Opening statements begin in Scott Peterson murder trial

Opening statements begin in Scott Peterson murder trial

On June 1, 2004, opening statements begin in the trial of Scott Peterson, accused of murdering his wife Laci and the couple’s unborn son. On Christmas Eve 2002, the pregnant Laci had disappeared from Modesto, California. The case captivated millions across America and saturated national media coverage for nearly two years.

When initially questioned about his wife’s whereabouts, Peterson claimed that Laci had disappeared sometime after leaving the house to walk their dog and after he left on a fishing trip to nearby San Francisco Bay. About one month later, Amber Frey, a 28-year-old massage therapist from Fresno, California, came forward to tell police that she’d had an affair with Scott Peterson, shattering his image as a devoted husband to his pretty and pregnant wife. As police continued to search for Laci and clues that might explain her disappearance, Scott Peterson sold her sports-utility vehicle, leading to suspicions that he might be trying to get rid of evidence.

The bodies of Laci and her baby were found washed up on shore near the marina where Scott Peterson kept his boat on April 13 and 14, 2003. Within a week, Scott Peterson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, with the special circumstance of double homicide, which opened the door for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He was arrested in San Diego carrying large amounts of cash and his brother’s passport, and with a new hair color and cut, seemingly on the verge of running from police.

Soon after pleading not guilty to the charges, Peterson retained the legal services of well-known celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. His trial began on June 1, 2004. Over the course of the next 19 weeks, prosecutors introduced 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence designed to paint Scott Peterson as a cold and heartless man who continued to lie and cheat on his wife even as he appeared on television feigning despair over her disappearance. They pointed out how he referred to himself as a “widower” even before his wife’s body had been found. The prosecution’s case was hampered, however, by the fact that they had no eyewitness to the crime and had not found a weapon. Meanwhile, Geragos worked to convince the jury of an alternate scenario in which someone else had murdered Laci while she was walking the dog, then framed Scott after learning of his alibi from the news. Peterson did not take the stand.

Finally, on November 12, 2004, after seven days of deliberation that involved the replacement of two jurors, Scott Peterson was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife and the second-degree murder of his unborn son. He was unemotional during the reading of the verdict, which was greeted with cheers and celebration by Laci’s friends in the audience and the hundreds of supporters waiting outside the courthouse.

On March 16, 2005, Scott Peterson was formally sentenced to death by lethal injection. His death penalty was overturned in 2020, but he remains imprisoned for life.

READ MORE: Scott Peterson: A Complete Timeline of His Trial


New photos figure in attack on Peterson's story

Prosecutors alleged a "chronicle of lies" on Tuesday and showed photographs highlighting Scott Peterson's infidelity in the days leading up to his wife's disappearance as the long-awaited murder trial of the 31-year-old Californian began Tuesday.

For over two hours, prosecutor Rick Distaso went point by point through statements given to police by Peterson, accused of killing his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and unborn son.

Examples of the inconsistencies included Peterson telling a neighbor he had gone golfing when he had actually been on a boat, and his inability to adequately answer questions from police about what he was fishing for and the bait he had used.

Courtroom highlight
New details emerged of the weeks before Laci's disappearance in December 2002. In a moment of drama, the prosecutor displayed two photographs side-by-side on a screen. Each photograph was taken on December 14, a day when separate holiday parties were thrown by Laci Peterson and Amber Frey, who has admitted to having an affair with Peterson.

Prosecutors emphasized that Peterson decided to attend his girlfriend's event instead of his wife’s party. On one side of the screen, Distaso exhibited a photo of Laci Peterson, sitting alone at her party. On the other side was a picture of Peterson and Amber Frey frolicking together at Frey's party. As the prosecution did this, the defendant turned away from the screen.

But the prosecution contends that Peterson’s motive was money, not his affair with Frey. Peterson's business and household finances were in trouble, and Laci’s desire to be a stay-at-home mom added to the pressure.

Separately, NBC News is reporting Tuesday that Scott Peterson left a message on Laci’s cell phone the afternoon of December 24 -- the day she disappeared. At issue is whether the message was left as a possible alibi, knowing his wife already dead — or if Peterson called on his way home from a fishing trip expecting his wife to be there.

The case against Peterson
Prosecutors are likely to make the case that Scott Peterson killed Laci in their Modesto home, and drove her body the next morning to the Berkeley Marina and dumped it in the bay. Her torso was later found only two miles from where Peterson said he was fishing. The baby boy was found a mile further down the beach.

Prosecutors will also try to connect the DNA in a strand of hair said to be consistent with Laci’s with and found on a pair of pliers from Peterson’s boat.

Distaso emphasized that even close family members were unaware that Peterson owned a boat. Tracking devices are also supposed to show that Peterson returned to the marina five times before Laci’s body was found. Prosecutors will argue that this proves he knew the body was there, while the defense will say that Scott was in the area only after reports of a search for Laci being conducted.

New York District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, speaking on "The Abrams Report" on Monday, agreed that Peterson’s inconsistencies will become an essential part of the prosecution’s case.

“You have a guy who seems very comfortable with lying, whose actions and statements are inconsistent with that of a man who is grieving for his wife,” she said.

However, Gerry Spence, a criminal defense attorney, countered, “There has to be a good deal more than that to put him to put him away.”

He also pointed out that people have read too much into Scott Peterson’s actions.

“If you are charged with a murder, then you’re put on television, everything that you say is recorded or somehow construed,” he says. “If you mop the floor you're guilty. If you wash your clothes, you're guilty. If you own a boat, you're guilty. If you forget where you‘re going and you‘re going to play golf or go to fish, you‘re guilty. No matter what you do, it‘s somehow somebody is there to make a judgment on every single act that you do.”

The defense will likely argue that the police ignored leads, including a burglary across the street from the Peterson home, the suspicious brown van, as well as eyewitness accounts that place Laci walking her dog at 9:30 a.m., after Scott supposedly left for the day.

Like the OJ case?
Pirro anticipates that the Peterson trial will be like the O.J. case—multiple theories will be floated by the defense. “It’s everything from the brown van, to the satanic cult, to the neo-Nazi group," she says. "It’s like you just float anything you want. The prosecutors job, though, is to talk about the evidence.”

The strongest evidence for the defense may be the autopsy photo of the baby. According to the coroner’s report, the baby was found with one and a half loops of plastic tape around the neck. This makes the argument that the baby was born alive, and then killed later.

Expect Mark Geragos to present a strong case Wednesday, as he makes the defense’s opening statements.

Dan Abrams reported this on the Today Show and MSNBC Live. Abrams is the chief legal correspondent for NBC News.


