Under Arrest - E is for Evidence

Image by Pixabay

Welcome back to A-Z, today we're talking about evidence, one of the most important aspects in a trial. Generally there are two types of evidence:

Direct evidence
Eye witnesses, DNA, murder weapon with fingerprints on it, gun shot residue on the suspect's hand, video surveillance, a body presenting with stab wounds,...

Circumstantial evidence
A police officer hears on his radio about a bank robbery taking place just a few blocks away. He turns on his siren and speeds toward the location when he spots a guy wearing a ski mask, running, carrying a heavy bag. While the officer didn't actually see the suspect at the bank, the man sure looks suspicious and has some explaining to do.

A 9mm gun was used to kill a victim. The supect owns this kind of weapon, and it's missing from his home. He claims it disappeared, and he doesn't know who took it. Did he use it to committ the crime and then throw it away? We can't know for sure. 

Cadaver dogs alert to the smell of decomposition in an abandoned car. Obviously it was used to transport a body, just whose corpse was it, who killed the person, and where is the body (and the killer) now?

A credit card that the rightful owner didn't even noticed was missing, was used to make a huge purchase. The delivery address is not the original card holder's. How did the shopper get so lucky as to find the credit card..?

Just like a conviction without a body, a case that is based entirely on circumstantial evidence, is hard but not impossible to win. 

What you have to do is convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt (check back for the letter R on April 20)  that no one but the suspect could have committed the crime.

I'm sure you remember the Scott Peterson case. He was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son Conner on Christmas Eve in 2002. 

Elements that lead to his death penalty conviction were the following:
  • Scott had lied about so many things. First he claimed he went golfing on the day his wife disappeared. He later said it was too cold to go golfing, he went fishing instead and even produced a fishing license issued for Dec 23 and 24. 
  • The fishing trip didn't make much sense either - except its real purpose of dumping his wife's body. First of all who goes fishing in the San Francisco Bay in late December? Freezing much! Second, he claimed to fish for sturgeon - a 6 feet, 100 pound fish. Had he actually caught one, his lightweight aluminum boat would probably have keeled over. 
  • In his pickup truck they found two unopened packages of lures. Experienced fishermen say you don't use lures if you want to catch sturgeon, you use bait. Whatever Scott was trying to catch - why didn't he open the package in the first place?
  • Police also found a homemade concrete "anchor" the volume of a gallon, which would be helpful to hold a boat of Scott's size in calm water, but not in the SF Bay though, where rip-roaring currents are common. (Geological survey charts searches on Scott's computer revealed he had studied water tides and currents around Brooks Island) and the fact that they found five bare patches with cement spilled in other parts on Peterson's trailer indicated that he was making more anchors that were used to weigh down Laci's wrists and ankles in the water. (which would explain why only her torso washed ashore)
  • On Scott's boat they also found a pair of pliers with a black hair that was later confirmed to be Laci's. It was going to be the only piece of direct evidence. How did it get there?
  • The boat itself? Nobody even knew Scott had a boat. He often went fishing with his Dad, so surely he would have shared this news with his fishing buddy if he hadn't planned on using it for a secret purpose? Turned out he purchased the boat two weeks prior to the murder and kept it at his warehouse.
  • When Scott returned home on Christmas Eve he washed his dirty clothes. Only the clothes he was wearing that day, not the other laundry in the hamper. He must have had something to hide. Blood traces? Salt water? He proceeded to eat pizza (just mentioning this because it seems to be a recurring item in my posts, haha) and eventually called Laci's parents to ask if they had heard of her? It was Laci's stepdad who reported her missing. Law enforcement repeatedly stated they were surprised about Scott's demeanor. He didn't seem to be worried or scared.
  • After promising to come in for a polygraph test Scott later called police and told them he didn't think it was a good idea, which probably was a smart move, but a layman's perception is "if you're innocent you don't have anything to hide, why would you not go ahead and pass a lie detector test?" I'll talk about this topic in P is for polygraph. 
  • On Dec 28, Eloise Anderson, a volunteer dog handler and her lab retriever, Trimble, traced Laci's scent from the parking lot at Berkeley Marina to the end of the pier where Scott had launched his boat. In April 2003 Laci's and Conner's decomposed bodies were found about two miles north of this location.
  • The secret girlfriend Amber Frey to whom he first told he was never married and later confessed he had a wife and lost her, and that it was going to be his first Christmas alone. The most disturbing part of this is the date he told her this. It was December 9. Remember Laci vanished on Christmas Eve. 
  • Oh, and remember on New Year's Eve? Scott called Amber telling her he was celebrating by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France when in all reality he was attending a candlelight vigil for Laci in Modesto.
  • In early February Sott sold Laci's car  - knowing full well Laci wasn't coming back. In his defense, police had seized his truck for their investigation, and for several weeks he had to rent a car to go places. The car dealership later donated Laci's Land Rover back to her family, which was a nice gesture. Scott also wanted to sell the house but couldn't without Laci's signature.
So on March 17, 2005, Scott Peterson didn't have a fun filled St. Patrick's Day. Instead he moved into his new forever home at San Quentin State Prison.

