Captivated -The Trials of Pamela Smart
In 2014, an HBO documentary called – CAPTIVATED The Trials of Pamela Smart – was presented at several Film festivals where it received rave reviews. The film examined the media circus that the trial of this young woman became in 1991, in a small town of New England. It was the first gavel to gavel televised trial in the US and Smart happened to be the perfect high profile prototype: an attractive young lady at the center of a saga involving sex, video and murder.
We could say that the ideal formula for litigation TV was born and it was cause for celebration for the media who took out the cigars to welcome the birth of this very lucrative practice.
It was the most covered trial in NH history and came right after the Persian Gulf War was winding down on CNN and people were hungry for more sensationalized programming. This scenario featured teenager William Flynn’s tearful account, it had an attractive and unemotional attractive young widow and some taped conversations you could hardly decipher, which should have not been allowed at trial. It also had parents pretty mad at presiding Judge Gray for allowing the trial to become such a media sensation.
Captivated attempts to take a look through the lens of impartiality at what really happened in the case of Greg Smart who was murdered by 16-year-old Bill Flynn and his 3 conspirators after he engaged in a sexual affair with his wife Pamela Smart.
The media and public at large kept referring to Pamela as a teacher who had an affair with her pupil, but it was never the case.
At the time, she was a media administrator at the SAU media center. They never talked about the fact that innocent little Billy was also having an affair with another older woman, and was called Bill by everyone.
They renamed him Billy in the media and said that he was 15 at the time to make him sound like a juvenile even if their relationship was not illegal. They never introduced the boys’ criminal past because they were minors.
The movie director, Jeremiah Zagar, said about the case and Pamela Smart, ‘’It’s a trope’’. ‘’She fits into that trope. She is that Lady Macbeth, she is that Eve to that Adam.’’
“Ultimately, it’s about an intimate moment between a young woman and a young man, and we weren’t present at that moment,” he said. But, he believes he could show in his film that “there was a trial that seemed incredibly unfair, and incredibly influenced by the media.”
Zagar made the movie artificial-looking to remind viewers that he’s just a small part of the “storytelling apparatus.’’ He tried to illustrate how he cannot prove Smart’s guilt or innocence, but he can prove she received an unfair trial because of the media attention.
- She received a harsher sentence than the teenagers who admitted to actually murdering her husband and unlike them, she is not eligible for parole.
- Pamela Smart was found guilty because of a compelling narrative supported by images in the media.
- The media made a narrative about the narrative from a stolen image of Pamela Smart
- According to media and its viewers, Smart did not shy away from media attention, but they didn’t either.
- The novelist who wrote the book version of the movie To Die For confuses Pamela Smart with her main character. Nicole Kidman plays the role of Pamela in the film without having studied her or even met her.
- According to Pamela’s friends and family, the TV movie was also fiction. She was a hard working nerd and not a femme fatale. Helen Hunt simply played her character according to an image produced by media.
- The photos of Pamela in a bikini were shot by a girlfriend and she had to be coaxed into taking them for a modeling contest. They were never meant to entice the teenager.
- The teenagers were housed in the same prison pod so could have easily concocted their story to get a deal. The only one who was housed in a different cell block told a different tale, and to this day, is told in no uncertain terms by authorities not to talk about the case. They were caught laughing and high fiving after testimony. When first caught, they denied her involvement.
- One of the jurors who recorded her thoughts every night (sic) thought Flynn’s testimony was disingenuous.
- Cecilia Pierce who was wiretapped to entrap Smart signed a $100,000 option for the screen rights to her story. What was omitted from the narrative of the case is that Smart’s attorney had warned her of the fact that Cecilia would tape her and she willingly and stupidly talked to her to get her to spill some information.
- And to add insult to conspiracy, Pierce’s uncle was mysteriously released from prison after she accomplished this task. The tapes should have never been admitted as evidence. You could not hear properly what they said or at least, hear the words in context.
- Click here to read about the tapes and Smart’s state of mind at the time.
The image of Pamela Smart was created by the media and basically became a successful patent. It was an identity theft that ended up costing Smart a lot more than if she had been unknown. Without the wide coverage of her case, she probably would have received a lighter sentence and might even have been exonerated. We will never know.
That media persona followed her in prison where she was attacked by two inmates and ended up with a fractured eye socket and other injuries that caused permanent damage.
The eye socket damage left her with no sensation on that side of her face and plastic surgery required installing a metal plate because of the horrible beating .
The rumor is that she was attacked for snitching on two inmates’ relationship, but whatever the case is, nothing justifies this type of beating.
