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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:
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,...
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.
|Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay|