Scott Peterson’s Habeas appeal is a lengthy document, running to 285 pages, so I thought it might be useful to write a short summary. Very briefly, the case is as follows:
On December 24, 2002, Scott reported that his wife Laci was missing from their Modesto, California home. Laci was eight months pregnant with a due date of February 10, 2003. The couple had planned to name her baby boy Conner. The story attracted nationwide media interest. Scott told police that he had made a trip to Berkeley Marina that day, and police made an intensive but unsuccessful search of the Bay near that location, suspecting that he may have murdered Laci and disposed of the body there.
On April 13, 2003, Conner’s body was found close to shore just North of Berkeley Marina, and the next day Laci’s body was found in the same area, also close to the shore. The exact date and cause of Laci’s death could not be determined.
Scott was arrested, tried and found guilty of the murder of his wife and unborn son, and sentenced to death on March 16, 2005.
The fundamental question is whether Scott disposed of Laci’s body, or whether some unknown person or persons planted the bodies in order to cause his arrest and trial.
The State alleged that the murder was premeditated, and that Scott bought a boat to dispose of Laci’s body. Police found a concrete anchor Scott had made, and suggested that he had made four similar anchors to weigh Laci’s body down. A single hair, said to have been Laci’s, was found on a pair of pliers from Peterson’s boat. The state suggested that Laci was murdered before Scott left the house on December 24,
In more detail, the state’s theory was that
- Scott killed Laci in their home between the night of December 23 and the morning of December 24, possibly by suffocation.
- Scott put the leash on McKenzi and let him loose in the neighborhood so that it would appear that Laci had been abducted while she walked the dog. Scott moved the body to his Modesto warehouse by putting it in a toolbox in the back of his truck.
- At the warehouse, Scott then attached homemade cement anchors to the body and placed it in the back of his 14-foot Sears-Roebuck boat which he then towed to the Berkeley marina.
- When Scott got to the marina he launched the boat and, once on the bay, he pushed the body (with the anchors) overboard.
- Scott committed the crime either for financial reasons or to obtain freedom from Laci and Conner.
It is not disputed that Scott took his boat out on the bay, but the state did not prove Laci’s body was in it. Scott accurately described an island he visited near the marina.
The state suggested that police dogs had detected Laci’s scent at the marina.
The Habeas Appeal
The appeal makes nineteen claims in all, I will concentrate on those that seem to me to be the strongest points.
- One of the jurors lied during voir dire when asked if she had ever been the victim of a crime. In fact, “when the juror was four and one-half months pregnant in November of 2000, she and her unborn baby were threatened, assaulted and stalked by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend”.
- An expert called by the prosecution testified that Conner, Laci’s unborn child, died on Dec 23 or Dec 24, 2002, using a formula devised by by Dr. Phillipe Jeanty. However, the defense alleges that the estimate was not done correctly, and the correct calculation would indicate that Conner did not die until January 3, 2003, undermining the State’s case.
- An expert on canine scent detection, Dr. Myers, has concluded that the claim that a dog detected Laci Peterson’s scent at the Berkeley Marina on December 28, 2002, is completely unreliable, and would have appeared completely unreliable to any expert adequately trained in the field of canine scent detection.
- The defense claims that a state expert wrongly testified that the bodies must have been placed in the bay near Brooks Island, where Scott went fishing.
- The defense has discovered evidence that the Petersons’ gate was open between 10:35 and 10:50 a.m. on Dec 24, 2002. This is very significant, because 15 to 30 minutes earlier a witness had put the family dog Mckenzi back into the yard and closed the gate. The only reasonable conclusion is that Laci took the dog for a walk around 10:30am, meaning that Scott is innocent.
- In addition, there were three eyewitnesses who saw Laci walking Mckenzi. Diane Campos saw a “very pregnant” woman walking a dog that looked like a golden retriever with a white marking down the front of his chest around 10:45am. Two days later, Campos saw a poster of Laci Peterson, and stated she was sure it was the same person, and reported the sighting to the police. Frank Aguilar reported seeing a pregnant woman walking a Labrador Retriever some time between 9:30am and 11:00am. Aguilar was sure the woman he saw was Laci Peterson. Finally, William Mitchell also saw Laci and Mckenzi on December 24, 2002.
- Finally, a corrections office heard Adam Tenbrink telling his brother that Steven Todd admitted that Laci had seen him breaking into the Medina’s home, some time after 10:35am on Dec 24.
Of course this quick summary is no substitute for reading the full appeal, and I would urge anyone interested in the case to do just that. It is available here.