Skip to comments.Evidence from bay prompts speculation in Peterson case
Posted on 09/16/2003 5:56:44 AM PDT by runningbear
Evidence from bay prompts speculation in Peterson case
Evidence from bay prompts speculation in Peterson case
By GARTH STAPLEY and JOHN COTÉ
BEE STAFF WRITERS
Published: September 16, 2003, 05:35:14 AM PDT
When authorities recovered Laci Peterson's remains on the shore of San Francisco Bay, they also found tape and clear plastic sheeting nearby.
The significance is unknown, given a court-imposed gag order on the double-murder case that prevents either side from discussing evidence.
But that hasn't prevented a host of theories from pundits, observers and experts on what the plastic may or may not mean. There appear to be equal numbers of scenarios presented that support the prosecution's contention that Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife and their unborn son, Conner, or that the Modesto man is innocent of the charges.
Connecting the plastic to Scott Peterson could bolster the prosecution's claim that he killed his wife on Dec. 23 or 24, when she was about eight months pregnant, and dumped her body in the bay.
But others argue that a link to Conner could cast doubt on that charge by suggesting that the boy was born before he was killed. Scott Peterson presumably wouldn't have had the opportunity to commit that murder because he came under heavy police surveillance soon after Laci Peterson was reported missing Christmas Eve.
A sizable bundle of the distinctive clear plastic with what appeared to be a length of black electrical tape attached to it was recovered 50 yards from Laci Peterson's remains and was forensically analyzed, according to a source. Results of those tests are not known.
A separate length of black plastic similar to roofing material also was found about 50 yards from the body. The objects appear to be among at least 31 items the defense has asked to examine after they were recovered from the East Bay and logged as potential evidence.
Conner's body was recovered with a thin circle of plastic tape wrapped 1 1/2 times around his neck, extending in another loop that resembles a bow knot.
A theory benefiting Scott Peterson's defense considers that as evidence of someone else's involvement, while others have speculated that the body became entangled in ocean debris.
Walkers found Laci Peterson's badly decomposed torso and lower body April 14 among the rocks at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline south of Richmond. The body was missing its head, feet and hands. The baby's relatively well-preserved body had been found the day before just more than a mile north in marshy grassland, about 15 feet inland from the shoreline, officials said.
A body in plastic would be expected to decompose slower than one exposed to the elements, said Harry J. Bonnell, a San Diego forensic pathologist.
State of body prompts theories
But there are several other reasons that the body of a woman would deteriorate faster if neither was wrapped in plastic, Bonnell said. They include:
Adult stomachs contain bacteria, "a large element in decomposition," Bonnell said, while the stomachs of fetuses do not.
Cold water preserves small bodies better. Adults have more fat, which keeps bodies warmer, allowing bacteria to break down tissues.
Predators like crabs and fish would be expected to seek large food sources first.
The plastic sheeting and plastic material around Conner's neck "may be just normal garbage in the bay," Bonnell said.
Other experts have speculated that the boy was expelled from the womb when the mother's body sufficiently decomposed. He would have been partially protected from predators while in her body.
The wad of clear plastic found near Laci Peterson's remains sports a logo for Target Products Ltd., a Canada-based company that manufactures items such as concrete, grout and stucco for use in building, mining and golf industries.
The polyethylene sheeting appears consistent with plastic commonly used to cover items on pallets.
Target has retail outlets in Sacramento, San ........
Is cult linked to Peterson killings?
In this May 21, 1990, file photo, Janice Keson reacts to the news of her daughter's death in Salida. BART AH YOU/THE BEE
Then-Deputy District Attorney James Brazelton, left, watches as defendants David Beck, Ronald Willey, Gerald Cruz, Michelle Lee Evans and Ricky Vieira are arraigned in connection with the Salida murders on May 24, 1990. BART AH YOU/THE BEE
Is cult linked to Peterson killings?
By GARTH STAPLEY
BEE STAFF WRITER
Published: September 14, 2003, 07:39:03 AM PDT
Before Scott and Laci Peterson, Stanislaus County had the Salida massacre.
Both cases have been colored with questions of ritualistic murder by Satan worshippers. Some are debating if the current high-profile proceeding could have a connection to the 1990 slaughter of four people in Salida.
Scott Peterson's legal team six weeks ago laid out a strategy relying on the theory that his wife, Laci Peterson, may have been kidnapped in Modesto and slain by Satan worshippers. She was eight months pregnant with a son, Conner, when she disappeared at Christmastime.
Sources close to the case say that in June, Peterson's defense team acquired a coat worn by a Modesto resident allegedly affiliated with an occult group. The man bragged about being involved in Laci Peterson's death, a source said.
The defense submitted the trenchcoat-type jacket for forensic analysis. The jacket bore an Oakland Raiders logo, had a downward rip from one side pocket, and had been torn and sewn in other places.