One guard took semi-nude photos of her that he sold to Playboy and she claimed to have been raped. I doubt anyone would have paid so much attention to her, if not from the publicity surrounding her case.
Smart received over $23,000 compensation for the nude photos and she is now well-respected in prison where she tutors other inmates. She has earned a Master’s Degree in the Science of Law and a Master’s of Arts while incarcerated. The real Pamela Smart has emerged and has been exemplary so why wouldn’t she be allowed the possibility of parole? She was a young woman at the time and she didn’t pull the trigger. She is still hoping for a reconsideration of her sentence and the high-profile nature of her trial renders it impossible.
Bill Flynn, who allegedly committed the murder is part of a work-release program and will be paroled in 2015.
His co-conspirator Patrick Randall was paroled in 2005, Vance Lattime will be eligible for release as early as June 2015 and Raymond Fowler was paroled in 2003, but sent back to prison in 2004 for violating his parole terms. He was paroled again in June 2005.
From all accounts, Pamela Smart was very responsible at work, but her level of emotional maturity was meager. At the time, she was a skinny, hyper girl who was prescribed a very high dose of Prozac and had just learned that her husband was unfaithful.
She should also get a chance, but her notoriety and the fact that she claims her innocence will keep her from being paroled. I don’t know if she was innocent or guilty, but her trial by media was totally unfair. The means do not always justify the ends. Click here to listen to a very informative podcast interview with Pamela’s mother.
“A superb example of the form” – Anthony Kaufman, SundanceNow
“A fascinating and haunting meditation on America’s flawed justice system” – VICE
Check Pamela Smart’s website
Scott Peterson recognizes in his appeal that he was not entitled to a perfect trial, but he obviously was entitled to a fair one. This is why an objective documentary should also be made about his trial by media.
On December 3, 2003, he was charged with the murder of his wife and their unborn child by the Stanislaus County District Attorney and like Pamela Smart, he pleaded not guilty.
Click here to read about Trial by Fury, a documentary recently presented at the Palm Springs Film Festival about the Scott Peterson’s case.
The media frenzy started on December 26, 2002, right after Laci Peterson was reported missing on December 24. Neighbor Amie Krigbaum called it a media ‘’feeding frenzy.’’ She reported that the entire block in front of the Peterson’s house was blocked off with media as well as satellite trucks and they did not budge for five months.
Eventually, a member of the media used a bullhorn and screamed “you murdered your wife, you murdered your child.” Random people would drive by the home shouting “murderer.” Neighbors were scared for their own safety.
A huge billboard was erected with the question MAN OR MONSTER and a local radio station was asking motorists and passers-by to call in to answer their question: Was Scott Peterson innocent or guilty?
Scott Peterson was not cooperative
Scott was extremely cooperative in the days following Laci’s disappearance and spoke extensively with police. He spoke with Detective Douglas Mansfield, Detective Craig Grogan, Detective Allen Brocchini, Detective John Buehler, Captain Christopher Boyer, Officer Jon Evers, and Officer Matthew Spurlock. He was repeatedly described as cooperative by Spurlock and Evers. Brocchini testified that Scott agreed to sit down with him and review what they had discussed already for hours.
Mansfield also described him as “very cooperative.” He allowed detectives to search his house and warehouse right away and without any warrant. He eventually balked at sharing with them when he realized they were making a case against him.
Scott Peterson was innocent until proven guilty
Even if Brocchini tried to say that he gave Peterson the benefit of the doubt, Greg Reed, who was a friend of Laci and Scott, was told by the police on the evening of December 24, that they already “had a good idea what had happened” in the case and they “thought Scott did it.”
Facts of the case
On December 24, 2002, around 5:15 p.m., Scott called his mother in law Sharon Rocha to check if Laci was at her house. She testified at the Preliminary hearing that she looked at the clock on the stove to confirm the time.
He proceeded to tell her that Laci’s car was in their driveway and their dog McKenzie was in the backyard with its leash on. She had not seen or spoken with Laci that day and suggested he call some of Laci’s friends to see if she was with them.
Scott called her friend Amy who described Scott as “panicked.” He then called some of Laci’s friends and went door-to-door in the neighborhood. Neighbor Amie Krigbaum described Scott as “very, very upset” and “distraught.” Laci’s friends Stacey Boyers and Lori Ellsworth described Scott as “upset” and “panicked.” No one had seen Laci.
Scott told detectives that on December 24, 2002, Laci got up around 7 a.m. and watched the Today Show. He got up about an hour later, and when he left, she was mopping the entry-way floor. The cleaning lady was at their house the day before, but they had a messy dog and expected visitors for brunch the next morning.
