Laci Peterson

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Laci and Scott Peterson

Laci Peterson, born Laci Denise Rocha (May 4, 1975December, 2002), was last seen alive on December 23, 2002 and became the subject of one of the most discussed missing person cases in recent U.S. history.

Laci was born in and lived in Modesto, California. A substitute teacher, she was seven and a half months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve, 2002, an event which eventually led to her husband Scott Peterson being convicted on November 12, 2004 of her murder and that of their unborn son. On December 13 he was recommended for death.

Laci attended California Polytechnic State University where she met Peterson in 1994 through a friend who was a waitress at the same restaurant where he was a waiter. They married two years later, ran a successful restaurant in San Luis Obispo, California, but moved back to Modesto in 2000. In 2002, Laci discovered she was pregnant, expecting a boy. She and her husband decided to name the baby Conner (or Connor, according to some accounts).

Apart from her husband, the last person known to talk to her was her mother, by phone on the 23rd. Although Scott Peterson says Laci was alive the morning of the 24th, no one can verify that claim. Peterson said she planned to go shopping for dinner, then walk the dog through nearby East La Loma park. Her husband claimed he had gone to the marina at Berkeley that morning to go fishing. A neighbor claimed she saw him loading something wrapped in a large blue tarpaulin into his truck that morning, which he claimed to be eight-foot umbrellas. He claimed he was taking them to his warehouse for storage. He also told police he forgot to unload them when he reached the warehouse, or upon returning to the warehouse after his fishing trip. He brought them back home.

Later that day, a neighbor found the family dog, Mackenzie, running loose in the neighborhood, wearing a collar and muddy leash. Peterson said Laci's 1996 Land Rover Discovery SE sport utility vehicle was in the driveway; and her purse was hanging in the bedroom closet, including her keys. Her cell phone was uncharged and found in her vehicle. Peterson also said he washed his clothes immediately upon his return home, ate some cold pizza, and took a shower. It was then he wondered where his wife was.

Police were called by 6 p.m. and an immediate search of East La Loma Park and surrounding areas was launched by police and neighbours. It included foot searchers, all-terrain vehicles, patrol cars, sport utility vehicles, helicopters with search lights and heat sensors, water rescue units, search dogs and horseback teams. Law enforcement agencies from several counties became involved, searching both forests and waterways. Police suspected foul play, doubting Laci would vanish on Christmas Eve without contacting anybody. "That is completely out of character for her," said detective Al Brocchini at a press conference. Laci's husband became a suspect, but her family came forward to support him.

Peterson produced a receipt from the marina for December 24 (though no time is printed on it), and witnesses said they saw Laci in the park with her dog at 10 am that day. Police investigated many leads, unearthing numerous dead ends. On January 4, 2003 they used sonar to scan the marina more than once, at one point telling the press they found something that might be a body. Next day, after the weather cleared, it turned out to be an old anchor. Police believed they may have had a lead when it was thought the house across the street from the Petersons' had been burgled about the time Laci disappeared. They wondered whether she had seen the burglars who then panicked and kidnapped her so she could not identify them, but eliminated that possibility when it was established the burglary happened later.

Police began to focus more on Scott Peterson. They published photographs of his truck and boat and asked the public to help them corroborate his story. Scott and Laci's house was searched. Her SUV, his truck and boat, and their computers were seized, and police investigated his background. During the police enquries into Peterson, the police discovered that Scott went to California Polytechnic State University at the same time that a girl called Kristin Smart disappeared there in 1996. However the investigation into that was soon dropped when it could not even be conclusively established that Kristin and Scott had ever met each other.

A US $25,000 reward was offered, which later increased to $500,000 as friends and family donated. Posters and ribbons and flyers circulated, and the website was set up by the husband of one of her friends. Other friends and family set up a command center at a nearby hotel to record developments and circulate information.

