Murder of Laci Peterson
|Laci Rocha Peterson|
May 4, 1975|
Modesto, California, U.S.
|Died||c. December 24, 2002 (aged 27)
Modesto, California, U.S. (presumably)
|Spouse(s)||Scott Peterson (1997–2002)|
|Children||Conner Peterson (fetal death)|
|Parent(s)||Dennis Rocha and Sharon Rocha|
Laci Denise Peterson (née Rocha; May 4, 1975 – c. December 24, 2002) was an American woman who was the subject of a highly publicized murder case after she went missing while seven and a half months pregnant with her only child. She was reportedly last seen alive on December 24, 2002. Her husband, Scott Peterson, was later convicted of murder in the first degree for her death, and in the second degree for the death of their prenatal son, Conner. Scott is on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Early life and marriage
Laci Denise Rocha was born in Modesto, California. Her parents, Dennis Robert Rocha and Sharon Ruth Anderson, met in high school and married shortly after graduation. Their first child, Brent Rocha, was born in 1971. Laci was their second child, born in 1975. Her parents separated after her first birthday. Dennis later remarried and had another daughter, Amy. Laci grew up visiting her father's dairy farm in Escalon, California, and she was a cheerleader in junior high and high school. After graduating from Thomas Downey High School, she attended California Polytechnic State University. At Cal Poly, she majored in ornamental horticulture. She hoped someday to open a specialty plant shop. While at Cal Poly, she met Scott Peterson at a small restaurant called Pacific Café in Morro Bay .
In December 1996, Scott and Laci became engaged. They later married on August 9, 1997, a few months before her graduation. For the first two years or so of their marriage, they delayed trying to have children, but she began to express an interest in starting a family. In December 2000, they decided to try for a pregnancy. Becoming pregnant took longer than expected, and on the verge of scheduling fertility tests, they conceived naturally in May 2002.
Disappearance and discovery of the bodies
Apart from Scott, the last two people known to have spoken to Laci before she disappeared were her half-sister, Amy Rocha, and her mother, Sharon Rocha. On the evening of December 23, 2002, Amy had cut Scott's hair, with Laci present. Later that evening, Sharon spoke with Laci on the telephone around 8:30 pm. Shortly after 10:15 am the following morning, a neighbor found the family dog, a golden retriever named McKenzie, running loose in the neighborhood, wearing a collar and a muddy leash. The neighbor then returned her to the yard. Laci's 1996 Land Rover Discovery SE sport utility vehicle was in the driveway, and her purse, containing her keys and cell phone, was on the table inside the house.
When Scott returned home from fishing that evening, he reportedly discovered Laci was not there. Some reports state he washed his clothes, ate some cold pizza, cleaned up the kitchen, and took a shower. Then, at roughly 5:20 pm, he called Sharon Rocha to ask if Laci was with her. When Sharon replied that she was not there, he said, "Laci's missing." Sharon later said that she knew in her heart something horrible had happened to her. He stated that when he left that morning, Laci was planning to buy groceries for their Christmas get-together and walk McKenzie in nearby East La Loma Park.[dead link]
Laci's parents called the police at 6 pm. A search of the park and surrounding areas immediately ensued. Police, family members, friends, and neighbors searched widely on foot, in all-terrain vehicles, patrol cars, and sport utility vehicles, helicopters equipped with search lights and heat sensors, water rescue units, search dogs, and horseback teams. Law enforcement agencies from several counties became involved. Police suspected foul play, doubting that she would vanish on Christmas Eve without contacting anyone. At a press conference, detective Al Brocchini said, "That is completely out of character for her."
A $25,000 reward was offered, later increased to $250,000, and finally to $500,000 for any information leading to her safe return. Posters, blue and yellow ribbons and fliers were circulated, and the original, basic version of LaciPeterson.com website was launched by a husband of one of her friends. Friends, family, and volunteers set up a command center at a nearby Red Lion Hotel to record developments and circulate information. Over 1,500 volunteers signed up to distribute information and to help search for her. Critics alleged that this was another example of missing white woman syndrome, and that similar cases (primarily that of Evelyn Hernandez) were being ignored by the media and the community. However, it was the immediate family and friends of her and the Rochas who organized the initial search and vigil for her; in the first two days, up to 900 people were involved in looking for her, before community officials or police directly participated in the search and prior to significant media coverage.
On April 13, 2003, a couple walking their dog discovered the decomposing but well-preserved body of a late-term male fetus on the San Francisco Bay shore in Richmond's Point Isabel Regional Shoreline park, north of Berkeley. Although a judge sealed autopsy results, an anonymous Associated Press source revealed that 1-1/2 loops of nylon tape was found around the fetus' neck and a significant cut was on the fetus' body. One day later, the body of a recently pregnant woman, wearing cream-colored maternity pants and a maternity bra, washed to shore one mile away from where the baby's body was found. The exact cause of her death was impossible to determine as a result of decomposition; the body was decapitated, both forearms were missing, the right foot was severed, and the left leg from the knee down was missing. Tape was found around the outside of her clothing on her lower torso as well. Later reports from the medical examiner revealed that there were injuries, two cracked ribs, that happened at or near the time of death. DNA tests verified that they were the bodies of Laci and her son, Conner. Mother and fetus had not been separated by coffin birth, as had been speculated. Rather, Laci's upper torso had been emptied of internal organs and that allowed the fetus to pass through a perforation in the top of the decomposing uterus. It is thought that the 1 1/2 loops of nylon tape became tangled around the fetus neck after he came out of Laci's decomposing body.
