Prosecutors alleged a "chronicle of lies" on Tuesday and showed photographs highlighting Scott Peterson's infidelity in the days leading up to his wife's disappearance as the long-awaited murder trial of the 31-year-old Californian began Tuesday.
For over two hours, prosecutor Rick Distaso went point by point through statements given to police by Peterson, accused of killing his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and unborn son.
Examples of the inconsistencies included Peterson telling a neighbor he had gone golfing when he had actually been on a boat, and his inability to adequately answer questions from police about what he was fishing for and the bait he had used.
New details emerged of the weeks before Laci's disappearance in December 2002. In a moment of drama, the prosecutor displayed two photographs side-by-side on a screen. Each photograph was taken on December 14, a day when separate holiday parties were thrown by Laci Peterson and Amber Frey, who has admitted to having an affair with Peterson.
Prosecutors emphasized that Peterson decided to attend his girlfriend's event instead of his wife’s party. On one side of the screen, Distaso exhibited a photo of Laci Peterson, sitting alone at her party. On the other side was a picture of Peterson and Amber Frey frolicking together at Frey's party. As the prosecution did this, the defendant turned away from the screen.
But the prosecution contends that Peterson’s motive was money, not his affair with Frey. Peterson's business and household finances were in trouble, and Laci’s desire to be a stay-at-home mom added to the pressure.
Separately, NBC News is reporting Tuesday that Scott Peterson left a message on Laci’s cell phone the afternoon of December 24 -- the day she disappeared. At issue is whether the message was left as a possible alibi, knowing his wife already dead — or if Peterson called on his way home from a fishing trip expecting his wife to be there.
The case against Peterson
Prosecutors are likely to make the case that Scott Peterson killed Laci in their Modesto home, and drove her body the next morning to the Berkeley Marina and dumped it in the bay. Her torso was later found only two miles from where Peterson said he was fishing. The baby boy was found a mile further down the beach.
Prosecutors will also try to connect the DNA in a strand of hair said to be consistent with Laci’s with and found on a pair of pliers from Peterson’s boat.
Distaso emphasized that even close family members were unaware that Peterson owned a boat. Tracking devices are also supposed to show that Peterson returned to the marina five times before Laci’s body was found. Prosecutors will argue that this proves he knew the body was there, while the defense will say that Scott was in the area only after reports of a search for Laci being conducted.
New York District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, speaking on "The Abrams Report" on Monday, agreed that Peterson’s inconsistencies will become an essential part of the prosecution’s case.
“You have a guy who seems very comfortable with lying, whose actions and statements are inconsistent with that of a man who is grieving for his wife,” she said.
However, Gerry Spence, a criminal defense attorney, countered, “There has to be a good deal more than that to put him to put him away.”
He also pointed out that people have read too much into Scott Peterson’s actions.
“If you are charged with a murder, then you’re put on television, everything that you say is recorded or somehow construed,” he says. “If you mop the floor you're guilty. If you wash your clothes, you're guilty. If you own a boat, you're guilty. If you forget where you‘re going and you‘re going to play golf or go to fish, you‘re guilty. No matter what you do, it‘s somehow somebody is there to make a judgment on every single act that you do.”
The defense will likely argue that the police ignored leads, including a burglary across the street from the Peterson home, the suspicious brown van, as well as eyewitness accounts that place Laci walking her dog at 9:30 a.m., after Scott supposedly left for the day.
Like the OJ case?
Pirro anticipates that the Peterson trial will be like the O.J. case—multiple theories will be floated by the defense. “It’s everything from the brown van, to the satanic cult, to the neo-Nazi group," she says. "It’s like you just float anything you want. The prosecutors job, though, is to talk about the evidence.”
The strongest evidence for the defense may be the autopsy photo of the baby. According to the coroner’s report, the baby was found with one and a half loops of plastic tape around the neck. This makes the argument that the baby was born alive, and then killed later.
Expect Mark Geragos to present a strong case Wednesday, as he makes the defense’s opening statements.
Dan Abrams reported this on the Today Show and MSNBC Live. Abrams is the chief legal correspondent for NBC News.