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Scott Peterson Arrested in Wife's Slaying

Laci Peterson's body and that of her unborn son are identified with DNA evidence.

April 19, 2003|Monte Morin and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

Four months after his pregnant wife disappeared from their Modesto home and days after her skeletal remains washed ashore in San Francisco Bay, federal and local authorities Friday arrested husband Scott Peterson near a La Jolla golf course. Peterson, 30, has yet to be formally charged with the deaths of his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner, whose remains also turned up beside the bay this week.

The fertilizer salesman is expected to be arraigned early next week in the double homicide, on charges that could lead to the death penalty, Stanislaus County Dist. Atty. Jim Brazelton said at a news conference Friday evening in Modesto.

Authorities issued an arrest warrant for Peterson late Thursday, a day before investigators had positively identified the badly decomposed remains. Modesto police, the California Highway Patrol and federal agents had been watching the husband for months, using wiretaps, vehicle tracking devices and direct surveillance. They said Friday that they feared Peterson might flee, perhaps to Mexico.

"We started to worry," California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said in an interview on CNN's Larry King Live.

"He was aware of surveillance teams, was waving at them and being, you know, kind of a smart aleck, and so they finally decided that they ought to just pull him in."

Peterson's arrest followed an around-the-clock effort to identify the remains of an adult woman and a full-term fetus that were found about a mile apart on Monday and Sunday, respectively, on the rocky shoreline of San Francisco Bay near Richmond.

Although police had declined since the woman's Christmas Eve disappearance to name Peterson as a suspect, the husband had fallen under increasing scrutiny, particularly since admitting an extramarital affair.

The investigation had been stymied, however, by the lack of the victim's body.

By Friday afternoon, authorities said that DNA testing had proved what they suspected.

"There is no question in our minds that the unidentified female is Laci Peterson. The unidentified fetus is the biological child of Laci Peterson and Scott Peterson," Lockyer announced at a news conference televised nationwide from the state DNA lab in Richmond.

"We are scientifically convinced that the match is one in billions."

Criminalists used DNA samples from Laci Peterson, her parents' cheeks and samples of Scott Peterson's blood -- comparing them with samples taken from the leg bones of the corpses.

Peterson, who had dropped from public view in Modesto in recent days and sought refuge at his mother's home near San Diego, was pulled over by special agents with the U.S. Department of Justice and the CHP as he drove past Torrey Pines Golf Course shortly before noon.

Detectives were driving him back to Modesto, where he was expected to be jailed overnight.

"He will be charged with capital murder," said Brazelton, the district attorney for Modesto.

Under California law, the killing of a mother that leads to the death of an unborn child can be ruled a double homicide, a special circumstance that could qualify Peterson for the death penalty if he is convicted.

But that "doesn't mean we'll be seeking it automatically," Brazelton said.

Peterson should not be freed, pending his trial, he said. "Bail?" Brazelton said. "Why give him bail?"

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was last seen on Christmas Eve, walking the family dog. She has been the focus of an intensive search ever since.

Suspicion of the husband increased when he traded in his wife's car for a new pickup and, later, when he admitted the extramarital affair.

The other woman said she became involved with Scott Peterson only because she did not know he was married.

Photos of the broadly grinning mother-to-be have been posted around California and beyond and shown on television across the nation.

On the front entrance to the Modesto Police Department, officers had posted a sign with Laci Peterson's photo on it, advertising a $500,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.

Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said the sizable reward failed to produce a witness or serious clues, leading him and others to believe that the only person who knew where she was, was her killer.

"Had anyone known where she was, we would have heard about it," Wasden said.

Still, he said he hoped the department would be proved wrong when it decided to call the search for Laci Peterson a homicide investigation. "I would have loved to have egg on my face," Wasden said.

The case had seemingly gone dormant until this week. On Monday, a passerby discovered the skeletal remains of a woman along the rocky shoreline of Point Isabel Regional Park on San Francisco Bay. A day earlier, another passerby found the remains of a fetus that had also washed ashore.

The bodies were discovered about one mile apart.

The Petersons lived in a Modesto bungalow about 90 miles from the bay.

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