whole thing, which is really only a subjective and speculative assessment. However, after Laci was reported missing, Scott was completely compliant with the police. He went voluntarily to answer questions, and did everything police asked.
5. The police and media made assumptions about Scott’s boat
Police found out Scott had bought a boat, but that Laci and her parents didn’t know about it. Attorney Anne Bremner points out, “do your in laws know everything that you have, or everything that you do?” He also willingly told police about it the first time he met with them, so it wasn’t like he was hiding the boat from investigators. However, police believed that he used the boat to dump Laci in the Bay, despite there being no forensic evidence in or around the boat. Likewise, they found casts where they thought cement anchors might have been made – but no cement anchors, or anything to suggest he had used them in Laci’s murder.
6. Scott was the only suspect that was ever entertained
Apparently, after one hour of being called out to investigate the disappearance, an officer told one of the Peterson’s neighbors they knew who did it, strongly suggesting it was Scott. Several witnesses saw they saw Laci walking the dog after Scott left the house, but the police didn’t investigate this further – they stuck with the notion that Scott killed Laci in the house, making him the only true suspect. There was another theory that a Satanic cult had done it, and another based on a burglary that happened in the neighborhood that morning (perhaps Laci had walked by with the dog and tried to stop it?), but neither of these were investigated either.
7. Emotions over his affair with Amber Frey swayed the case
Just because someone is a cheater, it doesn’t make them a murderer. When Amber Frey told the media she’d been having an affair with Scott, who told her he wasn’t married, it made him look duplicitous. The police also managed to record 29 hours of phone calls between the lovers. But recorded phone calls between Scott and Amber had a huge impact on the jury, especially one where he called Amber from a candlelight vigil for Lacy. The prosecution also juxtaposed images of Scott canoodling at a Christmas party with Amber, next to images of Laci, heavily pregnant and on her own, at another Christmas party.
8. The media was completely compromised
By the time of Scott’s trial, the media were running the show, and they were completely compromised. Reporters were skewed by their emotions – reported Gloria Gomez broke down crying when, years later, she talked about the “anguish” of Laci’s family and how she felt interacting with them as “humans”. One survey even found that 83% of bay area residents thought Scott was guilty. The media then parlayed their vendetta against Scott onto the jury. Even though cameras weren’t allowed in the courtroom, the media was there every day, and outside there was a circus, which put a lot of pressure on the jury.
9. The jury was also compromised
It took months to pick a jury as everyone was already biased against Scott because of the media. Meanwhile, when the jury was finally picked, they were exposed to the media, but they should have been sequestered for the course of the trial. Two jurors ended up being dismissed – one was Justin Falconer, who believed Scott was innocent, after he had an innocuous exchange with Laci’s brother at the courthouse (they didn’t speak about the case, which is not allowed). But the prosecution ensured he was outed. Meanwhile, another juror was found to have lied at the outset – she had been close to a similar crime, which may have biased her against Scott and should have been grounds for a mistrial.
10. There was no forensic evidence whatsoever
Murder trials require the jury to be satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt” that someone is guilty. However, in Scott’s case, everything was speculative. There was no hard evidence to link him to Laci’s death, only suggestions. When he was arrested, his car was packed with various items including clothing and money, and he had dyed his hair. The prosecution spun this as an escape plan. It might also have been because he was visiting family in San Diego and wanted a break from the media and other prying eyes, because he was so instantly recognizable across the entire country. Both these options are completely subjective, as there’s no evidentiary basis for either. Likewise, Scott asked for a cheeseburger after he was arrested, something the police thought made him seem guilty – but which wasn’t actually forensic evidence linking him to Laci’s death.
[Photos: Getty Images]