The two Scott Petersons could be both helpful and detrimental to the prosecution and the defense in the last weeks of his double murder trial.
And if you believe the prosecution, there are two: The plotting, philandering husband who killed his wife Laci and unborn son but left almost no physical evidence tying him to the slayings; and the careless liar whose suspicious actions -- especially just before his arrest -- make him look guilty. Prosecutors have suggested that Peterson killed Laci because he was tired of his marriage, feeling pressure from her pregnancy and wanted to continue his affair with Amber Frey.
Laci Peterson was reported missing on Dec. 24, 2002. Peterson said he had gone fishing alone that day, but investigators believe he killed her and used his boat to dump her body in San Francisco Bay. Laci's remains -- and those of her fetus -- washed ashore separately in April 2003, near the area where Peterson told investigators he had fished.
Peterson's defense has not denied the affair but insists Peterson did not kill his wife. Defense attorney Mark Geragos has argued that someone else killed Laci and investigators failed to follow other leads in her disappearance and slaying.
Prosecutors have little physical evidence connecting Peterson to the slayings. There is no blood evidence and prosecutors argue that hair strands taken from pliers on Peterson's boat belong to Laci and tie him to the slayings. (The defense has disputed the tests on the hair strands and says no physical evidence links Peterson to murder.) Prosecutors seeking to convict Peterson have used the multiple lies he told to conceal his affair and his suspicious actions before his arrest to show his alleged guilt.
Before Laci's disappearance, Peterson told Frey that they could be together and that this would be the first Christmas he would celebrate without his wife. His alibi placed him near the area where she and the remains of their unborn child washed ashore. When he was arrested, the normally dark-haired, clean-shaven Peterson sported bleached blond hair and matching mustache and goatee. Peterson said his hair changed color after he swam in his friend's pool. However, the friend testified that Peterson had never been in his pool.
Peterson's apparent fumbles and his lies to Frey, some experts say, seem laughable and hardly characteristic of someone who could plan a nearly perfect murder and leave no traces of physical evidence.
"He's a liar, he's a cheater, he comes off as sounding dumb, not a bright guy [in his taped conversations with Frey and in interviews]," said California defense attorney Steve Cron. "What you may find the defense say is you can't have it both ways. You can't have this criminal mastermind who seemed to have covered up this crime scene perfectly who also comes off so dumb and does all these things that make him look guilty."
The Character and Behavior Problem
But Geragos may not rely on these two contradictory portrayals because they could also hurt Peterson and emphasize his suspicious behavior.
Geragos has presented an explanation for the questionable circumstances of Peterson's arrest. Peterson, police detectives testified, looked like someone trying to elude authorities when he was arrested. In addition to the altered appearance, he had purchased a car under his mother's name, had $15,000 cash, a large backpack, and an overnight bag stuffed with hunting knives, a water purifier, snorkeling and fishing equipment, a shovel, and duct tape. Peterson also had several changes of clothes, four cell phones, two driver's licenses and six credit cards. Geragos argued his client was trying to evade the media and normally traveled with camping equipment.
Despite the explanations, some courtroom observers say, Peterson may not be believable to jurors. Geragos, some experts believe, will not focus on the seemingly contradictory portrayals of Peterson or put him on the stand because his lies and behavior are problematic and he may appear to lack credibility.
"You ask yourself a simple question: 'Is it necessary to win an acquittal to put my client on the stand?' " Atlanta defense attorney Chris Pixley said on ABC News' Good Morning America. "In this case, I don't think Mark Geragos believes it is necessary. And he should be afraid to put him [Peterson] on."
Not Necessarily a Criminal Genius
Still, other courtroom observers say the lack of physical evidence does not prove that Peterson is a criminal mastermind. Prosecutors have not presented a theory on how Peterson killed Laci and he may not have had much physical evidence to allegedly cover up.
"It doesn't take much -- it doesn't take a genius -- to cover up a crime scene. Maybe we watched too many episodes of 'CSI,' but strangling someone would require much less of a cleanup than killing someone by stabbing," said Pat Brown, investigative criminal profiler and head of The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency. "The amount of cleanup you have depends on the way a person was killed. And if you kill someone in your home and you both live there, it'll be difficult to gather fingerprint and hair evidence because the suspect and victim live there. It's [the hair and fingerprints] supposed to be there."
Brown said that very few alleged murderers consider long-term scenarios in their killings. Many, she said, are shortsighted psychopaths who think they can get away with any lie, no matter how illogical.
"The thing about psychopaths is that they tend to be very arrogant," Brown said. "They know what they want and they want it now. They think they can pull the wool over everyone's eyes. They tell people almost anything because they believe they can get away with it, that people will believe it. And it doesn't even come to their mind that their behavior is abnormal because they don't even think their behavior is abnormal."
A Question of Evidence, Not Character
Geragos will likely focus on countering the prosecution's evidentiary theories, not Peterson's character, as he presents the rest of his defense. He, courtroom observers say, will likely focus on the lack of physical evidence linking Peterson to the slayings.
Courtroom observers say he will concentrate on showing that police neglected the possibility that Laci could have been abducted and killed by others while walking the family dog while Peterson was fishing. Geragos may also use the debate over when the fetus died to try to prove Peterson's innocence. Prosecutors believe Peterson killed Laci on either Dec. 23 or 24, 2002, and dumped her body in the bay, using concrete anchors to sink the body. They believe the fetus, a boy the couple had named Conner, was expelled from Laci's body after her death, explaining why the bodies washed ashore separately.
However, the prosecution's current and tidal expert could not give a precise trajectory path for the remains. He could only estimate that Laci and her unborn son were dumped near the area where Peterson said he was fishing.
Peterson's defense contends Laci was kidnapped and that the unborn son could have been born alive and subsequently killed after Dec. 24 and then dumped in the bay. This, Geragos argues, would prove that Peterson could not have killed his wife and child because he was under too much scrutiny by the media and police after he reported her missing.
Still, experts say, Geragos will not be able to escape Peterson's philandering ways. But he will not try to make him likable to jurors, either. Toward the end of the prosecution's case, Geragos had a detective reveal to jurors under cross-examination that Peterson had other extramarital trysts, suggesting that he would not have killed Laci because of a desire to continue an affair.
Geragos has admitted Peterson was a liar and a philanderer, but he hopes to convince jurors he is not a murderer.
"The defense is not going to try to rehabilitate Scott Peterson," Pixley said. "What they are going to do is try to prove a few key facts that started ... with the fact that Laci was physically fit. We heard during the prosecution's case that she was shopping the day before her disappearance, and now Mark [Geragos] puts on evidence of her physical activity, showing a week before the disappearance, she was basically combing the beaches and the shops. This was a woman who was active and that forces the prosecution to deal with the fact that they have just dismissed all of the eyewitnesses who saw her walking her dog on Dec. 24, and they did so on the theory that she was just too tired to be out walking."