Why We Were Infatuated With the Peterson Case

Nov. 22, 2004 — -- There was no doubt that the crowd outside the courthouse in Redwood City, Calif., approved of the verdict in Scott Peterson's murder trial.

When jurors convicted Peterson of first-degree murder in the slaying of his pregnant wife, Laci, and second-degree murder in the death of the unborn son they had named Conner, people outside the courthouse erupted in cheers. Some cried with joy and hugged bystanders. Others mugged for the cameras with newspapers that already had the headline "Guilty!" atop a photo of Peterson. Some pumped their fists in the air.

A verdict had not inspired this kind of public emotion since O.J. Simpson's acquittal in 1995 for the slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. So why were people who did not even know Laci or Scott Peterson obsessed with the case and celebrating as if they had won a lottery?

"People are interested in stories of gravity, news that involves the interests of the community as a whole," said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "They're interested in issues like healthcare and the economy."

"But Scott Peterson was not the kind of story that changes national public policy," Thompson continued. "Usually, for a story to attract the public's attention, it must have one of four dramatic elements: If a celebrity is involved if a child is murdered if there's some kind of sex scandal or if there's a betrayal of family. The Peterson case has three out of those four elements."

Real-Life Tragedy, Reel-Life Intrigue

The Peterson case first generated headlines during the 2002 Christmas season, which tends to be a slow news period.

Maybe the public couldn't stop staring at the photos of a vibrant, smiling Laci. Maybe it was the fact that she was pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve, a time for families and togetherness. Perhaps some people saw the Peterson case as the ultimate combination of tragedies -- the loss of young lives, hopes and dreams, and the betrayal of a husband who had a mistress whom he called even as volunteers searched for his wife.

The Peterson story had all the intrigue of a Hollywood drama, and earlier this year, the USA network premiered a made-for-TV movie about the case.

Arguably, it might not have become a national story in the pre-CNN era. The media in Modesto -- the Petersons' hometown -- would have followed the developments, and the verdict might have led to a mention on the national evening news broadcasts.

However, in today's age of 24-hour cable news stations and Court TV, fierce competition in the news media and the incessant need to meet the demand for stories, the Peterson case is a national phenomenon. In some ways, the media made the Peterson case a national story and the public couldn't turn away.

"I think after awhile they feel like they're a part of the story. After awhile, people go though a self-fulfilling sort of ritual," Thompson said. "When they hear about a story that interests them, they clamor for more info on the story. Pretty soon, the media feel like it [sic] has to report on every little development in the story and they can't stop it. Now that we have outlets like Court TV and the 24-hour cable news stations, there will always be these kind of sensational trials. They thrive on this stuff."

Feeding a Public Fixation

The pain of Peterson's trial will remain with the couple's relatives long after a jury recommends the death penalty or life in prison. But there will always be another infamous criminal case to fixate the nation and courtroom observers. In fact, opening statements are scheduled to begin in early December in another celebrity case, the murder trial of Robert Blake.

"It [Robert Blake's trial] comes at a perfect time," said California defense attorney Steve Cron. "It's right after Peterson and right before the [Michael] Jackson trial begins in January. It gives you guys something to write about."

The former "Baretta" star is accused of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, to get out of what some called a loveless marriage. He married Bakley -- who family members said had always wanted to be the wife of a movie star -- after DNA tests showed he was the father of her youngest daughter, Rosie.

Bakley was killed on May 4, 2001, long before anyone had heard of Scott and Laci Peterson and more than two years before Kobe Bryant was arrested for an alleged sexual assault and Michael Jackson's most recent child molestation scandal began. The Sept. 11 attacks and war on terror knocked Blake's story and other scandals off the front pages and it has been overshadowed by Peterson and bigger celebrity-name scandals since.

"Before the Sept. 11 attacks, everyone seemed focused on Robert Blake, the Gary Condit scandal and I was representing Paula Poundstone," said Cron, referring to the comedian who was involved in a child abuse case stemming from a DUI incident. A plea agreement was reached in the case on Sept. 12, 2001.

"And then Sept. 11th happened and we worked out an agreement the day after Sept. 11. No one was paying attention to us, understandably so."

In the shadow of Hollywood, some may have thought there was no better resolution to the Peterson trial than the guilty verdicts. But there was no victory for Scott Peterson's relatives or the Rochas, the family of Laci Peterson, because nothing will bring back Laci and the baby they never knew.

The two-year anniversary of Laci's disappearance is quickly approaching, and no matter what the jury recommends, it's hard to imagine either family giving a "thumbs up" to any ending in their real-life drama.


Scott Peterson murder trial begins

REDWOOD CITY, California (CNN) -- After three months of jury selection and motions, the trial of Scott Peterson, accused of killing his wife and unborn son, opened Tuesday with the prosecution pointing out inconsistencies in Peterson's behavior.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Rick Distaso presented a meticulous description of the neighborhood where the couple lived and the chain of events that he said led to the disappearance of a pregnant Laci Peterson the day before Christmas 2002.

Distaso also pointed to apparent inconsistencies in the 31-year-old man's behavior: Peterson told a neighbor and then a relative of his wife that he had been golfing that day, but told investigators that he had been fishing.

In addition, the prosecutor said, Peterson told investigators he had left his Modesto, California, house at 9:30 a.m., but his cell phone records indicate he was still at home then.

Prosecutors say Peterson -- a former fertilizer salesman -- killed his wife and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay.

Her body, and that of her fetus, washed up separately on the eastern shore of the bay in April 2003.

Peterson has acknowledged that at the time of his wife's disappearance he was having an affair with Amber Frey, who has told reporters she did not know he was married.

He looked away from photos of the two of them that were shown to the jury Tuesday.

Distaso said that when investigators confronted Peterson with the pictures he asked them, "Is that supposed to be me?"

Other photos visibly moved Laci Peterson's family.

One, a picture of the smiling, pregnant woman -- facing sideways to the camera -- moved her father, Dennis Rocha, to tears.

Peterson's family walked out of the courtroom apparently unimpressed with the prosecution's case.

"Same thing. Nothing new," Scott Peterson's brother said. "No evidence."

Prosecutors are expected to use wiretaps to attack Peterson's credibility, but the case against him is largely circumstantial -- no murder weapon has been found, and there is no clear cause of death or murder scene.

In court, Distaso played an audiotape of a telephone conversation between Peterson and Frey. It was recorded on New Year's Eve, after Laci Peterson was reported missing and the same night a community vigil was held for her.