Investigation and trial
From the start, Scott was reluctant to talk to the press. At one point, he stormed out of a family press conference when reporters asked if the police considered him a suspect. Laci's brother, Brent Rocha, initially defended him, claiming that he was too distraught to make public statements about her, and added that did not mean he was involved in her disappearance. "No way," Rocha said. "Absolutely not." Although later, Rocha would recall Scott's use of the word "missing" seemed very frequent. Rocha says, looking back, he felt uneasy that Scott started using that word so soon.[dead link] Laci's family maintained Scott's innocence,[dead link] and volunteers said that he joined their efforts at the command center every day. Police delivered a major blow to the family when they uncovered pictures showing Scott with another woman. They also found that he was with her during a time that Laci thought he was on a business trip. (The dates on the pictures revealed this.) After this information came out, Laci's family called for him to be more forthright with them.
It was later revealed that Scott had numerous extramarital affairs, one of which Laci knew about. The most recent was with a massage therapist named Amber Frey, a single mother from nearby Fresno. The affair began after he met a woman, Shawn Sibley, on October 24, 2002 at a trade convention where he represented his company, TradeCorp. He told her he was single and "looking". He joked that he should put "Horny Bastard" on his name tag to help him meet women. Though Sibley was attached, she thought he would be a good match for Amber Frey, a friend of hers. Sibley gave Frey's contact information to him, who later called her on November 19 and met her the next day. After a month-long, whirlwind romance, she informed police of their relationship shortly after discovering he was a person of interest in Laci's disappearance on the local news, and agreed to phone him while police recorded their conversation. She informed police he told her on December 9, two weeks before Laci's disappearance, he was a widower and it would be the first Christmas without his wife.
Scott was arrested on April 18, 2003, in La Jolla, California. He was arrested in the parking lot of a golf course, where he claimed to be meeting his father and brother for a game of golf. At the time of his arrest, he was carrying $15,000 in cash, had four cell phones, camping equipment, a gun, a map to Frey's work place that had been printed the day before, the driver's license for John Edward Peterson (his brother), 12 tablets of Viagra, and many other "odd" items. His hair and goatee had been bleached blonde. The police took this as an indication that he had planned to flee, possibly to Mexico.
After a trial that ran from June 2004 through March 2005, on March 16, 2005, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi sentenced Scott to death, calling the murder of Laci "cruel, uncaring, heartless, and callous".
The death of Laci and her fetal son led to the United States Congress passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which is widely known as Laci and Conner's Law. On April 1, 2004, Sharon Rocha and her boyfriend, Ron Grantski, were in attendance at the White House when President George W. Bush, signed the bill into law. The law recognizes unborn children as legal victims if injured or killed upon a listed crime of violence.
Late in 2005, a Stanislaus County, California judge ruled that Scott was not entitled to collect on Laci's $250,000 life insurance policy, having been convicted of her murder. Under California state law, criminals may not profit from insurance policies. On December 19, 2005, the money was given to Sharon as the executor of her estate. The California Court of Appeal (Fifth District) later affirmed the trial court's decision on October 31, 2007.
In 2006, Sharon wrote For Laci: A Mother's Story of Love, Loss, and Justice, a biography and memoir about the life and death of Laci. All proceeds are used to fund the Laci and Conner Search and Rescue Fund, which she had founded.
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- David Wright; Don Gentile; Charlie Montgomery (6 January 2004). "SCOTT'S ALIBI DESTROYED - In Taped Interview with Police". National Inquirer. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
SCOTT: Um hum. But I took some pizza in there with me, started the shower.
- Gregg L. DesElms. "What's happening". LaciPeterson.com. Retrieved 2011-06-21.
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- Monte Morin; Dan Morain (19 April 2003). "Scott Peterson Arrested in Wife's Slaying". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
Four months after Laci disappeared from their Modesto home and days after her skeletal remains washed ashore in San Francisco Bay, federal and local authorities Friday arrested Scott near a La Jolla golf course.
- "Laci Peterson's Autopsy to Stay Sealed". Los Angeles Times. 8 June 2003. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
A judge ruled Friday that autopsy results for Laci Peterson and her unborn son would remain sealed
- "Autopsy: Laci Peterson's Head Was Missing". ABC News. 30 May 2003. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
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- Modesto Police Department News Release (24 January 2003). "RELATIONSHIP VERIFIED IN PETERSON CASE". City of Modesto. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
"Today, police officially verified a prior relationship between Scott Peterson and Amber Frey...Amber Frey contacted the Modesto Police Department on Monday December 30, 2002
- "New twist in Peterson case". Chicago Tribune. 7 November 2003. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
Two weeks before Laci Peterson was murdered, her husband Scott Peterson told his mistress that his wife was already dead and that he was about to spend his first Christmas without her
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Modesto police say they feared Scott Peterson was preparing to flee to Mexico when they arrested him on Friday
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- Principal Life Ins. Co. v. Peterson (Rocha), 156 Cal. App. 4th 676 (2007).
- Rocha, Sharon (2006). For Laci. Crown Publishing Group.