Prosecutors in the Scott Peterson murder trial called their 174th and final witness Wednesday, a police investigator who portrayed Peterson as a man on the run because he killed his pregnant wife, Laci.
Modesto police Detective Jon Buehler wrapped up 19 weeks of testimony by the state’s witnesses, describing the details of Peterson’s arrest on April 19, 2003. The defense begins its case next Tuesday.
Buehler told jurors that Peterson, a former fertilizer salesman, had a large backpack and an overnight bag stuffed with everything from hunting knives and a water purifier to snorkeling and fishing equipment to a shovel and duct tape. Much of the camping equipment had been bought a month earlier, he said.
Peterson also had several changes of clothes, including seven pairs of shoes, jackets, pants, shorts and sweaters. He had four cellular telephones, two driver’s licenses — his and his brother’s — six credit cards, including one in his half-sister’s name, and nearly $15,000 in cash.
The prosecutor, Stanislaus County Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris, showed photographs of the equipment, which was found in a Mercedes-Benz that Peterson had bought earlier using his mother’s first name.
Peterson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, showed photographs of similar clothes and equipment that had been found in Peterson’s truck months earlier, portraying him as a guy who simply lived out of his vehicle.
Buehler also testified that Peterson also had with him “The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” — a book his girlfriend, Amber Frey, had given him — along with a card dated Feb. 16, 2003.
“I can only hope that this will come to an end soon,” Frey wrote. “I wish I could go back in time. I’m praying for you and your family.”
Several flyers advertising a reward for Laci Peterson’s safe return were found in the trunk, Buehler said.
On the day he was arrested, Scott Peterson drove a circuitous route of nearly 170 miles in Southern California in what prosecutors suggested was an attempt to evade police. Defense lawyers have maintained that Peterson was trying to elude media scrutiny.
Prosecution performance complimented
Experts said the prosecution effectively portrayed Peterson as a man capable of murdering his wife.
“He lied to everybody,” said Paula Canny, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor who has been watching the trial. “The strongest evidence the prosecution has is what Scott Peterson said and what Scott Peterson did.”
But another former prosecutor, Chuck Smith, said the prosecution’s case “ended with more of a whimper, than a bang.” He said it would have been more effective to end with a witness who brought the whole case together or ended it with a powerful new fact.
“The prosecution did neither,” Smith said.
Defense lawyers were expected to take at least a week for their case. Judge Alfred A. Delucchi has told jurors that they should be able to begin deliberations by the end of the month.
The state alleges that Peterson killed his wife, who was eight months pregnant, in their home in Modesto on or around Dec. 24, 2002, and dumped her body into the bay. Her badly decomposed remains — and that of her fetus — washed up in April 2003, not far from the marina where Peterson launched his boat that Christmas Eve morning for what he said was a solo fishing trip.
Geragos maintains someone else abducted and killed Laci Peterson and then framed Scott Peterson after learning of his widely publicized alibi.