In the call, Peterson tells Frey he's in Brussels, Belgium -- although he's in California -- and vows their relationship will grow. Photographs of Peterson and Frey at a Christmas party were shown to the jury. Photos of Laci Peterson attending an event alone the same night were also shown.

Peterson has denied involvement in the deaths. Instead, he said, he had gone fishing the day his wife disappeared.

Peterson could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.

Before opening statements began, Judge Alfred Delucchi addressed the six men and six women of the jury on their responsibilities in the case, which is expected to last well into the fall.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos was expected to say investigators ignored leads that would have led them to the real killer. He said Modesto police ignored witnesses who said they saw Laci Peterson in the neighborhood at the time a brown van was driving through the area.

About 10 members of Scott Peterson's family, including his parents, smiled but said nothing to members of the news media as they entered the courthouse.

Neither did Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha.

The two families were once close, but are now divided over whether Scott Peterson murdered his wife.

A gag order has been imposed to bar principals from talking to the news media about the case.

Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, but reporters are. A throng of them assembled outside the building hours ahead of the 9 a.m. (noon ET) start to ensure they got a seat.

About 30 of 100 seats in the building were given to members of the general public, who were selected by lottery.

Judge Delucchi last year ordered the trial moved to Redwood City from Modesto, due to intense publicity.

CNN's Ted Rowlands and Chuck Afflerbach contributed to this report.


Shocking Photos Open Scott Peterson Trial

Grisly photos accompanied the opening statements in Scott Peterson’s double murder trial, which kicked off Tuesday morning in a packed Redwood City, Calif., courtroom as prosecutor Rick Distaso addressed the six-man, six-woman jury.

Loud gasps greeted the projected photos of the decomposed remains of Peterson’s dead wife Laci and their unborn son, while Peterson – dressed in a beige suit and his hair cut shorter than it was at earlier court appearances – reportedly did not look up at the images.

Nor did he gaze at a photo of him with his mistress, masseuse Amber Frey, taken at a Christmas party, which the prosecution contrasted with a photo of the pregnant Laci, the Associated Press reports.

Stanislaus County prosecutor Rick Distaso began his remarks by recapping the events of Dec. 24, 2002 – the day that the eight-months-pregnant Laci disappeared.

Detailing a phone call from Scott Peterson to Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, in the early evening, Distaso quoted Peterson as saying, “Laci’s missing.” The prosecutor also played part of a call Peterson made to Frey, in which he said he was in Europe on business.

Distaso set the rest of the scene for jurors, despite objections from defense attorneys, the AP reports. “It’s Christmas Eve, there’s a woman who’s eight months pregnant who is missing under very mysterious circumstances,” he said. The defense, he argued, is “looking for evidence of a burglary. They’re looking for evidence of a robbery. There is nothing out of place.”

Calling the Peterson a liar, Distaso also told jurors that the former fertilizer salesman gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts on the day his wife disappeared – telling some he went fishing and others that he had been golfing.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos was to deliver his opening statement on Wednesday.

The trial, which is expected to last up to six months (jury selection took 12 weeks), will not be televised, though it has already been the subject of intense media scrutiny, as well as the subject of two books – with two more reportedly on the way – and a cable TV movie.

California’s attorney general once described the capital case against Peterson as a “slam dunk,” but as news reports on Tuesday pointed out, legal experts, noting an absence of direct evidence linking Peterson to the disappearance and murder, say that prosecutors appear to be relying on a web of circumstance.

Peterson’s father, Lee, also reiterated to reporters on Tuesday, “They have no evidence.”

Authorities allege Peterson, 31, killed his 27-year-old wife in their Modesto home because he was having an affair, then drove her body nearly 100 miles to San Francisco Bay and dumped it from his small boat.

Peterson, who besides being charged with the murder of his wife is also charged with killing their unborn baby, was arrested near the Mexican border in April 2003. He was carrying $10,000 and his brother’s driver’s license and had dyed his hair blond.


Rage, Tears at Peterson Sentencing Trial

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Laci Peterson's mother took the stand Tuesday in the sentencing phase of Scott Peterson's (search) murder trial, screaming at her former son-in-law that divorce was always an option over taking her daughter's life.

A very emotional Sharon Rocha (search) brought members of the jury panel and those in the courtroom to tears with her heart-wrenching testimony, much of which she addressed directly to Peterson. Peterson, 32, was convicted Nov. 12 of killing her daughter, Laci, and the couple's unborn son.

"Divorce was always an option — not murder!" Rocha shouted at Scott Peterson, whom she initially defended when 27-year-old Laci was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002. The sudden outburst, during which Rocha's voice rose and cracked, made several jurors jump.

Rocha spoke on the stand about the nightmare she and her family went through between the time Laci disappeared and the time her remains and those of her fetus washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

"There was someone who knew where she was and would not tell us, and instead had us going through this every day," Rocha screamed, looking directly at Peterson. During much of the testimony directed at Peterson, Rocha rose from her seat.

"She wanted to be a mother. That was taken away from her," she yelled in Peterson's direction.

Peterson watched her and had no visible reaction.

Rocha, wearing a gold heart-shaped pendent with a picture of her daughter in it, took the stand on the opening day of the sentencing phase in Peterson's double murder trial. Her son, Brent Rocha, and daughter, Amy Rocha, testified before her.

During her testimony, prosecutors displayed several photographs of Laci Peterson, including one from Mother's Day 2002. Taken a week after Laci's 27th birthday, the picture showed three generations of women — Laci, her mother and her grandmother.

Sharon Rocha's outburst followed. Mother's Day, she said, would never be the same.

"The first Mother's Day [after her death] I laid on the floor and I cried most of the day because she should have been there," she said.

Sharon, Brent and Amy Rocha were among four prosecution witnesses. Laci's stepfather Ron Grantsky was also in the lineup.

The jury will ultimately have to decide between recommending life in prison or death by lethal injection.

The penalty phase of the trial got off to a delayed start late Tuesday morning, after a matter involving potential juror misconduct was resolved.

During his opening statement prosecutor Dave Harris told the same jury that found Peterson guilty of two counts of murder that the killing of his pregnant wife Laci left her family with "a hole in their hearts that can never be repaired."

"When the defendant dumped the bodies of his wife and unborn son into the bay, those ripples spread out and they touched many, many lives," Harris said.

Jurors heard from Laci's family about her dreams, how much joy she brought to their lives and how much she was looking forward to being a mother.

"Based on what you're going to hear on the circumstances of this crime, the only appropriate and just punishment is death," the prosecutor said in his opening.

