April 21, 2003 -- Laci Peterson's family now knows what happened to their daughter and her unborn child, and the suspect in her death — her husband Scott — is in custody, but they say they will never have true closure.
Hours after Scott Peterson pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder, his in-laws held a news conference to thank the media, their community, law enforcement officials and the nation for support in the search for Laci, who was nearly eight months pregnant when she disappeared Christmas Eve. Her remains, and those of her unborn child, washed ashore last week on a San Francisco Bay shore.
Laci's family made a point not to mention her husband by name. But her weeping mother vowed to seek justice for Laci and the unborn son she had named Connor.
"Soon after Laci went missing, I made a promise to her that if she's been harmed, we will seek justice for her and Connor and make sure that that person responsible for their deaths will be punished," said Sharon Rocha.
"I can only hope that the sound of Laci's voice begging for her life, and begging for the life of her unborn child, is heard over and over and over again in the mind of that person every day for the rest of his life."
Her voice quivering, Rocha said: "I love my daughter so much. I miss her every minute of every day. My heart aches for her and Connor. Without them, there's a huge void in my life."
Laci's family said they did not want to mention Scott specifically because they did not want to jeopardize the prosecution's case and preferred to focus on their loss — and Laci's memory.
"We're not going to do anything that will jeopardize the work of so many men and women," said Ron Grantski, Laci's stepfather. "We understand that many of you will be asking us for interviews over the next few days. But please understand, we have two things ahead of us: May 4 is Laci's, birthday and we have to start thinking about funeral services."
The birthday would have been Laci's 28th.
The family said they were grieving not only for Lacy, but for the child they would never know.
Rene Tomlinson said her friend Laci had been looking forward to being a mother, and that her last passion was for the baby she was expecting.
"Now we will never see Connor, see his smile or know his cry," Tomlinson said.
‘I Am Not Guilty’
As Laci Peterson's family ponders funeral plans, her husband sits in a 6-by 9-foot jail cell awaiting his next court appearance. During an arraignment that lasted less than four minutes in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Peterson looked straight ahead at Judge Nancy Ashley as she read the charges against him.
"I am not guilty," said Peterson, 30, as he entered his plea.
Handcuffed, shackled and wearing a red prison jumpsuit and prison-issued sandals, he did not look at his parents, who were seated just a few feet away behind him, or his in-laws, seated across the courtroom.
Sharon Rocha wept as the charges were read. Before today's proceedings began, Jackie Peterson, Scott's mother, hugged Sharon Rocha and was observed telling her, "I'm sorry."
At the time of his arrest Friday, the normally dark-haired, clean-shaven Peterson had dyed his dark hair and eyebrows blond, grown a goatee that was also blond, and was carrying a large amount of cash. But at today's arraignment, the goatee was gone, though his hair remained dirty-blond.
Peterson told the judge he could not afford an attorney and public defender Tim Bazar was appointed to represent him. The judge scheduled a bail hearing on May 6 and a preliminary hearing on May 19.
‘Hard to Believe Anything But a Death Case’
Laci's body and the remains of her unborn son were discovered a week ago just three miles from the Berkeley Marina, where Peterson said he was fishing the day his pregnant wife disappeared. Law enforcement officials say Peterson, a former fertilizer salesman, had long been a suspect in the case, and he was taken into custody just before tests confirmed the bodies were Laci and the baby.
"Within the last week, I felt that we had reached a level where even without the bodies we could prosecute this case," said Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton. "I'm very confident in the case as it is, and I believe as time goes by, it will get even stronger."
In the formal police complaint, Peterson was accused of acting "intentionally, deliberately and with premeditation" in killing his wife and their unborn child. In their probable cause complaint, police said they believed Peterson killed Laci in their Modesto home on Dec. 23 or 24.
However, law enforcement officials have not offered a theory on how Peterson killed his wife and unborn child or what the motive was. State coronors are still conducting tests on the remains to determine how Laci and her baby died.
Because Peterson is charged with multiple murders — a "special circumstance" under California law — it is possible he could face execution if convicted. Brazelton hinted he would seek the death penalty.
"It's hard for me to realistically believe it is anything but a death penalty case at this time," Brazelton said.
Still, at the family news conference this evening, Brazelton stressed that prosecutors had not made a decision on whether to seek the death penalty. He said they will discuss that decision with Laci Peterson's family and with the defense.
Suspect’s Parents Stand By Him
Investigators say Peterson's behavior seemed suspicious since shortly after he reported his wife missing on Christmas Eve last year. In the weeks after his wife disappeared, Peterson tried to sell the family home and traded his wife's Land Rover SUV for a pickup truck. He had a falling out with Laci's family after admitting to an extramarital affair. Police searched the Peterson home repeatedly, removing containers of cement, among other items.
Police arrested Peterson hours before they received final DNA test results identifying Laci and the unborn child. Authorities had been monitoring Peterson's movements and feared he would try to flee. He was 30 miles from the Mexican border when he was arrested Friday.
Peterson's parents jumped to their son's defense over the weekend, saying he was not trying to dispose of evidence by selling the vehicle and claiming reports he had tried to sell the house were flat wrong. They insisted Peterson has been the victim of a botched investigation.
"You have a district attorney calling this a slam-dunk before there's even an arraignment," said Peterson's mother, Jackie. "I'm feeling like I'm living in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union."
Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said he understood Scott Peterson's family's anguish, but he insisted investigators were pursuing the right suspect.
"The investigation took us where it took us," he said.
ABCNEWS' Cynthia McFadden, Mike Gudgell, Steffan Tubbs and Taina Hernandez contributed to this report.