November 2, 2004 in Nation/World

Prosecutors give closing arguments in Peterson trial

Louis Sahagun Los Angeles Times
 

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Prosecutors in Scott Peterson’s double-murder trial on Monday portrayed the fertilizer salesman as a philandering narcissist who murdered his pregnant wife and dumped her body into San Francisco Bay as part of a plan to free himself of a dull marriage.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor Rick Distaso attacked Peterson’s alibi that he had been fishing alone in the bay when his 27-year-old wife was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002.

The bodies of Laci and her unborn fetus washed up on a rocky shore in mid-April, only a mile from where Peterson, 32, said he had taken his new 14-foot aluminum boat out for a maiden voyage on the day his wife disappeared.

“The reason he killed Laci Peterson was Conner Peterson (the unborn son) was on the way,” prosecutor Rick Distaso told jurors.

“Things were going to change,” Distaso said. “No more of this running around, living this double-life thing. He wants to live the rich, successful, freewheeling bachelor life. He can’t do that when he’s paying child support, alimony and everything else.”

In the crowded, tense courtroom, Distaso held up fishing lures that Peterson bought for the 30-to-40-minute fishing trip he took 90 miles from home. Holding up the lures for the jury to see, Distaso said, “Nobody ever caught fish on lures that were still in the package.”

Distaso said Peterson claimed he returned home to find his wife missing. He told a neighbor that he played golf that day. He told police he went fishing.

Throughout the four-hour closing, Distaso displayed timelines and played video footage of Laci and tape-recorded telephone calls between Peterson and his mistress, Amber Frey. Peterson, he said, is a “bald-faced liar” who lived in two worlds, one public and one private.

“He doesn’t love anyone but himself,” Distaso said. “He didn’t want to be tied to Laci the rest of his life, so he killed her. Easy as that.”

A month before his wife disappeared, Peterson struck up a dalliance with Frey, a Fresno massage therapist, who was led to believe he was single and in search of a serious relationship. To Peterson, Distaso said, Frey represented “lust and freedom.”

Just days after his wife vanished from their Modesto, Calif., home, Peterson was showering Frey with inexpensive, sentimental gifts, strawberries and champagne and romantic promises, even as he misled her with elaborate deceptions, Distaso said.

On Dec. 31, 2002, Peterson called Frey from Modesto claiming to be in France watching a fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower, the prosecutor said. Less than an hour later, a group of Peterson’s supporters held a candlelight vigil for his missing wife.

A few days later, Peterson told Frey, “I’ll think about you and feel your lips,” in the conversation that was among hundreds secretly taped by Frey, who began working with authorities after she learned that her boyfriend was married and a suspect in his wife’s disappearance.

Distaso was unable to tell the jury exactly how, when or why Peterson allegedly killed his wife.

“This is a circumstantial case,” he said. “But each piece fits. This man is guilty of murder.”

Chuck Smith, a former San Mateo County prosecutor now working as a local defense lawyer, was impressed by the passionate, detailed closing.

“Rick was like a preacher in church, bringing damnation and hellfire down on Scott Peterson,” he said. “I think Mark Geragos has his work cut out for him.”

Defense attorney Geragos, who maintains his client had nothing to do with the killing, will give his final arguments today.

The jury is expected to begin weighing the case in sequestered deliberations on Wednesday after it receives special instructions from San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi.

Peterson faces two counts of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation and allows for a death penalty. Delucchi ruled Friday that the jury will also have the option of second-degree murder charges, which could bring two sentences of 15 years to life in prison.


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