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Scott's Secret Mailbox

Prosecutors in Scott Peterson's murder trial are again portraying the former fertilizer salesman as a lying philanderer who didn't act the part of a grieving husband after his pregnant wife, Laci, vanished.

Modesto police Detective Richard House testified Tuesday that Peterson rented a private mailbox on Dec. 23, 2002, a day before he reported Laci missing. On Jan. 9, 2003, House said, Peterson received a letter to the mailbox from his mistress, Amber Frey. Prosecutors allege the affair was the motive for the slaying.

Prosecutor Dave Harris then asked House about a wedding album of the Petersons, implying Scott Peterson intended to throw out the photographs less than two months after Laci went missing.

House testified Peterson rented a storage unit that was packed with miscellaneous items, including the pictures in a small wastebasket, when police searched it Feb. 18.

Under cross-examination by Mark Geragos, Peterson's lawyer, House acknowledged that it didn't look like the photos had been thrown away.

Last week, prosecutors implied a plastic pitcher found in a warehouse where Peterson stored his small boat was the mold for cement anchors they allege he later tied to Laci's body before dumping it in San Francisco Bay.

But a detective acknowledged that forensic analysis indicated the pitcher was not the mold, and in a courtroom demonstration the anchor was clearly not a fit.

Experts said Tuesday that the state's case against Peterson appeared to be suffering.

"If you can't convince your own detective about your theory, how do you convince the jury?" said former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, who is watching the trial. "It's devastating if the jury begins to believe the DA is telling half the truth."

House was scheduled to take the stand again Wednesday.

Prosecutors allege Peterson murdered his wife in their Modesto home on or around Christmas Eve 2002, then drove to the bay and dumped the body.

Peterson claims he was fishing alone on the bay that day and returned to an empty home. Geragos asserts Peterson was framed by the real killer.

The remains of Laci Peterson and the couple's fetus washed ashore just two miles from where Peterson claims he was fishing. He could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted on the double-murder charges.

Earlier Tuesday, defense attorneys continued to push their contention that police didn't thoroughly pursue leads that may have pointed to other suspects.

Under cross-examination, Detective Ray Coyle elaborated on his earlier testimony that Modesto police investigating Laci's disappearance questioned hundreds of registered sex offenders and parolees, but decided not to follow up even though investigators couldn't verify some of their alibis.

While being questioned by prosecutors, Coyle said more than half of the offenders' stories checked out, though that didn't necessarily eliminate them as suspects.

"A lot of them had alibis," Coyle said, adding that efforts to track down the offenders didn't dilute authorities' suspicions that Peterson was the killer.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso also pointed out that several of the offenders were elderly, dead, sick or incarcerated.

By Brian Skoloff

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