Earlier in the day, lawyers for both sides were called into chambers to talk about a bartender's claim that he'd overheard a juror talking about the case. Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos (search), subpoenaed the bartender on the grounds that he allegedly overheard at least one juror discussing the case in his bar, according to a defense source. Jurors are forbidden from discussing a case they're on outside the jury room.

It was not clear how many jurors were involved, what they talked about or what further connections the bartender had to the trial. It also wasn't known what exactly was discussed during the meeting with the judge Tuesday morning.

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi (search) said the delay was for a "402 hearing," which legal experts said could be used to hear concerns about possible juror misconduct. Courthouse administrator Peggy Thompson said the matter had been resolved. She declined to discuss the details, citing the judge's gag order.

Prosecutors said they planned to move through testimony quickly and hoped to wrap up by the end of Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. Jurors will then hear from defense witnesses. The defense portion was expected to last for the rest of the week.

As predicted, the penalty phase was already proving to be the most emotional part of the trial on day one. Typically, both the prosecution and defense try to pull at jurors' heartstrings during sentencing testimony.

Peterson's parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson (search), plan to take the stand in their son's defense. There's even been some speculation that Peterson himself could testify to try to convince jurors that he should live.

The prosecution seeks the death penalty for Peterson, who was found guilty of first-degree murder for Laci's homicide and second-degree murder for that of her nearly full-term fetus.

The defense, which is appealing the conviction, will ask the jury to spare his life, though his attorneys aren't allowed to suggest in the sentencing proceedings that Peterson is innocent.

The jury will be sequestered during deliberations and will ultimately give its recommendation when it reaches its decision. The judge will issue the final sentence.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court denied a petition by Peterson's defense lawyers to delay the penalty phase of the trial and seat a new jury in another county.

Geragos sought relief from the high court after the lower court judge, and subsequently an appeals court, denied his motion.

Geragos filed a petition last week with the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking a delay for the penalty phase. He wanted the appeals court to overturn the lower court ruling that keeps the same jury on the case.

Geragos claims that, among other things, the jury that found Peterson guilty is now tainted by public opinion. The appeals court denied his bid within hours of the filing.

Delucchi initially denied the motion. Geragos then sought relief from the appeals court.

The defense attorney filed his petition with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, a day after the appeals court denial.

Geragos claims Delucchi wrongly sent jurors home after they reached a verdict, exposing them to outside influences, instead of keeping the panel sequestered through the penalty phase.

In his appeal for a new jury, Geragos also cited the ousting of two jurors in two days during deliberations, noting that one, the jury's foreman, told the judge other jurors had become hostile to him and he felt his decision would be compromised. Both ex-jurors remain bound by a gag order.

The other juror was removed after she did her own research on the case, according to the motion, disobeying the judge's orders to consider only the evidence presented at the trial.

Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and regular Peterson trial observer, said testimony from prosecution witnesses during the penalty phase "is limited to their loss in terms of Laci, what Laci meant to them and how her absence from their lives will hurt them."

Horowitz said testimony will likely only come from Laci's immediate family members.

Prosecutors will also show jurors photographs of Laci throughout her life, "the kinds of things Scott would have imagined he was robbing from the family," Horowitz said.

Witnesses testifying on Peterson's behalf can speak about anything that might show the former fertilizer salesman in a favorable light as his attorneys try to convince jurors his life is worth sparing, Horowitz said.

"It can simply be that Scott was a nice little child," Horowitz said.

He said the judge has likely already ruled on evidence allowed in the penalty phase since attorneys on both sides must view the items before they are presented at trial.

Meanwhile, the judge ruled Monday that jury instructions and the reading of the panel's sentence recommendation will be broadcast live on an audio feed. The judge will also allow still pictures to be made of Peterson while he issues his instructions.

FOX News' Claudia Cowan, Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Trace Gallagher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Timeline: The Laci Peterson Case

Dec. 24, 2002: Laci Peterson, 8 months pregnant, is reported missing from her Modesto, Calif. home by husband, Scott Peterson. He says he came home from a fishing trip to Berkeley Marina and his wife was nowhere to be found.

Dec. 28: Authorities search water near Berkeley Marina for first time.

Dec. 31: Modesto police shift their focus in case to foul play. "We have not ruled out other possibilities," homicide detective Jon Buehler says.

Jan. 3, 2003: Modesto police ask public for help verifying whereabouts of Scott Peterson in days before Christmas. In Berkeley, police spend hours combing waters near marina.

Jan. 14: Authorities and friends expand search to Southern California.

Jan. 17: Laci Peterson's family and friends hold news conference to demand Scott Peterson tell authorities everything he knows about the case.

Jan. 18: As suspicion of Scott Peterson grows, authorities investigate his whereabouts in connection with the disappearance of a San Luis Obispo woman in 1996, when Scott and Laci Peterson lived there. Authorities later determine he had nothing to do with the second missing woman.

Jan. 19: Scott Peterson brings search for missing wife to Los Angeles, where he and his family distribute fliers to volunteers at a hotel.

Jan. 23: Laci Peterson's family says Scott Peterson told authorities he had been involved with another woman.

Jan. 24: Amber Frey, a massage therapist from Fresno, comes forward and confirms she had a romantic relationship with Scott Peterson.

Jan. 28: In a televised interview, Scott Peterson admits he had a relationship with Frey and says he told his wife about it. "It wasn't anything that would break us apart," he says.

Feb. 5: Laci Peterson's family steps up their criticism of Scott Peterson, saying he sold his pregnant wife's car and considered selling the couple's house.

Feb. 10: Laci Peterson's expected due date.

Feb. 17: Scott Peterson's mother, Jackie, tells The Associated Press her family believes kidnappers abducted Laci Peterson with intentions of holding her captive until she delivered the baby.

Feb. 18: Authorities issue a search warrant for the Petersons' home in Modesto, where they remove possible evidence and take measurements.

March 6: Modesto police officially declare the case a homicide.

March 12: Authorities search San Francisco Bay again.

April 14: The body of a woman and a male fetus that washed ashore in Richmond, Calif., are found.

April 18: Police in San Diego arrest Scott Peterson, who is found carrying a large amount of cash and his brother's passport. Attorney General Bill Lockyer says bodies found in Richmond are those of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.

April 21: Scott Peterson pleads not guilty to charges of murdering his wife and unborn child. Laci's family holds press conference thanking public for support since their daughter's disappearance.

April 25: Stanislaus County District Attorney James Barzelton announces he will seek the death penalty against Scott Peterson.

April 28: Laci's father, Dennis Rocha, in a televised interview, describes difficulties his family has faced since Laci disappeared. “We'll never be the same without Laci,” said Rocha. “It took a big chunk out of us.”