He mentioned that the Martha Stewart’s show she was watching discussed meringue and cookies, but the detective said it was false and used it to get wiretaps on his phones. In fact, at 9:46 a.m, Martha Stewart did talk about meringue and cookies on her show. He was falsely and conveniently accused of lying to justify recording his conversations.
Scott then drove to his warehouse to pick up the 14 foot aluminum boat he had purchased two weeks before. Once there, he checked his e-mail and cleaned up around the office. It was proven that he assembled a working tool called a mortiser and uploaded other tools in the back of his truck.
He then drove to the Berkeley Marina where he spent an hour in the water where he headed towards Brooks Island mostly to test his new boat. He had researched fishing in the bay on the Internet and had requested a two-day permit 4 days before, just in case. His fishing gear box was in the boat. The cops tried to say no fishing bait was found, but Scott was never a bait fisherman.
They made a big deal of Scott fishing when Laci’s step dad had done the same thing, the exact same day, but in a secluded location. Scott had owned several boats in the past so this purchase was no red flag. His decision not to play golf because it was too cold and go fishing instead was very reasonable and indicated no premeditation.
He hooked the boat back to the trailer at about 2:15 p.m. and headed back to Modesto.
He planned to meet Laci at home around 4:00 p.m. and they were going to head to her mother later on in the evening.
The Police investigation
As one of the searching officers, Derrick Letsinger forthrightly conceded, there were no signs at all of “foul play” in the house. Nothing was out of place and there was no smell of bleach or appearance of cover up. Even if the media was saying otherwise.
Right away, the detectives tried to find links to the crime having been committed on the 23, but nothing pointed in that direction.
Computer records from the Peterson’s home show that someone was on the internet between 8:40 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. on the morning of December 24, looking at a garden weather vane, a GAP pro fleece scarf and a sunflower umbrella stand.
While it is certainly conceivable that Scott was looking for these items, and also the sale of a golf bag, it seems far more likely that Laci was the one doing the search.
After all, as several prosecution witnesses noted, it was Laci who had a sunflower tattoo. Plus, Scott never even mentioned the computer to the detectives so it could not have been a planted alibi as he had no clue they would search it.
Police also found Laci’s curling iron out on the bathroom counter. The cleaning lady confirmed that when she cleaned on the 23, she put away everything on the bathroom counter.
While it is possible that Laci would have used the curling iron to curl her hair just before going to sleep on December 23, the more likely scenario is that she used the iron to curl her hair on the morning of December 24. Sharon Rocha told detectives that Scott told her he saw Laci curl her hair that morning and she ‘looked cute.’
This date is significant, and explains the prosecutor’s attempt to include December 23 as a possible date for the crime. Sometime after 10:30 on the morning of December 24, 2002, the Medina house across the street from Laci and Scott was burglarized so they wanted to eliminate the possibility of a link between the burglars and her disappearance because it did not fit their scenario of Scott being the guilty party.
Even if the state initially theorized that Scott killed Laci on the night of December 23 or the early morning hours of December 24, in closing argument, however, the prosecutor would concede that based on the evidence, he could not prove when the crime occurred.
In criminal cases, the state need not prove motive in order to convict, but prosecutor Rick Distaso took upon himself to explain why a man with no prior criminal history nor history of domestic violence would suddenly kill his wife and unborn child. His theory: Scott did not want to be a father, was strapped for cash and had a mistress. He wanted to be free and decided to plan his wife’s murder by buying a boat and looking at the currents to dump her in the bay.
When his wife and infant’s bodies were found on April 3, 2003, on the San Francisco Bay shore in Richmond’s Point Isabel Regional Shoreline park after a huge storm, they arrested Peterson right away and accused him of wanting to flee the country because he had changed his hair color and his car was full of supplies. They called it consciousness of guilt.
On January 9, 2004, the trial was originally filed in Stanislaus County. Prior to trial, Peterson had filed a motion to change venue alleging that prejudicial publicity about the case rendered a fair trial impossible in Stanislaus County, but the case was transferred to San Mateo county, only 90 miles away.
The Death penalty jury
The parties agreed on a jury questionnaire; after nearly 1000 jurors had completed their questionnaires, the results showed that 96% of potential jurors had been exposed to publicity about the case and of this group, 45% were willing to admit they had prejudged Peterson’s guilt. The state objected once again to another request for a change of venue and the court denied the motion.
Prospective juror after prospective juror was discharged simply because they wrote in their questionnaires that they were opposed to the death penalty. No questioning of these jurors was allowed even though every one of them also stated in their questionnaire that they would consider death as an option in the case despite their views on the death penalty. Instead, each of the jurors was discharged because in the court’s stated view, “if you don’t support the death penalty you cannot be death qualified.” A practice highly contested to this day.