Also, authorities are consulting with Randy Cerny, a local expert on ritualistic crimes whom they directed not to speak to the media because he may testify in Peterson's proceedings, he said. Cerny had testified in the Salida killers' cases.
TV personalities such as talk show host Larry King and NBC reporter Dan Abrams have discussed a seeming similarity between the Peterson case and the one that shined regional attention on Salida in the early 1990s. The Salida case ended with three defendants on death row and two others with life sentences.
One survivor and two former cult members not involved in that massacre -- all three admittedly scarred by the butchery -- aren't willing to rule out a possible connection.
Some lawyers involved in the Salida case, however, and other experts scoff at the notion. They chalk it up to a trial balloon floated by Peterson's defense camp.
Observers may find out next month whether his attorneys will raise the issue in court. A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin Oct. 20.
However, such proceedings typically focus on the prosecution's evidence. Defense strategy often doesn't become apparent until the actual trial, which might be a year or more away.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and unborn son. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Deaths in Salida
Locals were horrified 13 years ago at the gruesome details of the Salida murders, committed by a paramilitary cult whose charismatic and sadistic leader had a deep interest in the occult.
"It was very serious, not just dabbled in," said former group member Angela Young of their unconventional worship. She broke away from the group before the murders, but her younger brother, Ricky Vieira, stayed and was sentenced to death.
Leader Gerald Cruz manipulated group members through bizarre activities that included indoctrination into various forms of the occult, sleep deprivation and brainwashing. At his direction, witnesses said, some members beat, raped and tortured each other.
Cruz eventually led his followers from their living compound in Salida to a nearby duplex where they bashed and slashed the occupants to death with baseball bats and knives. At least some of the victims were disassociated members of Cruz's circle.
Killed were Darlene Paris, 23, Frank Raper, 51, Dennis Colwell, 35, and Richard T. Ritchey, 25.
James Brazelton, a deputy district attorney at the time, steered the prosecution. A few years later, he became district attorney and now oversees the Peterson case, although his senior prosecutors are handling courtroom proceedings.
Sentenced to death in the Salida case were Cruz, now 41; his "enforcer," David Beck, 47; and Vieira, 34. Jason LaMarsh, 36, and Ronald Willey, 37, received prison sentences of 64 years to life. All remain under appeal.
A cult or just bizarre?
Their trials were sprinkled with testimony on the occult, including blood-letting rituals and black magic.
But many details were excluded from parts of the proceedings, sometimes because Brazelton protested, sometimes at the request of Cruz's lawyer.
In a recent interview, Brazelton said, "There was no evidence of any cult or rituals, though the defense tried to make it seem that way."
Cruz's Van Nuys lawyer, Seymour Amster, agreed, saying, "It didn't come out (in court) because it wasn't a cult murder in any sense, in my opinion."
Lawyers for Cruz's followers recalled things differently.
Ramon Magana of Modesto, who represented LaMarsh, remembers stories of rituals under the full moon at midnight along the Stanislaus River. Diaries and letters by group members made reference to desecrating graves, forced sodomy and beatings for disobedience, and even murder, Magana said, calling the writings "chilling."
"My recollection is that Brazelton wanted to focus only on the (Salida slayings) themselves," Magana said. "If the case got cluttered up with anything else, it might hurt his case."
Amster fought to exclude evidence of the occult from much of the proceedings, arguing that the group's worship was irrelevant to the quadruple murder.
Rituals, writings and sacrifice
Modesto attorney William Arthur Miller, who represented Willey, recalled many of the same things as Magana, plus allegations of animal sacrifice. He said group members listened to heavy metal music just before the murders, and remembered talk of group members dancing at one point, as if in a ritual............
Peterson charges mirror '81 trial
Stockton attorney Douglas Jacobsen represented Jerry Bunyard in a 1981 trial when he faced charges of paying a friend to murder his wife and unborn child in 1979. Bunyard was the first person sent to death row under the state's fetal murder law. BART AH YOU/THE BEE
Peterson charges mirror '81 trial
By GARTH STAPLEY
Murray refrained from commenting on the Bunyard case
Published: September 13, 2003, 06:16:00 AM PDT
His wife was pregnant with their first baby, and he was having an affair. He killed her, and their unborn child. Jurors sent the unrepentant, 30-year-old husband to death row in what eventually was recognized as California's first test case of its fetal murder law.
Twenty-two years later, prosecutors are using the same law to seek the death penalty for Modesto's Scott Peterson, 30, if he is convicted in the slayings of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.
People vs. Bunyard generated little media interest when that grisly 1981 case was tried in Stockton.
"It's unfair to those who don't get the publicity," said Douglas Jacobsen, a Stockton attorney who represented Jerry Bunyard then. "It's like they're less worthy or something."