May 2: Scott Peterson hires high-profile attorney Mark Geragos to take over his case.

May 4: Thousands of people flood Modesto's First Baptist Church for Laci's memorial service.

May 9: Judge Al Girolami seals court papers containing evidence police used to obtain warrant to arrest Scott Peterson and conduct another search of his home. News media learn investigators tapped Scott Peterson's phone, two weeks after Laci's disappearance.

May 15: Laci's autopsy is completed and sealed.

May 16: Peterson's lawyers go public with theory that “Satanic” cult kidnapped and murdered Laci.

May 19: Frey hires hot-shot attorney Gloria Allred.

May 22: Police search San Francisco Bay again. Peterson's lawyers claim to have located “mystery woman” who can prove Scott Peterson's innocence.

May 27: Peterson appears in court with a new haircut. Prosecutors ordered to provide Scott Peterson's attorneys with three recordings of wiretapped phone calls.

May 29: Statement is released indicating Laci's family has hired attorneys to retrieve wedding dress, baby crib and other personal belongings from Peterson's Modesto home.

After reports from Laci and her unborn son's autopsy are leaked to the media, prosecutors reverse their decision and ask for autopsy reports to be made public. Leaked information reveals Laci's fetus was found with plastic tape around neck and major gash on torso.

May 30: Girolami orders autopsy reports to remain sealed on grounds they could hamper investigation. Girolami orders end to autopsy leaks. Laci's friends and family remove personal items from her home against wishes of Peterson family.

June 2: The defense team indicates it is searching for a man named "Donnie" as the possible killer, and says the man may be linked to a mysterious brown van spotted in the area of the Petersons' house on Dec. 24.

June 4: The Stanislaus Co. D.A.'s office says it has found the brown van. Prosecutors examine it and decide is has no connection to the case the defense team inspects it as well.

June 6: In rare show of emotion, Scott Peterson appears to cry as judge decides to keep autopsy reports of his slain wife sealed. Girolami denies request to issue gag order on lawyers involved in case.

The same day, a celebrity-photograph broker offers nude pictures of Amber Frey to the highest bidder.

June 12: Girolami issues a gag order preventing lawyers, police officers and potential witnesses from discussing the Peterson case in public. The same day, Judge Roger Beauchesne rules that search warrants and police documents related to the case should be made public, but delays their unsealing until July 8 to allow for further appeals.

June 15: A fellow inmate tells The Modesto Bee that Scott Peterson had been receiving fan mail in jail, mostly from women.

June 16: Geragos asks that Girolami's gag order be lifted on the grounds that Frey's attorney, Allred, had already violated the order without penalty.

June 26: Judge Girolami postpones Peterson's preliminary hearing until Sept. 9 after prosecutors say witnesses would not be available for the previously scheduled date of July 16.

July 9: Girolami allows journalists to listen to their own wiretapped interviews with Scott Peterson.

July 24: Girolami allows the defense team to conduct its own examination of the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.

July 30: A state appeals court rules the Peterson search warrants remain sealed.

Aug. 5: The defense claims Scott Peterson turned down an offer by the Stanislaus Co. D.A. to exchange a promise not to seek the death penalty for a confession.

Aug. 14: Girolami rules that the public and the news media will be allowed to attend the preliminary hearing.

Aug. 18: Girolami rules that news cameras will not be allowed inside the courtroom during the preliminary hearing.

Aug. 22: The Stanislaus Co. coroner announces that the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son have been released, but does not say to whom. Later that day, sources tell Fox News that Scott Peterson had admitted, then denied, involvement in his wife's disappearance in a wiretapped telephone conversation with his then-girlfriend Frey.

Aug. 29: Laci Peterson and her unborn son are buried in a private ceremony.

Sept. 2: Girolami reschedules the preliminary hearing from Sept. 9 to Oct. 20 to allow the defense more time to gather evidence.

Sept. 21: The Fresno Bee reports that a jailed inmate told investigators Scott Peterson had met with him in Fresno in Nov. 2002 to discuss possibly kidnapping his wife Laci. Peterson's family tells Fox News Scott and Laci Peterson were in San Diego at the time.

Oct. 15: Sources tell Fox News that telephone logs show that Scott Peterson called Frey hundreds of times after his wife's disappearance, contradicting his claims that Frey pursued him.

Oct. 17: Girolami reschedules the preliminary hearing from Oct. 20 to Oct. 28 to allow Geragos time to finish an unrelated murder trial in Los Angeles.

Oct. 24: Girolami reschedules the preliminary hearing from Oct. 28 to Oct. 29 to give the defense an additional day to prepare.

Oct. 29: The preliminary hearing is finally held. An FBI expert testifies that mitochondrial DNA tests had loosely linked a strand of hair found embedded in a pair of needle-nosed pliers on Scott Peterson's boat to Laci.

Oct. 31: Laci Peterson's sister testifies that Scott had told her he planned to play golf, not go fishing, on Dec. 24.

Nov. 3: A defense expert testifies that mitochondrial DNA tests — which cannot link evidence to a specific individual — are scientifically flawed.

Nov. 4: The defense suggests police planted evidence in Scott Peterson's home, truck and boat. His friends and relatives tell Fox News he had several affairs, which Laci was aware of. Fox News also learns Peterson's parents have raised $1 million to pay Geragos' legal fees.

Nov. 5: Proceedings are not held because Geragos needs to deal with a deadlocked jury in L.A.

Nov. 6: A police detective drops two bombshells in testimony — that Scott Peterson told Frey he was a recent widower on Dec. 9, 2002, two weeks before his wife disappeared, and that Peterson had a handgun in his truck when police responded to his missing-person report.

Nov. 12: Detective Al Brocchini, in testimony, admits he urged Scott Peterson's friends and neighbors, including Frey, to ask Peterson leading questions in hopes he would implicate himself in Laci's death.

Nov. 13: Detective Philip Owen testifies Laci's body was found in tan pants, as her sister testifies she had been wearing Dec. 23 Scott had said she was wearing black pants the next morning. Detective Brocchini testifies Scott drove to the Berkeley Marina three times in early January and looked out over the water, twice on days police were searching the bay.

Nov. 14: Fox News learns Geragos plans to subpoena Frey, one day after Allred announced the prosecution would not be calling her client as a witness during the preliminary hearing. Detective Owen testifies he ignored a tip that a woman resembling Laci had been seen walking a dog near the Peterson home mid-morning on Dec. 24.