The state admitted that his expert on the movement of bodies in water was not an expert in that field. The dog scent evidence was highly prejudicial and one of the dogs had a dismal record of being wrong 66% of the time when he was tested or used. The fact that ‘Merlin’ the scent dog became the star of the National Enquirer’s articles should be enough to indicate it was a farce.
Another dog named Twist showed no interest for the boat. The dogs traced Laci’s scent to the marina, but not to the warehouse or the boat. That makes no sense if the theory of the state is that she was transported in the boat to the warehouse and then, the marina.
The state bet its case on these experts, telling the jury that if they were believed, Scott was a murderer.
In this respect, Peterson states in his appeal, that in the context of the evidence before the jury, the significance of these experts to the outcome of this case cannot be overemphasized. The facts of the case provided to the Court illustrate how in his legal opinion, the evidence was really erroneous.
Chain of guilt or chain of fools
According to Peterson’s appeal, virtually every link in the state’s evidentiary chain of guilt was fundamentally flawed. It was not just that the state failed to establish the time, place and cause of death, or manner of death for that matter because it could have been an accident followed by a cover up, it also stipulates that the evidence the state claimed conclusively established Scott’s guilt was simply unreliable, and should never have been admitted in this capital trial.
Real or imagined evidence
- Concrete at Scott’s warehouse: Rather than rely on fictive descriptions of the photographs of the concrete dust, the actual exhibits given to the jury are the best indicator of the soundness of this evidence. It is fair to say that the circular spaces the prosecution saw on the trailer bed are hardly distinctive in appearance, and looking at the photographs of the trailer, it is difficult to make out any circles rather than simply a collection of concrete detritus. Anyone who has mixed even a small quantity of concrete knows how messy it is. Moreover, Phelps, a competitor of Scott’s told the police that he had seen fence posts and concrete on Scott’s trailer in September. Greg Reed, Scott’s friend, told police that Scott had been doing concrete work in his yard in September.
- Container to make anchors: The container thought to be the one used by Scott at the warehouse to make the anchors turned out to be the wrong size. They never found any suitable container.
- Cement used in Scott and Laci’s driveway: The prosecution expert said the cement missing from the bag found at the warehouse could not be used in the driveway as Peterson suggested, but the defense expert testified it was the same type and he happened to be the one who taught the prosecution expert his trade. So I would defer to his expertise in this instance.
- The burglary across the street from Scott and Laci: The Medina house across the street was burglarized on December 24, the same day Laci disappeared. According to a declaration which the state itself prepared, several weeks after Laci’s disappearance, Lieutenant Xavier Aponte who was a guard at the California Rehabilitation reported a call he had monitored between inmate Shawn Tenbrink and his brother Adam Tenbrink. During the call, Adam’s friend, Steven Todd, admitted Laci saw him burglarizing the Medina home on December 24, 2002. Aponte said he taped this conversation, but then lost it.
- If Laci saw Todd burglarizing the Medina house after 10:30 on December 24, then Laci was alive when Scott left that morning and can only be innocent. The fact that the tape got lost is very troubling.
- Neighbor Diane Jackson told police she saw the Medina burglary on December 24. She saw three men outside the home removing a safe. In front of the house she saw a van which she described as “an older model tan or light brown.” Detective Cloward also received a call from Tom Harshman reporting that on December 28, 2002, he saw a woman fitting Laci’s description urinating by the side of the road next to a van and then being pushed into the van. Farfetched maybe, but reality is often stranger than fiction.
- Maybe coincidental that the conversation is lost and the house was burglarized at the same time, but the detectives were eager to say it had nothing to do with Laci’s disappearance.
- Click here to read the letter of Congressman William Dannemeyer.
- The Croton watch: an expensive Croton watch inherited from her grandmother was never found after Laci vanished. A similar watch was pawned at a shop in Modesto on December 31, 2002. The pawnshop slip included a thumb print of the person who pawned the item and it did not belong to Scott. The state never sought the watch and the defense was unable to recover it because the pawnshop did not comply with the subpoena and the person who bought it refused to sell it back.
- McKenzie the dog was found too early for Laci to have met foul play: After the neighbor found McKenzie, she put it in the Peterson’s backyard. Servas herself admitted that she did not check to see if anyone was home, and heard raking sounds like if someone was gardening. Not only could Laci have simply been in the house at the time or in the garden, but Servas herself conceded that she had found McKenzie out loose in the neighborhood on prior occasions. Of course, this witness’ admission that she had found McKenzie outside on other occasions undercuts any suggestion that the dog being outside meant that Laci Peterson had already been killed.
