The wife of former California Highway Patrol Officer Craig Peyer, accused of murdering a 20-year-old San Diego college student, testified Monday that her husband came home with scratches on his face the night that Cara Knott was killed.
The defense called Karen Peyer as its last witness before resting its case. Peyer, 37, did not testify in his own behalf.
Defense attorneys called 36 witnesses over two days of testimony that featured a strategy designed to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the jurors, who have heard a prosecution case that is based on an abundance of circumstantial evidence.
The nine-man, three-woman jury spent two hours at the scene of the killing on Monday evening after prosecutors on Monday afternoon began calling rebuttal witnesses to counter the testimony of several defense witnesses. Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Van Orshoven said he expects to call several more rebuttal witnesses today before resting the prosecution's case.
Superior Court Judge Richard D. Huffman said that attorneys for both sides will deliver their closing statements on Wednesday and the case will go to the jury at that time.
Peyer, a 13-year CHP veteran, is charged with killing Knott on Dec. 27, 1986. Police said she was strangled after a struggle on the Old Highway 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 the next morning. Peyer was arrested on Jan. 15, 1987.
A confident and upbeat Karen Peyer testified about her husband's demeanor when he came home for dinner about 6 p.m. on the day that Knott was killed. She also talked about their plans for the future, which included a work transfer to a small Northern California town where Craig Peyer could play the role of "town sheriff."
Before his arrest and subsequent firing in May, 1987, Peyer's beat was a stretch of Interstate 15 that ran roughly from Poway Road to Balboa Avenue. As was his custom, Peyer went to his Poway home for dinner in the middle of his 2-to-10:30 p.m. shift on Dec. 27, 1986, Karen Peyer said.
Peyer exhibited no unusual emotions on that day, but "he was a little tired," Karen Peyer said. When he got home from work at 11:15 p.m., Peyer had several scratches on his face, including one set that had a "waffle-like pattern," she added.
"He came over to bed and sat down . . . he showed me his face. He had some marks on his face," said Karen Peyer. " . . . They looked fresh but they weren't dripping (blood)."
According to Karen Peyer, her husband had two small scratches on the right side of his face, while the left side had several scratches in the shape of a crisscross pattern.
Neither defense attorney Robert Grimes nor prosecutor Van Orshoven asked Karen Peyer if her husband explained how he suffered the scratches. The scratches did not seem serious enough to warrant immediate attention, Karen Peyer said.
Van Orshoven had suggested in his opening statement that Knott, who was trained in self-defense, had been trained to scratch an attacker's eyes and face. Grimes said that Peyer suffered the scratches when he slipped on a gas spill at the CHP office and fell against a chain-link fence.
The scratches on Peyer's face have been the subject of much debate during the trial. Prosecutors introduced a number of witnesses who said they saw the scratches on the night of the incident.
But San Diego police criminalists, testifying for the prosecution, said that they found no traces of blood or skin under Knott's fingernails. And CHP Sgt. Gary Symonds testified that the scratches were consistent with falling against a chain-link fence.
Shirley Schwartz and Karen Anderson, who were working at a service station where Peyer purchased gasoline for his CHP cruiser on the night of the killing, testified earlier in the trial that they saw the scratches on Peyer's face when he arrived between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m.
However, Morris Hahn, a San Diego police officer and Anderson's son-in-law, and Tammy Hahn, who is Anderson's daughter, testified Monday that they were at the station when Peyer drove up and did not notice any scratches on his face.
Anderson also testified that she saw Peyer open the trunk of his patrol car and rearrange some items. Prosecutors said that a 48-inch rope found in the trunk was probably used to strangle Knott. But the Hahns said that they never saw Peyer open the car's trunk when he was at the gas station.
CHP Officer Craig Muelheisen testified early in the trial that Peyer expressed a sudden desire to move out of San Diego County a few days after Knott's body was discovered. Karen Peyer said that she and her husband had for some time discussed moving out of the San Diego area to a small town in Northern California.
Talked About Moving
She said that they began their discussion in September, 1986, and talked about Peyer seeking a transfer to Redding, Ukiah or Truckee, where people know each other by first name.