Nov. 17: Prosecution pathologist Dr. Brian Peterson (no relation) testifies he could not determine Laci's cause of death Judge Girolami rules mitochondrial DNA analysis can be admitted as evidence.

Nov. 18: Girolami rules that Peterson will stand trial on double murder charges. Proceedings are scheduled to begin Jan. 26.

Nov. 26: Fox News learns Frey is pregnant by her boyfriend, a 43-year-old chiropractor.

Dec. 15: Geragos, citing a "lynch mob atmosphere" tainted against his client, files a motion for a change of venue to move the trial out of Stanislaus County.

Dec. 23: Geragos files argument to seek dismissal of both murder charges against Peterson, claiming Modesto police never seriously investigated other suspects or possibilities.

Jan. 8, 2004: Judge Girolami grants Geragos his change of venue, but does not specify where the trial will take place.

Jan. 13: Cal State Stanislaus students tell the Modesto Bee they faked data used in a regional opinion survey that Girolami cited as part of his decision to move the trial.

Jan. 14: A different judge rejects Geragos' motion to dismiss both charges against Peterson.

Jan. 20: Girolami rejects a prosecution request to keep the trial in Modesto County. He rules it will be held in suburban San Mateo County south of San Francisco. The county Hall of Justice in Redwood City is the likely venue.

Jan. 21: Retired Contra Costa County Judge Richard Arnason, famous for having presided over the 1970s trial of militant radical Angela Davis, is selected to preside over the Peterson trial. The prosecution asks for the trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 26, to be postponed for two weeks.

Jan. 22: The prosecution exercises its option to remove Arnason as the trial judge, claiming he would be biased against the state's case. The chief justice of the California Supreme Court is expected to name a new judge within a week.

Jan. 23: Jury selection, the first phase of the actual trial, is postponed by at least a week by Girolami as the state tries to find another judge to preside in Redwood City.

Jan. 27: Alfred A. Delucchi, a retired Alameda County judge, is appointed by the state's chief justice to preside over the Peterson trial.

Jan. 30: San Mateo County announces it will charge media outlets $51,000 each for reserved spots outside the country courthouse.

Feb. 2: Judge Delucchi bans cameras from the Peterson trial courtroom, and delays the trial by a week in response to a defense request citing Geragos' obligations to a murder case in Southern California.

Feb. 4: Vivian Mitchell, one of three people who told police they'd seen Laci Peterson alive in Modesto the morning of Dec. 24, 2002, dies of natural causes.

Feb. 5: The Peterson defense team announces it is ready for trial.

Feb. 9: Judge Delucchi rules witness lists and names of potential jurors in the Peterson case remain sealed.

Feb. 17: Delucchi rules the prosecution can use data collected from GPS trackers secretly placed in Peterson's vehicles.

Feb. 23: Delucchi rules defense will not be allowed to subpoena Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Wray Ladine about Ladine's issuance of a warrant allowing a wiretap of Peterson's phones. Delucchi also schedules jury selection to begin March 1.

Feb. 25: Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne rules Scott Peterson can sell his story for book or movie deals Judge Delucchi rules the trial jury will not be sequestered, and reschedules jury selection for March 4.

March 2: Judge Delucchi rules prosecutors can use evidence from wiretaps on Peterson's phones, and can introduce testimony that dogs tracked Laci Peterson's scent to the Berkeley Marina.

March 4: Prospective jurors begin filling out screening questionnaires.

March 9: Peterson defense says it may consider requesting a second change of venue.

March 22: Judge Delucchi allows Scott's pre-arrest TV interviews to be used as evidence opening statements in trial set for May 17.

May 27: Twelve jurors are selected for Scott's trial. The six men and six women, who appear to range in age from 20s to 60s, all said they would be willing to sentence Scott to death if he was convicted of killing his wife and unborn son.

Fox News' Paul Wagenseil, C. Spencer Beggs and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Laci’s Mother Lashes Out at Scott Peterson

The jury that will decide whether convicted murderer Scott Peterson should live or die heard Tuesday from Laci Peterson’s grieving relatives, including her mother, who glared at the defendant through tears and screamed, “Divorce is an option, not murder!”

In opening testimony in the trial’s penalty phase that had at least eight jurors wiping away tears, Sharon Rocha, Laci’s mother, choked back sobs and said, “I miss her. I want to know my grandson. I want Laci to be a mother. I want to hear her called ‘Mom.’ ”

Peterson remained expressionless while spectators, including sheriff’s deputies, members of the public and seasoned court watchers, sat teary-eyed.

The jury, which convicted Peterson earlier this month of first-degree murder in Laci’s death and second-degree murder for killing the couple’s unborn son, is expected to begin sequestered deliberations as early as Friday on whether he should be executed or sent to prison for life without parole.

Laci Peterson, 27, disappeared Dec. 24, 2002, about a month after her husband began an affair with Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey.

The headless and limbless body of Laci and her fetus were found about four months later, washed up on the rocky shores of San Francisco Bay, near where Peterson had told police he had been fishing on the day she was reported missing.

Rocha did not give her own opinion of the death penalty. But with her former son-in-law seated about 10 feet in front of her, she turned to the defendant and said, “Laci had motion sickness, and you knew that. That’s why you dumped her into the bay. You knew she’d be sick for eternity!”

Rocha also spoke about the confusion, anger and emptiness the family has felt since her daughter disappeared.

“On the first Mother’s Day after she was killed, I laid on the floor and cried most of the day,” Rocha said. “Because she should have been there, and should have been a mother also. That was taken away from her.

“She gave me a picture of the sonogram it’s the only picture I have of the baby, and it was taken on Dec. 14,” Rocha recalled. “The next day, Dec. 15, was the last day I saw her.”

For the next 116 days, Rocha waited, not knowing where her daughter was, or if she’d ever come home. Yet, Rocha said, she managed to appear at news conferences and “beg for whoever had her to bring her home, let her go.”

Referring to Peterson, she added, “There was someone who knew and didn’t tell us. Instead, you let us go through this every day.”

While authorities and friends searched for Laci and organized candlelight vigils for her, her husband was continuing to woo Frey, showering her with gifts and posing as a successful bachelor.

At her daughter’s funeral, Rocha said she could not shake the idea that Laci “was in the casket, and I knew the baby was there. And I knew she didn’t have arms to hold him.”

“She should have had arms and a head -- her entire body,” she said. “It just haunts me all the time.”

The dramatic testimony came after prosecutor David Harris gave a brief statement to the jury, saying death was “the only appropriate justice” for Peterson, 32, a former Modesto fertilizer salesman.