- Scott left home at 10:08 a.m. instead of 9:30-9:45: The Brighton tower cell phone times used by detectives were way out of sync with times provided by other witnesses — by 22 to 30 minutes. If we rely on the tower cell phone times, we also have to accept that Scott called 911 six minutes after he met Officer Evers in the park, and that he called Sharon the 1st time at almost the exact same time that she is already in a car on her way to the park to look for Laci.
- Scott and Laci were in financial trouble: A close look at their finances by certified public accountant Marty Laffer showed that Scott and Laci spent less than they earned each month. In fact, he noted that they paid extra on their mortgage each month. Prosecution witness and TradeCorp accountant Jeff Coleman testified that Scott was set to receive a monthly raise from $5,000 to $5,300-$5,350 in January 2003. And Laci was due to inherit a sizable amount within a few years.
- Scott lied about his affair with Amber: Scott had lied before about affairs and Laci knew it. Amber had a young child so why would he leave his family to hook up with a single mother if he wanted his freedom? She was a distraction and he constantly lied to her also. He obviously did not want Amber to hear about his missing wife. They greatly exaggerated the fact that he talked to her before a vigil. This evidence can cut both ways. Either he wanted to keep Amber and was lying to her or he wanted to keep his wife and was afraid her family would find out about his affair. So it is not a flattering quality as a husband, but it did not indicate that he killed his wife.
- Scott lied about his hair: As mentioned by Mark Geragos in his latest book, Scott never said the pool changed his hair color to blonde. Instead, he said that he had colored it and the chlorine made it turn orange. Can you blame the man for wanting to change his appearance and grow a goatee when the media and the public are hounding him? I think most people would have done the same in similar circumstances.
- Scott was fleeing to Mexico: Totally unfounded and unproven. When he was arrested, Scott was going to play golf with his father and brother and the reservation was already made for all of them. He had his brother’s ID because he was getting a discount. He never was driving towards the border. His mom testified about the cash money he had in his possession and the fact that the police kept seizing his cars so he took this one and basically had no home and was living with his belongings in his car. He was making a payment on a truck that the authorities had since four months. He had gone to Mexico six weeks before, on a business trip, and came back. The police always knew exactly where he was. At trial, the defense played a taped conversation between Scott and his older brother Joe during which Scott says that it’s better if he doesn’t go play golf with them because he is being followed by investigators and doesn’t want his picture in the press again. After his brother tells him he will be praying for him, Scott says ‘I could cry for hours.’
- Scott had Viagra and ordered porno channels: In cross-examining the EchoStar cable manager at trial, Geragos pointed out the channels Peterson selected were legal and noted that even the satellite company characterizes the programming as “adult content,” not “pornography.” Sex is often an outlet and does not in any shape or form infer murder.
- Scott did not show emotions: the same thing was said about Michael Morton who was eventually exonerated. This does not mean anything and should never be taken into consideration.
- Witnesses who saw Laci: There were quite a few solid leads and witnesses who told police they saw Laci. Her appearance and her dog were quite distinctive, but the prosecution alleged it was a case of mistaken identity and produced a few women at trial who did not look like her and had a different breed of dog as an excuse to justify ignoring these tips.
- Vivian Mitchell saw Laci and her dog pass by on the morning of December 24. She said, ”I had seen Laci walk by the house several times before. When she walked by on Christmas Eve, I hollered to Bill, Oh look, it’s the lady with the golden retriever.” She was shamelessly ignored by the cops and reporters like Nancy Grace who was canvassing the neighborhood to find anyone willing to say something negative about Peterson and reaffirm that the neighborhood was ‘safe’ in spite of the constant problems reported by local residents. She died before the trial, but her interview with ABC was very compelling. Click here to read it. Homer Maldonado also remembered clearly seeing Laci on December 24 between 9:45 and 10 a.m. ”There’s no question it was her, I said to my wife, did you see that woman? She was really pregnant and having trouble with the dog.” The couple also remembered seeing a tan van at the gas station.
- Click here to read about all the witnesses who reported seeing Laci.
- Laci did not have the energy to walk her dog anymore: Disproved by friends and her mother. She was walking her dog because of her concern with weight gain. Laci walked for hours in San Diego when she visited her in-laws before the tragedy.
- The clothes Laci was wearing: Laci was found dressed in different clothes than what Scott described her wearing before he left the house that morning. Why would he lie about it if he killed her and prepped her up? And all sightings described her wearing different clothes or colors. Clothing is a very unreliable method of identification.
