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Defense witness testifies on Peterson finances

Scott Peterson was not having money problems and stood to gain more financially if his wife stayed alive, a defense witness testified Tuesday at Peterson's murder trial. Also, there are signs that Peterson’s attorneys were preparing him to take the stand.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Scott Peterson was not experiencing money problems and stood more to gain financially if his pregnant wife remained alive, a defense witness testified Tuesday at his murder trial.

Martin Laffer, a certified public accountant and former Internal Revenue Service investigator, testified Tuesday that the Petersons appeared to be in good financial shape.

Laffer said Peterson was paying $1,300 a month toward the mortgage on the couple’s home, $50 more than the minimum required payment.

“Does it appear to you they were doing well for a young married couple with a baby on the way at their age?” defense attorney Mark Geragos asked.

“Yes, they were fine,” Laffer replied.

“Is there anything you see from the credit report that indicated Mr. Peterson did not have good credit?” Geragos prodded.

“Not at all, just the opposite,” Laffer said.

Prosecutors have suggested that aside from Peterson’s affair as a motive for murder, he hoped to gain from a $250,000 life insurance policy taken out on Laci Peterson more than a year before she vanished.

Prosecutors have tried to portray the couple as being in financial straits. An auditor who testified previously for the prosecution said the couple had about $210,000 in debt, including their home mortgage.

Selling jewelry
During cross-examination of Laffer Tuesday, prosecutor Dave Harris noted the Petersons had been selling jewelry at pawn shops in the weeks before Laci vanished.

“Just the fact that somebody’s selling something doesn’t mean they need money,” Laffer said.

Laffer testified Monday that while Peterson’s startup fertilizer business was struggling, the parent company had assumed all debt and in fact had planned to lose money the first four years.

He also said that Laci Peterson was set to inherit part of $2.4 million from the estate of her grandparents, including part of $480,000 from the sale of their home. She had already inherited about $100,000 in jewelry after her grandmother’s death.

Laffer added that Peterson would have benefited from the inheritance only if Laci were still alive and the two were married. The money is now being split between two of Laci’s siblings, he said.

An expert who testified previously for the prosecution said Peterson would not have been able to collect Laci’s insurance money for seven years if her body remained missing.

Brian Ullrich, whose wife was a close friend of Laci’s and who sold the Petersons the policies, testified previously that it was he — not Scott Peterson — who suggested the couple get the insurance and that Laci pushed for the larger sum of $250,000 each. He said Peterson never called him about the benefits after his wife vanished.

Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci, on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body in San Francisco Bay. The bodies of Laci Peterson and the fetus she carried washed up about four months later, a few miles from where Peterson claims to have been fishing alone the day his wife vanished.

Defense lawyers claim someone else abducted and killed Laci, then dumped the body in the bay to frame Peterson after learning of his widely publicized alibi.

Will Peterson take the stand?
Tuesday marked the second day the defense has presented its case in the 5-month-old trial. There were also signs that Peterson’s attorneys were preparing him for possible testimony.

Attorney Michael Cardoza, a former prosecutor who has sat in on the trial as a legal analyst, said he was asked by the defense to cross-examine Peterson in two mock sessions last week.

“I gave him no advice,” said Cardoza, who added that he took no money for the work and still serves as a legal analyst.