“When the defendant dumped the body of his wife into the bay, those ripples spread out and touched many lives,” Harris told the jury.

With Christmas just a few weeks away, Harris noted that for the family and friends of Laci Peterson, “their holidays will never be the same. There’s a hole in their hearts that can never be repaired.”

Tuesday’s witnesses -- Rocha, her boyfriend and Laci’s brother and sister -- focused on the aftershocks of her death rather than attacking Peterson’s character directly.

Robert Talbot, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said Harris’ opening statement foreshadowed the testimony that followed. The testimony “will focus on victim impact,” he said. “They could have gone after Scott.”

The defense postponed its opening statements until after the prosecution’s presentation. The defense is expected to begin calling its own witnesses today -- probably relatives and friends of Peterson. The presentation could last three days.

Criminal trial experts speculated that lead defense attorney Mark Geragos had his work cut out for him.

After listening to Tuesday’s witnesses, who recounted Laci’s “vibrant personality” and “big, beautiful smile,” legal expert Jim Hammer shook his head and said, “Sharon Rocha perfectly captured the essence of the prosecution’s argument: There are no more vulnerable victims than an unborn child and his mother.

“It’s a morality question inside that jury room right now: What would be the appropriate penalty?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m afraid Scott Peterson may die.”

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the jury that in addition to considering the circumstances of the crime and the defendant’s history and character, “you may also consider lingering or residual doubt.”

Geragos was expected to appeal to any doubts that jurors might have by arguing that there was no physical evidence linking Peterson to the crime. Throughout the trial, he emphasized that authorities never found a weapon and that there were no signs of struggle on the body.

When jurors walked into the courtroom and passed the defense table, they avoided eye contact with Peterson. He, however, looked at all of their faces.

Louis Sahagún is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. He covers issues ranging from religion, culture and the environment to crime, politics and water. He was on the team of L.A. Times writers that earned the Pulitzer Prize in public service for a series on Latinos in Southern California and the team that was a finalist in 2015 for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news. He is a CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California board member, and author of the book, “Master of the Mysteries: the Life of Manly Palmer Hall.”

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Opening statements in Peterson trial today

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — With Scott Peterson's trial set to begin in earnest this week, prosecutors have shown no murder weapon, no cause of death and no direct evidence that flatly proves Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci.

Opening statements in the highly publicized case are scheduled today. Jury selection lasted 12 weeks, and the trial is expected to last an additional five months or more. If convicted, the former fertilizer salesman from Modesto could face the death penalty or life without parole.

It is unclear what witnesses will be called because the list is sealed, and attorneys are working under a sweeping gag order. But it is clear that defense attorney Mark Geragos is working to create reasonable doubt in a case that California Attorney General Bill Lockyer early on described as a "slam dunk" for the prosecution.

Some observers now say the outcome is too close to call.

"This case from the beginning has been fraught with problems. The best thing the prosecution has going right now is all the adverse publicity against Peterson," said Los Angeles defense attorney Steve Cron.

Prosecutors plan to call hundreds of witnesses in what experts say is a circumstantial case. Defense attorneys have presented a list of just 18 witnesses, according to a prosecution filing last week.

"For the prosecution, it's like showing a piece of an elephant. You can't tell it's an elephant until you show another piece and another piece," said Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Because of the gag order, the public will likely be surprised by a lot of what comes out at trial, Cron added.

"But from what we've seen so far, I don't see this as a slam-dunk conviction by any means. I think he (Peterson) has a reasonably good chance of prevailing," Cron said.

Geragos, in fact, recently accused authorities of withholding evidence until just days before the trial that could exonerate Peterson.

In a motion alleging prosecutorial misconduct, the defense attorney claims authorities have known since days after Laci Peterson disappeared just before Christmas 2002, of a witness who saw the woman being shoved into a van by at least two men.

"The witness confirmed his sighting of a woman he identified as Laci and her two abductors," Geragos wrote, saying the account was just recently turned over to the defense.

It is likely Geragos will call the witness, a former reserve police officer, to testify.

There are others, Geragos claims, who also saw a suspicious van in the Petersons' neighborhood around the time Laci Peterson vanished.

Authorities allege Peterson, 31, killed his 27-year-old pregnant wife in their Modesto home because he was having an affair, then drove her body nearly 100 miles to San Francisco Bay and dumped it from his small boat.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and her fetus, a boy the couple planned to name Conner, washed ashore in April 2003. The site is a few miles from the Berkeley Marina, where Peterson told authorities he set out on a solo fishing trip on the morning of Dec. 24, 2002, that he says his wife vanished.

Prosecutors will use many of Peterson's nearly 3,000 telephone conversations that police recorded after his wife's disappearance. Likely among the most damaging, experts say, are calls between Peterson and his mistress, Amber Frey, who began cooperating with authorities soon after Laci Peterson vanished.

A 6-inch strand of dark hair found on Peterson's 14-foot boat also will be admitted. While the DNA technique used on the hair is not precise enough to provide a definitive match, it also didn't exclude Laci Peterson.

Defense attorneys have argued that the technique used to test the hair is flawed and that the hair isn't a match to Laci Peterson or, even if it is, it doesn't prove she was ever on the boat. Her family says she didn't even knew her husband had purchased the boat a few weeks before she vanished.

Police dog handlers will testify their animals picked up Laci Peterson's scent at the Berkeley Marina and followed it down a pier to the water's edge.

Electronic tracking of Scott Peterson's vehicles also will be submitted, showing that he visited the marina several times before the bodies surfaced.

Geragos has suggested that Peterson went simply to check on the search for his wife.

Peterson was arrested in April 2003, not far from the Mexican border. He was carrying $10,000 and his brother's driver's license and had dyed his hair blond.

Geragos has floated other theories, such as satanic cult connections, and that the killer could have dumped the bodies in the bay after hearing of Peterson's fishing trip account.

Talbot likened the trial to a race too close to call.

"The defense can mainly take comfort in the fact that they do not have a cause of death, and proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is very, very hard without that," Talbot said.

"What the defense has to overcome is if you look at the whole picture, any other explanation the defendant has for her murder isn't going to be very good . . . The cult idea, even that somebody dragged her into a van . . . I can't imagine that it's going to be really that strong with a jury," Talbot added. "There is a tremendous amount of suspicious behavior (by Peterson). . . . There are things that just can't be explained away."


Timeline: The Scott Peterson Trial

July 8: Prosecutors contend that Peterson stuffed the body of his pregnant wife in the toolbox of his truck to get it to San Francisco Bay undetected, doing a reenactment with a pregnant woman who matches Laci’s physical dimensions.