- Scott wanted to sell Laci’s car and the house: Laci had complained that her car was very unreliable. They were looking at new cars the week before in Carmel. Laci wanted a safer car for her baby. The police took his car. If Scott thought his wife was abducted from the house and the press was camped there, selling it would be the normal reaction. They kept seizing his cars so he needed money for expenses and for an attorney. Where was he supposed to get it? If Laci was found, I doubt she would have minded these details, and the car was under Scott’s name.
- Scott bought a boat without telling anyone: Laci knew about the boat he bought under his real name and address and paid for with cash he took out from their joint account. At the time, he could have picked other options that were either cheaper or non registered, but picked a smaller and more expensive boat because it was equipped for fishing. Laci was seen visiting the warehouse so it was not a hush purchase. Brocchini made sure to remove this detail from his official notes when the neighbor told him he saw Laci at the warehouse when the boat was there. The detective tried to make this purchase sound very sinister when in reality, it was not. Scott did not research currents in the bay because in fact, the page appeared only a few seconds while he was browsing for other information on the Internet.
- The Insurance Policy and blood evidence: Detectives Buehler and Brocchini met with Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski and showed them pictures of Amber Frey with Scott and told them that Scott had taken out a $250K life insurance policy on Laci in the summer after she became pregnant. Detectives Grogan and Owen went to San Diego the same day to give similar news to Lee Peterson. They also told the Rochas that they believed Scott was responsible for Laci’s disappearance and that there was blood evidence. Brocchini knew the information was not true and he was aware that the Policy was purchased in April 2001, nearly 20 months before Laci’s disappearance at the request of their mutual friend and it was on each of them. They did that when they bought the home. There never was any blood evidence.
- The pliers with Laci’s hair in it: It was found to be too rusty to have been used recently. They lived together so some of their tools were bound to have their dna, but an apology was presented at trial because the hair could not be identified as belonging to Laci.
- Scott’s tiny cuts on his hand: Were not found to be consistent with anything else than what he described. He did manual work all the time and was transferring tools in his truck and cut himself.
- Scott visited the bay when they were searching for Laci: He also visited several other sites they searched. If he took interest in the searches, doesn’t it show he cared?
- Scott made a whistling sound when Sharon Rocha told him the searches came up empty: It cuts both ways. It could have been relief she was not there. He knew by then they were trying to pin this on him.
- Detective Craig Grogan’s list of 41 reasons why Scott was guilty: Most of it was hogwash and gut feelings. Ordering fake diplomas and putting them on the wall is not a reason to be guilty. It was mostly a list of lies told by Peterson to avoid embarrassment and actions taken out of context Grogan tried to portray as evidence.
- The Amber Frey’s Tapes: I do not know how they could have expected a confession out of these conversations. Scott was stuck between a rock and a hard place and kept lying. He never admitted anything or offered any insightful information about the case. Amber could have stayed out of this and did not have to give a press conference. Her participation helped police inflame the public against Scott. If he was a lying cad and could cheat on his beautiful pregnant wife, they hoped the jury would infer that he killed her. The value of the tapes was prejudicial and not probative.
The demonstration video
The state’s theory of how the crime occurred which was that he dropped his wife from his boat in the San Francisco Bay while she was attached to 4 anchors was contradicted in a video made by the defense. It demonstrated it could not have happened without capsizing, but was not admitted by the Judge.
That same judge allowed the jury to try the boat and make an experiment to see if it was rocky, which is absolutely forbidden.
It is very difficult to even imagine Peterson carrying his pregnant wife in the truck and putting her in his boat before driving to the bay totally unnoticed. Imagine being in a small boat in full view, and trying to dump a dead body with 4 weights attached without alerting a living soul, capsizing or hurting yourself physically ?
More to the point, he was in very shallow water where a body would have been visible and sonar boats searched there for 4 1/2 months without finding Laci’s body. It really boggles the mind.
Not to mention that Peterson had never tried the boat he purchased and had no way of knowing if it would work properly and how it would react on choppy water.
Click here to see the defense video and read an in depth article about the reenactment and the cement anchor made by Scott.
According to the prosecution expert, one of the bodies could have originated from the area where Scott took his boat, but he could not account for the trajectory of the other one. The fact that he was not an expert in body trajectory said it all. And it is really unlikely that the bodies would have traveled only 2 miles in 3 months.
The Guilt phase
- The opening statements in the guilt phase began on June 1, 2004.
- The state rested its case-in-chief on October 5, 2004.
- The defense rested its case on October 26, 2004.
- The jury began deliberations on November 3, 2004.
