Prosecutors took four months to make their case for murder against Scott Peterson, but they may have made his case for acquittal.
It has been a roller coaster ride for prosecutors seeking to convict Peterson in the disappearance and slayings of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. They 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. 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. Peterson faces the death penalty if convicted of double murder.
With the prosecution resting Tuesday and Geragos expected to begin his defense Oct. 12, courtroom observers agree that prosecutors may have a compelling circumstantial murder case. But after hearing from 174 witnesses over a 19-week period, jurors may be overwhelmed — or confused — by the mountain of evidence they have seen.
"It does seem like the prosecution has maybe put the jury to sleep. They put on so much evidence, much of it of marginal relevance to the case, that I think strategically, they didn't handle it well," said California defense attorney Steve Cron. "They anticipated what the defense would be in some areas and attempted to rebut it before the defense presented it to jurors. The textbook way of doing it is you put on your case, the defense puts on their case and then if there's something you like to challenge you do it on rebuttal. But they [Peterson prosecutors] did this during their case in chief, perhaps to their disadvantage."
Scott Peterson said he had gone fishing alone Dec. 24, 2002, the day his wife disappeared, but investigators believed that he killed Laci and used the boat to dump her body in San Francisco Bay. Her remains — and those of her fetus — washed ashore separately in April 2003, near the area where Peterson told investigators he had fished.
Geragos tried to deflate the prosecution by using their witnesses for his case's advantage. Prosecutors suffered a setback in July when hair expert Rodney Oswalt disputed their theory that two hair fragments taken from pliers on Peterson's boat, the only physical evidence connecting Peterson to the slaying, 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.
"It's struck me how prosecutors have allowed themselves to be taken advantage of by Geragos, how Geragos has used their own witnesses against them," said James Cohen, associate professor of law and director of clinical education at New York's Fordham University.