July 6: Witnesses who found the remains of Laci and Conner testify. The jury is shown grizzly pictures of the decomposed bodies. Geragos’ questioning focuses on the mysterious “tape-like” material found on Conner’s body.

June 30: The woman who introduced Scott to Amber Frey testifies that Scott never mentioned that he was married and later told her that his wife had died. She also says Scott turned the conversation to sex during their first meeting.

June 29: Brocchini testifies that he had spoken with a source of questionable credibility who claimed Scott had discussed how he would get rid of a body with him.

June 28: Geragos calls defense witnesses, trying to prove that the police investigation was botched and suggesting that three "dark-skinned" men, spotted in the Petersons' neighborhood around the time Laci disappeared, abducted and killed her.

June 24: Juror No. 5, Justin Falconer, is dismissed from the Peterson case by Judge Alfred A. Delucchi for creating a distracting media stir. Falconer attracted media attention on June 22 when he was caught on tape apparently talking to Laci's brother Brent Rocha at a courthouse metal detector.

June 22: Detective Allen Brocchini testifies that Scott was suspiciously calm, cool and relaxed when police responded to the missing person call. Brocchini also testified that police did a gunshot residue test on Scott's hands and said that Scott called the day after Laci's disappearance to ask if they were using cadaver dogs to search for her. Brocchini said he told Scott that police weren't looking for a dead person yet.

June 18: Prosecutors allege that Scott wanted a collection of jewelry bequeathed to Laci by her grandmother months before her disappearance. The collection was estimated to be worth $100,000.

June 15: Prosecutors call Modesto police officers to testify. Jon Evers, the first officer to respond to the missing person call, says that things in the Peterson house seemed strangely out of order. Officer Derrick Letsinger testifies that Scott threw his flashlight to the ground and muttered a curse word while the two were searching the grounds surrounding the Peterson house. Officer Matthew Spurlock testifies that Scott told him he had been fishing alone on San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve morning, nearly 100 miles away, but was unable to tell him what kind of fish he was trying to catch.

June 11: Modesto Police Sgt. Byron Duerfeldt testifies that he dispatched a detective to the Peterson home -- an unusual immediate response to an initial missing person report -- because he thought the situation sounded suspicious after hearing from the officers who responded to the call.

June 10: Prosecutors highlight two conflicting alibis Scott gave to police during the search for his wife.

June 9: Five members of Laci's family testify that Scott was emotionless during the search for his wife.

June 8: Sharon Rocha testifies that Scott began behaving strangely after he reported his wife missing.

June 7: Laci's half sister, Amy Rocha, testifies that her sister's marriage was, to her knowledge, harmonious and that she was active physically.

Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, testifies that Scott avoided friends and family as the frantic search for his missing wife got under way. Rocha also said that Scott seemed distant as the two of them searched a park near the Peterson home on the evening Laci was reported missing, ignoring a question about her possible whereabouts.

June 3: Prosecutors call witnesses who testify that Laci spent Jan. 23 preparing for Christmas with her family.

June 2: Defense attorney Mark Geragos blasts prosecution for building case around circumstantial evidence.

June 1: Murder trial begins. Lawyers make opening statements. Prosecution characterizes Peterson as acting shady during wife's disappearance.

Fox News' C. Spencer Beggs, Paul Wagenseil and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Scott Peterson murder trial begins

REDWOOD CITY, California (CNN) -- After three months of jury selection and motions, the trial of Scott Peterson, accused of killing his wife and unborn son, opened Tuesday with the prosecution pointing out inconsistencies in Peterson's behavior.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Rick Distaso presented a meticulous description of the neighborhood where the couple lived and the chain of events that he said led to the disappearance of a pregnant Laci Peterson the day before Christmas 2002.

Distaso also pointed to apparent inconsistencies in the 31-year-old man's behavior: Peterson told a neighbor and then a relative of his wife that he had been golfing that day, but told investigators that he had been fishing.

In addition, the prosecutor said, Peterson told investigators he had left his Modesto, California, house at 9:30 a.m., but his cell phone records indicate he was still at home then.

Prosecutors say Peterson -- a former fertilizer salesman -- killed his wife and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay.

Her body, and that of her fetus, washed up separately on the eastern shore of the bay in April 2003.

Peterson has acknowledged that at the time of his wife's disappearance he was having an affair with Amber Frey, who has told reporters she did not know he was married.

He looked away from photos of the two of them that were shown to the jury Tuesday.

Distaso said that when investigators confronted Peterson with the pictures he asked them, "Is that supposed to be me?"

Other photos visibly moved Laci Peterson's family.

One, a picture of the smiling, pregnant woman -- facing sideways to the camera -- moved her father, Dennis Rocha, to tears.

Peterson's family walked out of the courtroom apparently unimpressed with the prosecution's case.

"Same thing. Nothing new," Scott Peterson's brother said. "No evidence."

Prosecutors are expected to use wiretaps to attack Peterson's credibility, but the case against him is largely circumstantial -- no murder weapon has been found, and there is no clear cause of death or murder scene.

In court, Distaso played an audiotape of a telephone conversation between Peterson and Frey. It was recorded on New Year's Eve, after Laci Peterson was reported missing and the same night a community vigil was held for her.

In the call, Peterson tells Frey he's in Brussels, Belgium -- although he's in California -- and vows their relationship will grow. Photographs of Peterson and Frey at a Christmas party were shown to the jury. Photos of Laci Peterson attending an event alone the same night were also shown.

Peterson has denied involvement in the deaths. Instead, he said, he had gone fishing the day his wife disappeared.

Peterson could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.

Before opening statements began, Judge Alfred Delucchi addressed the six men and six women of the jury on their responsibilities in the case, which is expected to last well into the fall.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos was expected to say investigators ignored leads that would have led them to the real killer. He said Modesto police ignored witnesses who said they saw Laci Peterson in the neighborhood at the time a brown van was driving through the area.

About 10 members of Scott Peterson's family, including his parents, smiled but said nothing to members of the news media as they entered the courthouse.

Neither did Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha.

The two families were once close, but are now divided over whether Scott Peterson murdered his wife.

A gag order has been imposed to bar principals from talking to the news media about the case.

Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, but reporters are. A throng of them assembled outside the building hours ahead of the 9 a.m. (noon ET) start to ensure they got a seat.

About 30 of 100 seats in the building were given to members of the general public, who were selected by lottery.

Judge Delucchi last year ordered the trial moved to Redwood City from Modesto, due to intense publicity.

CNN's Ted Rowlands and Chuck Afflerbach contributed to this report.