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Former investigator says potentially important evidence overlooked in Scott Peterson murder case

Former fire investigator says Scott Peterson case was improperly investigated
Former fire investigator says Scott Peterson case was improperly investigated 04:03

MODESTO -- As one of California's most notorious convicted killers makes another push for a new trial, one former investigator said key evidence in the original case was not properly investigated.

Scott Peterson is serving a life sentence, after his death sentence was overturned, for murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son Conner in 2002. The case, which started with Laci's disappearance from their Modesto home on Christmas Eve and ended with her body washing ashore months later in the San Francisco Bay, has gripped the nation ever since.

In January, the LA Innocence Project took on Peterson's case and filed motions in court asking for original evidence in the case to be provided to them and for the court to allow new DNA testing.

The LA Innocence Project outlines a list of allegations in court filings explaining why they believe the original case was mishandled. A bulk of their argument centers on a blood stain found in a burnt van near Laci's home.

Bryan Spitulski  CBS13 photo

That's where former Modesto Fire Investigator Bryan Spitultski comes into the picture.

"My motivation in this is how it has always been. Let the facts say what they need to say," Spitulski told CBS13.

He comes forward with a clear message: first, that his intention is not to free Scott Peterson. Second, he has no desire to cast any blame on any of the original investigating agencies like Modesto Police or Modesto Fire.

However, he does say there is something about this case that has bothered him for years now.

The questions being: why a van fire so close to Laci Peterson's home when she went missing was, in his opinion, never properly investigated; and could this all be connected somehow to her murder?

Spitulski is now a private fire investigator, but on Christmas morning in 2002, he worked for the Modesto Fire Department and was sent to investigate a van fire that he still thinks about to this day.

"I knew we didn't have a fire that would be accidental," Spitulski said.

It came just one day after and less than a mile away from where Laci was reported to have gone missing from her Modesto home.

LA Innocence Project

"But it wasn't that I thought it was connected," Spitulski said. "It was that it was close enough it should be looked at."

"Was it obvious to you right away there was blood in the back of the van?" CBS13 reporter Ashley Sharp.

"No," Spitulski responded. "The only reason we were able to see this piece of fabric was because there was a metal container on top of the mattress and it left a perfect circle for where the container protected it. Had that not been there, this wouldn't be happening."

Spitulski said when he tested the mattress fabric for blood, the sample turned blue. This, he said, indicated the sample was presumed positive for blood.

In court filings by the LA Innocence Project, attorneys describe "the mattress with stains that tested presumptively positive for blood," adding that, "only a very small portion of the mattress fabric was tested for DNA," which was, "insufficient to determine whether DNA from Laci and/or Conner was present."

After investigating the van fire, Spitulski said he and another detective drove the sample to the Department of Justice for testing. Those results, however, found the fabric was negative for human blood.

"It bothered me for a long time that it was blood with one sample, and whatever DOJ did with it, it came back negative. Did we give them a bad sample? How did we get here?" said Spitulski. "When the DOJ comes back and says it's not human blood, the importance of the van diminishes a bit, at least from the peak where they were thinking it could be involved with the disappearance. Now, it's not so important, and then it kind of just disappeared from there. I don't know what happened with it and I never looked into it any further."

Spitulski left the Modesto Fire Department shortly after this investigation in 2003 for reasons unrelated to the Peterson case. It was then he went into private fire investigation. He was not kept in the loop about the intricacies of the investigation since his departure but assumed the van's possible connection would be looked into.

"So, imagine my shock when I found out just a few years ago that it did test positive for human DNA. I had no clue up to this point. I literally got goosebumps and the hair on the back of my neck stood up because it does mean something. It is significant," Spitulski said.

The significance is something that started keeping Spitulski up at night when he started to see Peterson on his TV every night.

"The trial, and I wasn't contacted on it. Nobody ever knew about it," he said. "And all the news programs that came on, nobody ever talked about it. But to be fair, this wasn't brought up in court, and if it's relevant, I would want somebody to say something about it if it was important enough. You just have to look at it. You have to."

Spitulski says no one from the defense or prosecution ever approached him for insight as to his van fire investigation and any connection it could have to Laci's disappearance and murder.

"Did that bother you? That nobody reached out about that?" asked CBS13 reporter Ashley Sharp.

"Oh, absolutely," Spitulski said. "I thought up until the trial that there would be some discussion about it. I would listen for it and ask if I need to be on standby, and there was never any acknowledgment of a concern. So, I just assumed it was done and became a non-issue."

In court filings, the LA Innocence Project makes a big allegation, one Spitulski won't go so far as to agree with.

"Police systematically ignored any and all potentially exculpatory evidence that did not support their theory of Mr. Peterson's guilt...," court filings read.

That includes, the document continues to say, "...refusal to investigate who set the van on fire."

"I'm not going to try to throw anybody under the bus because I don't know. All I know is that nobody ever talked to me. It was an important piece of the puzzle," Spitulski said. "I think now that we are aware of it, somebody should allow that to be looked at and to be identified as yes or no, whether it's an issue or not an issue, human DNA or it's not. Then we are done with it and it's over it."

In the longshot chance that Peterson is granted a new trial, Spitulski said he would testify to all of this if called to do so.

"Just to be clear, this is not you saying you think Scott Peterson is innocent?" Sharp asked.

"No, I don't care one way or the other about Scott Peterson, whether he is innocent or guilty. The only tie I have to this is that van," Spitulski said.

Following Peterson's first court hearing on March 12 with LA Innocence Project representation, his next court hearing is set for April 16. His attorneys are asking the judge to allow new DNA testing and to order certain case evidence be turned over to them as they investigate what they say is Peterson's "claim of actual innocence."

In response to this story, the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office told CBS13, "We are filing a motion that will address all these accusations. No other comments will be provided."

LA Innocence Project court filings also indicate they are looking into other things they say were not investigated or included in Peterson's original trial. This includes what they say is new evidence and witness testimony that pertain to:

  • eyewitness accounts that allege to have seen Laci walking the family dog the morning she disappeared, potentially establishing a new timeline.
  • a burglary at the Medina home across the street from the Peterson home on Christmas Eve morning.
  • the theory that Laci encountered the burglars as the crime was underway and could have been killed for it.
  • failure to properly investigate the van fire on Christmas morning.
  • possible evidence that calls into question whether Scott Peterson actually placed Laci's body in the bay.

"The truth of the matter is that now, in 2024, there is simply too much exculpatory evidence that has come to light, which supports Mr. Peterson's claim that he is innocent, to be ignored. Justice demands further inquiry into this evidence and should compel this Court to grant this motion and order the requested DNA testing so that additional investigation can be conducted," the LA Innocence Project wrote in court filings.

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