Scott Peterson's defense may have promised jurors more than it could deliver, and his fate may be decided by closing arguments.
At the beginning of Peterson's double murder trial, defense attorney Mark Geragos promised jurors he would prove his client was "stone-cold innocent" of the slayings of his pregnant wife, Laci, and the unborn son they had planned to name Conner. Prosecutors have suggested Peterson killed Laci because he was tired of his marriage, feeling pressure over her pregnancy and wanted to continue his affair with his mistress, Amber Frey.
Peterson's defense has not denied the affair but insists Peterson did not kill his wife. Geragos told jurors he would prove investigators failed to follow other leads in her disappearance and slaying, and that someone else kidnapped and killed Laci. He rested the defense's case presenting only 14 witnesses over six days of testimony.
Peterson's defense was not expected to be nearly as long as the prosecution's case, which lasted five months and saw 174 witnesses come to the stand. But some observers say Geragos' case may not have been as effective and fell far short of fulfilling his promises to the jury.
"He failed to present evidence that he promised in his opening. … Jurors hold that against lawyers," ABC News legal contributor Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom told "Good Morning America."
She said that while Geragos reinforced prior arguments that investigators did not fully follow all leads, he did not show that someone else kidnapped and killed Laci or that she was seen alive outside her home after Dec. 24, 2002, the day her husband reported her missing.
"If you promise to present evidence or witnesses and fail to follow through, you all but transfer the burden of proof to yourself," she said. "Now a jury that should be focused on what the state proved or didn't prove is more concerned with why you didn't follow through on your promises."
Peterson did not testify. Through the testimony of his parents, Jackie and Lee Peterson, Geragos attempted to explain behavior the prosecution has called suspicious.
Peterson, prosecutors argue, looked like someone trying to elude authorities when he was arrested on April 18, 2003. Normally clean-shaven and dark-haired, Peterson had grown a mustache and goatee and bleached his hair. In addition, 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 Peterson normally traveled with camping equipment and, by playing a tape of a phone conversation between Peterson and his brother, tried to show he was trying to evade the media, not police.
Jackie Peterson testified that she had mistakenly withdrawn $10,000 from Scott's account and gave it back to him the day before his arrest. That, she said, explained the large amount of money he was carrying when he was arrested.
She also said she told her son to buy the car in her name because police periodically impounded his vehicles to search for evidence. Lee Peterson testified he told Scott to get his brother's license the day before the arrest so he could get a San Diego resident's discount at a golf course.
Problematic Alibi, Lies and the Fetal Birth Debate
Still, legal experts say Geragos did not explain why Peterson's alibi places him near the area where the remains of Laci and their unborn child were found. Peterson has said he was fishing in San Francisco Bay on the day Laci disappeared, but investigators believe he killed her and used his boat to dump her body in the bay. The remains of Laci and her fetus washed ashore separately in April 2003, near the area where Peterson told investigators he had been fishing.
"Geragos never really explained that critical link between Scott Peterson and the murder," legal analyst Royal Oaks told ABC News Radio. "How was it that the body was found at the precise spot he went fishing a long way from home?"
In addition, some argue, Geragos may not have effectively negated the multiple lies Peterson told his mistress in taped conversations before Laci's disappearance — particularly his belief that they could be together and that this would be the first Christmas he would celebrate without his wife. Peterson had told Frey he was a widower.
The defense, some experts believe, also failed to show the fetus could have been born alive, which would have suggested someone else killed Laci Peterson. Prosecutors believe Peterson killed Laci on either Dec. 23 or 24, 2002, and used concrete anchors to sink her body in the bay. They believe the fetus was expelled from Laci's body after her death, which would explain why the bodies washed ashore separately. But the prosecution's current and tidal expert could not give a precise trajectory path for the remains.
Peterson's defense contended Laci was kidnapped Dec. 24 and that her baby could have been born alive and subsequently killed, then dumped in the bay along with his mother. This, Geragos had argued, 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 reporting Laci missing.
However, a key defense witness, Dr.Charles March, fell short of proving Geragos' theory when he testified the fetus probably died on Dec. 29, 2002, at the earliest and admitted he based his conclusions, in part, on anecdotal evidence of when Laci may have discovered her pregnancy.
"He [Geragos] was supposed to show Conner Peterson was born alive. That didn't happen," said Guilfoyle Newsom. "Their expert had a complete meltdown on the stand. … I think now the prosecution is in a good place."
Just Enough Reasonable Doubt
But others argue Geragos has created doubt that Peterson killed his wife. During the prosecution's presentation, the lead defense attorney often turned the state's witnesses into his own.
"I think he delivered in terms of presenting exculpatory evidence," Chris Pixley, a Georgia defense attorney, said on "Good Morning America."
"He has been doing that for the past five months, even before he unveiled his defense case," Pixley said.
During cross-examination early in the trial, Geragos had expert Rodney Oswalt dispute the prosecution's theory that two hair fragments taken from pliers found on Peterson's boat -- the only physical evidence allegedly connecting Peterson to the slayings -- were Laci's.
Oswalt said under cross-examination that the hair came from two separate sources and that he could not decisively determine whether either hair came from Laci because the strands did not have roots. He also said the hair did not belong to Peterson. Another prosecution mitochondrial DNA expert said tests concluded that at least one of the hair fragments belonged to Laci. But the defense disputed the validity of the tests because mitochondrial DNA analysis is less precise.
Geragos also got a prosecution criminalist to concede repeatedly that investigators found no blood or any other kind of physical evidence on Peterson's boat or in his home linking him to Laci's slaying. And he put prosecutors on the defensive with allegations that investigators focused primarily on Peterson in his wife's disappearance and neglected other leads and theories.
In the last part of the prosecution's case, Geragos also enabled jurors to learn through the testimony of the lead investigator in the case that Peterson had multiple extramarital affairs. This, Geragos suggests, proves that Peterson would not have killed Laci to continue his affair with Frey.
Closing Arguments Vital for Both Sides
To win a conviction, prosecutors will have to use closing arguments to stress Peterson's suspicious behavior at the time of his arrest, his many lies and the alibi that places him near where the remains of Laci and their unborn son were ultimately found. The defense will have to focus on the lack of physical evidence tying Peterson to the slayings to gain an acquittal -- or at least a hung jury.
"The bottom line is that there isn't much physical evidence at all connecting Scott Peterson to this case," California defense attorney Steve Cron has said. " He [Geragos] may say something like, 'It's OK that you don't like my client. That's fine. But at the end of the day, can you honestly leave here and say the evidence shows he murdered his pregnant wife?'"
Both sides are expected to give closing arguments in Peterson's trial next week. Right now, it seems the prosecution may have momentum on its side.
"This case is ripe for a hung jury, but more likely now that the prosecution will be able to obtain a conviction [rather] than an acquittal," said Guilfoyle Newsom. "And that's saying something. It didn't look like that in the beginning."