Peterson stormed out of a press conference when reporters asked about the police suspecting him, and eventually refused to talk to the media. Laci's brother, Brent Rocha, defended Scott, saying that he was too emotionally wrought to make public statements about his wife, adding that that did not mean he was involved in her disappearance. "No way," Rocha said. "Absolutely not". Peterson had maintained that he knows nothing about Laci's disappearance. Volunteers said that he had shown up every morning at the volunteer command center and seemed to work tirelessly for her safe return. It was later revealed that during his wife's candlight vigil on December 31, Scott secretly called a woman named Amber Frey. He had been on several dates with Frey and claimed to be unmarried. He told Frey he was in Paris for New Year's Eve, and did not appear upset during the phone call.

On January 15, Modesto detectives showed Laci's relatives recent photos of Peterson posing Amber Frey. One photo was dated just days before Laci disappeared. Police suspected Peterson was having an affair with Frey for some time. Another photo, according to the family, was dated during a time when they knew Laci believed Scott was on a business trip.

On January 17, Laci's family revealed that her stepfather asked Peterson two weeks earlier if he had a girlfriend and he unequivocally answered no, and the family eventually dropped their support for him. Peterson sold the Land Rover three weeks later, but the automobile dealer to whom he sold it gave it back to her family for one dollar.

On April 13, the decomposed body of a newborn male child, his umbilical cord still attached, was found on the San Francisco Bay shore near Richmond, north of Berkeley. The next day a decapitated, armless, legless (all due to heavy decomposition) body of a recently-pregnant woman was recovered one mile away from where the baby's body was found. DNA tests verified they were the bodies of Laci Peterson and her son, Conner.

On April 18, Scott Peterson was arrested near the home of his parents in La Jolla. Stanislaus County officials said they had arrested him because of La Jolla's proximity to Mexico, and they were fearful he might flee to avoid prosecution. In addition, he had bleached his hair blond and grown a goatee, and the authorities cited this as further indication that he might flee their jurisdiction. At the time of his arrest, Peterson was driving a car he had bought falsely using his mothers name, was carrying $15,000 in cash, had four cell phones, camping equipment, Viagra and his brother's driver's license. He later claimed his hair was blonde due to a dip in a friend's swimming pool.

On April 27, UPI reported that authorities had originally detected the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson at the bottom of the bay by sonar, weeks before they washed ashore, but they were dislodged and missing again before they could be retrieved.

On May 4, 2003, which was to be her 28th birthday, Laci's family and friends held a memorial ceremony. The Peterson family did not attend and Scott was barred from appearing. During the service, Laci's brother Brent spoke, along with other family and friends. Scott's name was not mentioned during the memorial service, and he was cropped out of the photos shown.

In January 2004 the trial judge moved Peterson's murder trial about 90 miles to San Mateo County in the San Francisco Bay Area because of hostility toward Peterson in Modesto.

On November 12 2004, Scott Peterson was found guilty of murder in the first degree with special circumstances of Laci Peterson, and of murder in the second degree of their unborn son Conner Peterson. The jury recommended that he be sentenced to the death penalty on December 13 2004. He was officially sentenced to death on March 16, 2005. The judge called his acts callous. Laci and Scott's families yelled at each other in the courtroom.

On March 16, 2005, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi formally upheld Scott Peterson's death sentence, calling the murder of his wife "cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous." The prescribed method of execution was lethal injection. He also denied the defense's request for a new trial (which was based on evidence of juror misconduct and media influence) and ordered Peterson to pay $10,000 towards his wife's funeral.

On March 17, 2005, Scott Peterson arrived at San Quentin State Prison in the early morning hours. San Quentin, the infamous prison, which overlooks the bay where Laci's body was discarded and houses the men's death row, is about 20 miles north of San Francisco. He will reside there as 1 of 644 other inmates currently awaiting lethal injection in California.

The death of Laci and her son led to the United States Congress passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which is now widely known as Laci and Conner's Law.

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