Prosecuting a capital murder case is like building a wall, brick by brick. It’s a slow, tedious process and just one missing brick can cause the entire wall to crumble.
Over the last two weeks, the prosecution in Scott Peterson’s double-murder trial started to put together its brick wall. The building materials include a parade of witnesses, more than two dozen have already testified since the start of the trial.
Friends and family members of Laci have painted a picture of Scott Peterson as a cold, distant, detached person in the hours and days following Laci’s disappearance on Christmas Eve, 2002.
Prosecutors allege that Peterson killed his wife in their home in Modesto, then dumped her body from his small boat on San Francisco Bay. His attorneys have speculated that someone else abducted her while she walked the dog and have accused authorities of focusing too quickly on Peterson while ignoring other leads.
The remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed ashore nearly four months later, just two miles from where Scott Peterson claimed to have been fishing.
Harvey Kemple, who is married to Laci’s second cousin, said Peterson showed more emotion when he burned some chicken at a summer BBQ than when Laci disappeared.
While on the stand, Kemple was asked to describe Peterson’s demeanor on the evening of Dec. 24, 2002. Kemple said Peterson showed “no more emotion than he’s showing right now," referring to Peterson in the courtroom.
Brent Rocha, Laci’s brother, told the jury he never saw Peterson actively involved in the search for Laci.
Sharon Rocha, Laci’s mother, said that during a candlelight vigil for her daughter on New Year’s Eve 2002, the entire immediate family was there, including Scott Peterson’s parents, Jackie and Lee, but she never saw Scott the entire night.
The prosecution told the jury in their opening statement that during the vigil Peterson was on his cell phone with his girlfriend Amber Frey.
And then there is Peterson’s alibi. Where was he the day Laci disappeared? Three witnesses testified Peterson told them he was golfing that day. The prosecution has said Peterson told detectives and others he was fishing at the Berkeley Marina.
"Scott Peterson originally had golfing as his alibi. He was going to put himself as far away from the Berkeley Marina as possible,” said Dean Johnson, a criminal defense attorney in San Mateo County.
“Then he [Peterson] realized something — ‘I made a mistake. There's actually a written record that I was at the Berkeley Marina. There's a ticket that's stamped with the time that I arrived there. So now maybe I have to change my alibi.’"
So far, when the golfing or fishing discrepancy has been brought up in court, the defense has been quiet, oddly quiet, compared to the usual style of defense attorney Mark Geragos.
“The defense is very charismatic. Mark Geragos is very dramatic in his cross examinations and in his gestures in the courtroom and the jury definitely perks up and listens,” Johnson said. “But I’ve noticed as the week’s gone, the jury has started to get a little bit irritated with Geragos who has started to argue with prosecution witnesses on very little points.”
Court watchers differ on progress of prosecution
The debate over how the prosecution is succeeding in presenting its case has become a matter of strong, differing opinions.
Michael Cardoza, a lawyer and legal analyst who was involved in the San Francisco dog mauling case, believes many of the prosecution witnesses are actually helping the defense.
“With every witness they put on, they make a point or two, cross examination comes and they lose five or ten points,” Cardoza said. “The D.A. is putting this case on very blandly, very methodically and he’s going to lose the jury if he continues this way.”
The criminal defense attorney, Johnson, disagreed with Cardoza.
“You could see the defense beginning to become unfrayed, beginning to be a little bit impatient with prosecution witnesses,” Johnson said. “The prosecution is beginning to come back with one point after another. Slowly bringing in those dots that they’re going to connect at the end of this case.”
In reality, it is simply too early to tell which side is "winning.”
In terms of building this case, or brick wall, as it were, the prosecution is still working on the foundation. Deputy D.A. Rick Distaso has prepared everyone for a long trial and a long, parade of witnesses.