- On November 12, 2004, the jury found Peterson guilty as charged in count one (first degree murder) and guilty of the lesser included offense of second degree murder on count two.
- The jury found the multiple murder special circumstance true.
Peterson’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, explained that police had combed the Peterson’s home and the San Francisco bay without finding any evidence or clues.
Investigators had tested the boat, canvas boat cover and a tarp without finding any evidence of a crime and there were no signs of struggle in the house. He acknowledged that the work of the prosecution team was well done, but could in no way prove this case.
It was not the job of the defense to explain what happened to Laci, but it was the responsibility of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Laci was murdered by her husband in a premeditated fashion. But in spite of the fact that the scenario presented by the prosecution was full of holes and uncertainties, the jury still found Peterson guilty.
Geragos offered many scenarios to discount the state’s theory, but they were all dismissed.
The jury had been sequestered at a local hotel until the verdict and after listening to five months of testimony and a few days of closing arguments as well as lengthy instructions from Judge Alfred Delucchi, they found Peterson guilty of first-degree murder, leading to the death penalty instead of opting for guilty of second-degree murder, which could have meant 15 years to life for each crime.
Considering the media frenzy and the expectations of the lynch mob, it would have taken a very courageous jury to render a verdict other than first-degree murder with the death penalty as a perk.
Judge Delucchi in his instructions, had made it clear that you cannot judge a defendant according to his demeanor, but some of the jurors stubbornly (or maybe due to lack of understanding) ignored his order.
One of the jurors said, ‘’For me, a big part of it was at the end – the verdict – no emotion. No anything. That spoke a thousand words – loud and clear.‘’
Richelle Nice said, responding to a reporter’s question about whether they wanted to hear a statement form Peterson. ‘’I heard enough from him.’’ Meaning if Scott didn’t talk at trial, he was guilty.
Cardosi said he wanted some kind of reaction from Peterson. ‘’I still would have liked to see, I don’t know if remorse is the right word,’’ he said, ‘’He lost his wife and his child – it didn’t seem to faze him. While that was going on…he is romancing a girlfriend.’’
Jurors Richelle Nice, Cardosi and Gregory Beratlis admitted it was a circumstantial case, but the fact that Laci and Connor were found by the bay sealed the deal even if the dots could not otherwise be connected. Cardosi said there were not many other conclusions, but the jury is not supposed to speculate and find other scenarios. They are supposed to be emotionally detached and go only with evidence.
Most jurors were very critical of his affair. They blamed him for not protecting his wife and child, and some of them said it was difficult to put the pieces together, but they were swayed by his lies and the location where the bodies were found.
Once again, the jurors were not supposed to take this into consideration during deliberations. Their opinion stemmed from anger and not facts.
Richelle Nice was vitriolic in her comments, but never aware, as recounted by the bailiff, that Scott was vomiting constantly and quite upset, but kept it close to the vest in court.
Not surprisingly enough, she eventually wrote Peterson in prison and sold his letters to the media. In his reply, Scott showed concern for jurors who had to view graphic photos at trial.
Nice had lied in her jury questionnaire to make sure she would stand in judgment of Scott and is even mentioned in the appeal. The numerous letters she wrote to him after the verdict sounded obsessed and seemed to stem from her own experience of getting threats against her foetus from her husband’s ex lover.
She also did a stint in a psychiatric hospital after the trial because of mental illness. How amazing that the jurors wanted the first foreman kicked out when he was a stable physician/lawyer who wanted to go by the book, but even went as far as lending money to Nice so she could stay on the panel.
If the jurors were so bent on solving the crime and could not accept that Laci’s disappearance might remain a mystery or probably was a murder not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, I wonder why they did not ask themselves the following questions during deliberations:
Who would he tell his mistress he lost his wife if he intended for her to go missing?
Who would kill his wife on Christmas’ eve knowing full well it would be a big deal in the media?
Who would invite his wife’s sister to chill and eat pizza with them if a murder is planned for that night?
Who would not avoid the media knowing his mistress would be watching the news and could tell his family about the affair?
Who makes up a story about golf and going fishing at the same time if details were planned?
Who would admit to fishing in the Bay if he dumped a body there?
Wasn’t it very risky behavior for someone who supposedly premeditated a murder?
What if it was an accident or an unpremeditated act? He was supposed to pick up a fruit basket on the 24th and mentioned he would be playing golf the night before. What happened to make him change his plans? Probably exactly what he said; it was too cold to play golf that morning so he went on to try his boat. Premeditation would have meant plotting and sticking to a specific script ahead of time not to arouse suspicion.
