A Glimpse At Evidence In Laci Case

Scott Peterson, left, and defense attorney Kirk McAllister stand for Judge Al Girolami as he enters the courtroom in Stanislaus County Superior Court in Modesto, Calif., Friday, Oct. 24, 2003. Peterson's preliminary hearing to see if he'll stand trial on charges of killing his wife, Laci Peterson, and unborn son was delayed for a fourth time Friday. (AP Photo/Al Golub, pool) AP

Ten months after a pregnant Laci Peterson vanished from her Modesto home, prosecutors are about to lay out the evidence that her husband murdered her and their unborn son before they washed up in San Francisco Bay.

A preliminary hearing will get under way Wednesday to determine whether Scott Peterson must stand trial on murder charges that could bring the death penalty.

"By the time the hearing is over we'll all know a lot more about the strength of the prosecution's evidence as well as the defense strategy," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "We'll probably know whether there is physical or scientific evidence that points to Peterson as a murderer and we'll know about the alternative theories the defense is likely to offer."

Reporter Gloria Gomez, of CBS affiliate KOVR, tells CBS' Early Show, that during the course of the hearing, prosecutors are likely to call close to 30 witnesses, including Scott Peterson's former girlfriend Amber Frey, who'll likely testify sometime early next week.

"What they could be doing is giving her a test run," says Court TV reporter Vince Politan, about what the prosecution might stand to gain by having Frey testify. "She's going to be a very important witness if this goes to trial, and if you put her on the stand now, there's no jury there and a little less pressure at a preliminary hearing.

"She can be cross-examined and get used to being on the witness stand which may make her a stronger witness if this goes to trial."

Scott Peterson reported his wife missing when he returned home from a solo fishing trip near Berkeley last Christmas. His 27-year-old wife was eight months pregnant with a boy they planned to name Conner.

The case was portrayed as an American tragedy, with Laci Peterson's smile beaming from photos and videos. The expectant parents seemed like the All-American couple until Scott Peterson's mistress surfaced and he admitted having an extramarital affair.

After Peterson and other family members led hundreds of volunteers to search canals, reservoirs and wildlands, the decomposed remains of the mother-to-be and her fetus were found nearly four months later in April by dog walkers, within miles of where Peterson said he had been fishing Dec. 24.

The arrest and subsequent hearings did little to unveil what clues led investigators to suspect her husband from the beginning.

Leaks led Judge Al Girolami to impose a gag on participants in the case and seal most of the police records to protect Peterson's right to a fair trial.

Voluminous court filings have provided glimpses of the evidence defense lawyers will try to prevent prosecutors from presenting: DNA analysis of Laci Peterson's hair found on pliers in Scott Peterson's boat, bloodhounds used to pick up the scent of Laci Peterson in the boat or at a storage warehouse her husband rented, and wiretaps and global positioning systems used to monitor and track Scott Peterson.

The 31-year-old former fertilizer salesman has been held without bail since he was arrested in San Diego County - not far from the Mexico border — with bleached hair and $10,000 in cash.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos has said he would not only prove Peterson innocent, but would find the "real killers." The defense team has intimated that a satanic cult may have been responsible. Police have disputed such claims.

Prosecutors are expected to present enough evidence so the charges stick, but not so much that they expose witnesses to tough cross-examination.

"We'll see prosecutors offer a barebones but decent case against Peterson, enough to get past this hurdle without playing all of their cards," says Cohen. "And from the defense I expect very aggressive cross-examinations and the introduction in court for the first time of alternative theories about how Laci Peterson died."

Nearly 200 applications for the fewer than two dozen sets of courtroom credentials were received from reporters, including a TV news crew from Japan. News trucks were in place outside the courthouse at the beginning of the week, and more than 100 phone lines have been installed.

"We're putting on a mini-Super Bowl is what we're doing," said Kelly Huston, spokesman for the Stanislaus County sheriff. "It swamps everything by far. This is the event that trumps all other events locally."

  • Lloyd Vries

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