Janey, Scott's sister in law, is determined to prove his innocence. Here's what she has to say:

There seemed to be 14 eye witnesses who claimed to have seen a pregnant / fat woman walking her dog after Scott left the house, and obviously police didn't follow up on all of their calls. We can't know for sure if it was Laci, but we also can't know it wasn't her. 

There was also a mailman who knew the Peterson's dog. It always barked when he delivered the mail. When the postman arrived between 10:35 and 10:50am on Dec 24 the dog didn't bark, and the gate was open - an indication that Laci and McKenzie (= the dog) might in fact have gone for a walk. This is kind of relevant because computer evidence shows that Scott was logging on at his warehouse computer at 10:15am. Still, just because the dog wasn't there, doesn't mean Laci hadn't been killed and transported to the warehouse.

Evidently there were many "Laci sightings" reported, coming from 26 different states, even overseas, so we can't know how reliable the tips that Janey talks about might be.

She also claims errors were made during the jury selection process. Every potential juror that stated to be against the death penalty was excluded - even though they should have been asked the follow-up question "even though you're against the death penalty, would you be able to render that verdict?" To which they might still say yes. I'll be talking about jury selection later this month. Stay tuned.
Furthermore, the questionnaire that every potential juror has to complete, asks "have you ever been a party to a law suit, have you ever testified in court, have you ever been a victim to a crime?" The infamous Strawberry Shortcake juror, Richelle Nice, checked the NO box to those question and was therefore lying - she shouldn't have been on that jury. Clearly she had unresolved issues against her ex who threatened her and her unborn baby, so she wasn't an unbiased juror for that particular case. 
Prosecution did a reenactment of the "body dump", using a similar boat like Scott had, however their boat capsized ;-) The jury was not allowed to see this video. 
The search dog I mentioned above was one in several that were hired, but only this one's handler was allowed to testify. Other dogs obviously indicated information that could have helped Scott's defense. Here's a hint: I'll be talking about search and rescue dogs shortly.
Do you think prosecution had it right? Or are Janey's points valid? Should his appeal be granted? Let me know.

For now I'll let you move on with your day - hope to see you back tomorrow!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


  1. The evidence for him being guilty seems more substantial than that for his innocence, IMO.

  2. i followed this case years ago and i believe the evidence suggests him guilty. i did look up the pregnant/fat lady story and nothing seemed to be found to corroborate this story/theory.

    Joy at The Joyous Living

  3. I don't know. I ignored this when it happened, so I have no opinion. It sounds like he's guilty.

  4. Guilty. I remember reading about this case. Just too many things point to him (IMO).

  5. Lots of great info....I've already used a cadaver dog in one of my books but the next one will involve old human remains and the dogs that specialize in that.

    DB McNicol, author
    Microfiction: Eye


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. It will be visible as soon as I had a chance to verify that you are not an anonymous user and/or a spammer.