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3 More Women Testify at Peyer Trial About Long Nighttime Stops

January 26, 1988|H.G. REZA | Times Staff Writer

The parade of female witnesses who testified about their nighttime stops by former California Highway Patrol Officer Craig Peyer continued Monday, and each woman said that she stopped on the freeway shoulder only to be ordered by Peyer to drive down the darkened Mercy Road off-ramp at Interstate 15.

Prosecutors produced three new witnesses who spoke about their experiences with Peyer, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Atkins said that he expects to call two more women to testify Friday, when the trial resumes after a 3-day break, about other stops initiated by Peyer.

Progressing Rapidly

The trial of Peyer, a 13-year CHP veteran who is charged with the December, 1986 murder of San Diego State University student Cara Knott, has been progressing rapidly. On Monday, Superior Court Judge Richard D. Huffman said that the case should go to the jury in two weeks.

Since jurors began hearing about the nighttime stops on Friday, 20 women have testified about their detentions by Peyer in the summer and fall of 1986.

Several of the women said that they stopped beyond the Mercy Road off-ramp only to be ordered by Peyer to back up against freeway traffic and drive down the ramp. Shannon Matheny who was 16 when Peyer stopped her on June 27, 1986, said she was southbound on Interstate 15 when he pulled her over, just beyond the off-ramp.

According to Matheny and other women who were stopped in similar fashion, Peyer said he was afraid of getting hit on the freeway shoulder by a drunk driver and ordered them to back up and drive down the ramp. Like all of the women who testified, Matheny said that Peyer ostensibly stopped her for a minor traffic violation--in her case for having a defective headlight--and then engaged her in lengthy small talk.

"He asked me where I had been vacationing that summer . . . He was very nice. He said that I had beautiful eyes," Matheny said. Her stop lasted 30 minutes, she added.

None of the women who testified said that they felt threatened by Peyer. Several said that he was friendly and reassuring and none said that he touched her or asked for a date.

Stopped for Lengthy Chat

Cheryl Johnson, 26, a neonatal nurse, was stopped on June 25, 1986, for one hour and 40 minutes, she testified. Peyer told her that he had never been on the Mercy Road off-ramp before, Johnson added.

"I couldn't believe that from 8:30 p.m. to 10:20 p.m. I was with this person . . . He didn't seem to be in any rush . . . It got to the point where I said, 'I really gotta go.' " Johnson said.

Johnson said that she was northbound on Interstate 15 when she was stopped by Peyer and ordered to back up on the freeway. She asked Peyer if it were not better if she continued on to the next exit, Johnson said, but he said that Mercy Road was closer. During the almost two hours that she spent with Peyer under the Interstate 15 overpass, at least three cars exited at the isolated off-ramp, she testified.

Peyer noted the three cars and, according to Johnson, said:

"I'm going to have to come here a little more often . . . It's a dangerous place and somebody could get raped or murdered down here and nobody would know."

Though some of the women were stopped for minor infractions like defective tail lights, they were not cited and allowed to go on their way after the long conversations.

Prosecutors theorized that Peyer may have stopped Knott because her car had a defective license plate light.

On other occasions, Peyer stopped women for serious violations like speeding but failed to cite them. In several cases Peyer issued citations under false pretenses, women testified. Johnson said that Peyer told her that he really did not want to give her a ticket, but he had already written her name on the citation.

She said that Peyer then acted with a wink and a nod and gave her a "fix it" ticket for a bald rear tire, even though her tires were relatively new.

Kathleen Deir, who was stopped on Dec. 11, 1986, at 8:15 p.m. said that Peyer took her on an impromptu tour of the old U.S. 395 bridge during the hour and 30 minutes that she spent with him. Deir, who said that she had been on previous ride-alongs with other police departments, said that the tour of the darkened area conducted by Peyer did not seem "bizarre" to her.

She was pulled over because one of her headlights was out of alignment, Deir said, but Peyer did not cite her.

Peyer, 37, was arrested by San Diego Police on Jan. 15, 1987, and charged with the Dec. 27, 1986, murder of Knott. Police said that Knott, 20, was killed after a struggle on the old U.S. 395 bridge near Interstate 15 and the Mercy Road off-ramp between 9 and 10 p.m. Her body was thrown 65 feet into a dry creek bed, where it was discovered by police on Dec. 28, 1986.

Knott's Volkswagen was found parked about three-tenths of a mile from the bridge. Eight of the women who have testified said they were driving Volkswagens when they were stopped.

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