Bunyard's wife of three years, Elaine, a nurse's aide in Manteca, was days shy of delivering their baby girl in 1979. In anticipation of a stay in the maternity ward, she had packed a bag and kept it by the front door.
But Jerry Bunyard wasn't as excited. The good-looking, well- spoken carpenter had been carrying on with a Tracy woman and thought his wife would "take him for everything he had" if he divorced her, a witness said.
Enter Earlin Popham, a biker-type boyhood friend who had been helping the Bunyards build a home in Patterson. When Elaine Bunyard was alone in the kitchen, Popham broke an iron skillet on her skull. He then shot her in the head with a shotgun and tried to make the crime look like both a robbery and a suicide.
Popham later testified that his buddy had promised him $1,000 to kill Elaine Bunyard. Popham received a sentence of 25 years to life in exchange for his testimony against Bunyard.
California law requires special circumstances for a death sentence. They include multiple murder and murder for hire.
Murder-for-hire prosecution parameters still were evolving, so Stockton prosecutors chose to go after Bunyard for multiple murder. A 1970 law -- which resulted from the prosecution of a Stockton man who had killed his ex-wife's fetus -- makes no differentiation between children who are born and those who aren't.
Jacobsen doesn't recall any significance attached to the Bunyard trial as a test case for the fetal murder law. He does recall that prosecutors played up evidence that Elaine Bunyard struggled mightily against her attacker, as if "fighting to stay alive for her unborn child."
William Murray, who prosecuted the case, now is a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge and recently was appointed to the prestigious California Judicial Council.
Murray refrained from commenting on the Bunyard case, citing its pending status before the Supreme Court. Death sentences are considered on appeal until carried out.
The case was among the first the California Supreme Court considered under the fetal murder law. In a 1988 appellate ruling, Justice John Arguelles cited "the unique relationship between a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus" in rejecting Bunyard's claim that no one intended to kill the unborn child.
Arguelles cited "the Legislature's determination that viable fetuses receive the same protection under the murder statute."
Bunyard also had claimed that a death sentence for killing an unborn child was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that at the time, only four states allowed death for such a crime. The state Supreme Court rejected those contentions as well.
The same court since has upheld similar sentences, including the 1984 Halloween slayings of a San Jose woman and her unborn child by her former husband..........
(Excerpt) Read more at modbee.com ...
|Predators like crabs and fish would be expected to seek large food sources first.
SEC faults Geragos on client funds
By JOHN COTÉ and GARTH STAPLEY
BEE STAFF WRITERS
Published: September 18, 2003, 07:29:46 AM PDT
Scott Peterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos, faces civil contempt of court charges on suspicion of soliciting and accepting $50,000 from a client whose assets had been frozen by a federal judge in Rhode Island.
The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to have Geragos and George Buehler, another attorney from his Los Angeles-based law firm, held in contempt of court, according to documents filed last week in federal court in Providence.
Geragos denied wrongdoing and predicted victory. He suggested that federal officials, with whom he has tangled in the past, are trying to publicly discredit him and economically disable his client.
"We'll file the appropriate paperwork," Geragos said Wednesday, "and I expect they will withdraw their application."
Geragos is steering Peterson's defense against double-murder charges in Modesto. Authorities say Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Their bodies were recovered along the San Francisco Bay shoreline near where Scott Peterson said he fished alone the day his wife went missing.
Laurie Levenson, a law professor and director of Loyola Law School's Center for Ethical Advocacy, said the developments would have minimal impact on public opinion.
"People are going to use this to see what they already believe," Levenson said. "For some members of the public, they'll say, 'See, he's a slick lawyer. He can't be trusted.' Other people will think they're trying to throw mud on him."
But she noted the stakes are high in a capital murder case.
"You want to have as much credibility as possible when you go before the jury in a death penalty case," Levenson said. "Anything that distracts from your credibility is a serious issue."
The SEC also has asked for civil contempt charges against the Los Angeles accounting firm Laffer & Gottlieb, which authorities contend helped Geragos' firm and received $41,350 from a frozen credit account.
Geragos said the money was not covered by the judge's order.
He confirmed that he directed Buehler to seek payment from their client through credit cards and insisted that it's legal to do so. Banks provided the money in a line of credit; that source is not tied to the client's assets, Geragos said.
The SEC's allegations stem from a civil case brought in April 2002 against eight people, accusing them of swindling $20 million in a fraudulent investment scheme. They had promised investors returns of nearly 300 percent in 12 banking days, according to the SEC.
The group solicited $52 million from investors and returned $32 million, according to the SEC. Officials reported that the remaining $20 million was "misappropriated, transferred or lost."
Geragos' firm represented two of the defendants:
U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Litigation Rel. No. 18350 / September 12, 2003
SEC Files Civil Contempt Charges Against Law Firm and Accounting Firm for Violation of Asset Freeze Order
SEC v. Dennis Herula et al. (United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, C.A. No. 02 154 ML)