Calif. man arrested in death of wife, baby

Remains of Laci Peterson, her fetus, nearly full term, were found this week

April 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MODESTO, Calif. - Scott Peterson, the husband of a woman eight months pregnant who vanished on Christmas Eve, was arrested yesterday in connection with her death and that of their baby, the Modesto police said.

Peterson, who had remained largely out of sight in recent weeks while disavowing any connection to the disappearance of his wife, Laci, 27, was taken into custody at his parents' home in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego.

Developments in the case have moved rapidly since the discovery Sunday in the eastern San Francisco Bay of a dead fetus, almost full term, and about a mile away on the next day, the finding of the skeletal remains of a woman.

The remains were those of Peterson and her unborn child, Bill Lockyer, the California attorney general, said last night at a news conference in Richmond, on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

The bodies were identified through DNA matches, Lockyer said. Samples of DNA from Laci Peterson's parents were used to identify her, and a sample from Scott Peterson was used to help identify the child, he said. He added that the identification of the child as the Petersons' was well beyond the standard used in paternity cases.

The bodies were found near where Scott Peterson had told the police shortly after his wife's disappearance that he had gone fishing alone, about 90 miles northwest of his home here. He said that he had last seen his wife at home as she left to walk their golden retriever. Later, Peterson admitted that he had been having an affair with a woman and said his wife knew about it.

The Modesto police chief, Roy W. Wasden, told reporters last night that Peterson was in the custody of detectives from his department and was being transported to the Stanislaus County Jail.

Prosecutors said that Peterson was expected to be arraigned early next week and that he would be charged with capital murder. They said they would seek a special circumstance of double homicide, which could carry the death penalty upon conviction. However, they told the Associated Press that they had not decided whether they would seek the death penalty.

News of the arrest traveled swiftly in Modesto, the city of about 189,000 people where Peterson worked as a fertilizer salesman and his wife as a substitute teacher.

"It's a good thing - I believe he killed her," said Eddy DeBolt, 24, who works as a computer analyst. "I knew it the day she disappeared. I prayed for her. People don't disappear here. It's too small of a town. It's too close-knit."

Still, there were some who thought Peterson, 30, should not be judged too quickly.

"If you wanted to frame Scott Peterson, where would you dump the bodies?" asked Kim Butts, 22, a student at Modesto Junior College. "In the first place everyone was looking. I know he's acted suspiciously - I mean, who would leave his wife home alone on Christmas Eve? - but that doesn't necessarily mean he did it."

The condition of the bodies made identifying them extremely difficult, Manuel Valencia, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said yesterday morning in an interview before Lockyer's announcement.

Lockyer said the scientists had matched DNA found with samples obtained from Laci Peterson's parents but were unable to obtain matches from the hairs taken from her hairbrush. The laboratory had been provided with muscle tissue from both bodies, as well as a tibia from the woman and a femur from the fetus.

Neither the laboratory nor investigators close to the case would comment on reports that the woman's body was headless, which, if so, could explain why the scientists were not provided with a set of teeth, normally the starting point when trying to identify a decomposed body.

The disappearance of Peterson, who was one of about 35,000 people listed as missing by the state Justice Department, gained widespread attention in a town already known as the home of Chandra Levy, the Washington intern who vanished two years ago amid reports that she had been involved with Representative Gary A. Condit.

Levy was subsequently found dead in a Washington park. Condit lost a re-election bid in his Central Valley district, which includes Modesto.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.