Peterson was a fertilizer salesman and he knew the area extremely well. It would have been easy for him to dump her body somewhere on farmland and go play golf as if nothing happened. None of this really made sense and the defense raised a reasonable doubt.
The death penalty
That same panel chose death by lethal injection for Scott instead of life in prison, in spite of the fact that he had no priors and they could not find anyone to say negative things about him before this tragedy. He was considered a pretty decent individual before the cheating was finally revealed.
The minute she found out about Amber, Sharon Rocha came up with the fact that Scott said his wife was missing when he first called her, which she had never mentioned when first interviewed.
Lying and cheating on his wife shows poor character, but does not qualify a man for the death penalty. As hard as the media tried to portray him as a sociopath, it was never confirmed or corroborated in any shape or form by any of his peers or a mental health professional assigned to his case.
A crowd gathered outside the San Mateo County Courthouse broke out in cheers and many drank to the state’s victory when the verdict was broadcast. Almost like at a football game.
The jurors wrote a book and made money out of this tragedy. This case happened during an era when any book written about a high profile case paid astronomical sums of money. Laci’s mother made a small fortune with her book and donated a portion of it to the Laci and Conner Search and Rescue Fund.
Amber Frey, the so called mistress who dated Scott only a few times, made enough money with interviews and her book to buy a luxury home and open a spa (which she eventually lost).
Fairly recently, and just in time for Scott’s appeal, Amber’s father told the media that his daughter ”never gotten her life together after she testified against him.”
She was a single mother collecting child support from the wrong father when she met Peterson, and the poor girl never really had her life together to begin with. The windfall from the trial followed by some therapy should have been enough compensation for the pain she endured during this ‘ordeal.’
Frey went on to have a son with chiropractor David Markovich in April, 2004, and in 2006, married Robert Hernandez, a Corrections officer. Her lawyer, mouthpiece, and famous ambulance chaser, Gloria Allred, was invited to the wedding. She divorced Hernandez in 2008, and was sued in 2011 by Pedro Reynosa for breach of contract when he alleged Frey broke her promise to sign her name on a book and screenplay, which they co-wrote, in 2009. They collaborated on a book called “Memoirs of a Sex Addict”, and the play “Myths of the Flesh.”
Unsurprisingly, Frey herself has been granting media interviews since Peterson’s appeal is now on the forefront.
Scott’s half-sister also made quite a bit of money by selling her new found brother up the river. She gave up her relationship with her natural mother for cash. Her ridiculous claim that Scott drowned Laci in their pool was as unsubstantiated as the other assertions contained in her book.
She was entitled to her opinion, but to have published these allegations for money is beyond reprehensible.
This golden era of litigation TV was not very conducive to honesty and I strongly believe that it should be illegal for jurors to profit in any shape or form from the trial they were chosen to participate in. If this is not a conflict of interest, what is?
Peterson is still on death row at San Quentin State Prison outside San Francisco and his case is being appealed.
Pamela Smart and Scott Peterson did not get a fair trial. It is not my place to judge if they were guilty or innocent, but I can say with certainty that the media frenzy contributed to the distortion of their image and personality.
I would prefer to see some guilty people walk free than put one innocent in prison. The jury took the word of the teens in Pamela Smart’s case even if they had everything to gain by lying, and the jury in the Scott Peterson’s case decided that having a mistress, lying and going fishing if your wife ends up in the bay was too much of a coincidence. I have seen trials with way more evidence ending in mistrial, acquittal or second degree murder.
Without the media, I doubt that either defendant would have received life without parole or the death penalty.
They both had to walk in prison with a target on their back.
A huge price to pay to quench the thirst for blood of the rapacious media eager to fill its pockets while exploiting human beings at their most vulnerable.
Reporter Nancy Mullane got access to San Quentin to write about death row inmates, and ended up taking photos of Scott Peterson in his smaller unit (she said inadvertently) where he has to remain because he would probably be attacked or killed in the bigger unit so that some inmate can make a name for himself.
She used his name to promote her work and was invited on TV shows to bash Peterson instead of giving a voice to the condemned men living in that horrible and definitely not cushy place. You can read Tom Gogola’s excellent article about death row and the mention of Mullane’s visit and TV interview by clicking here.
The State filed its response to Peterson’s appeal on January 26, 2015 and his attorney has 60 days to reply. Next step will be oral arguments.
State Attorney General’s response. Filed January 26, 2015. Click here to read
Appellant’s response to State Attorney General’s brief. Filed July 23, 2015. Click here
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed on November 24, 2015. They finally go after Geragos! Click here
Trial Transcripts. Click here.