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Hearing Opens in Peterson Case

Proceeding will decide whether he stands trial in the slaying of his wife and unborn son. Admissibility of DNA evidence is debated.

October 30, 2003|From Associated Press

MODESTO — A hearing to determine whether Scott Peterson must stand trial in the slaying of his pregnant wife opened Wednesday with an expert testifying about a disputed type of DNA analysis used to match a hair found on pliers on Peterson's boat with strands from Laci Peterson.

For more than an hour, FBI lab supervisor Constance L. Fisher offered a primer that a prosecutor called "DNA 101" on mitochondrial DNA analysis that was used to compare Laci Peterson's hair with a strand in the boat Peterson said he took fishing when his wife vanished on Christmas Eve.

Mitochondrial DNA, found in a strand of genetic material outside the cell nucleus and apart from regular genes, has been admitted in courtrooms in other states but only once in California, in a San Diego murder case.

Fisher said that the method is widely accepted in the forensic science community and that the FBI has been using it since 1996. But the defense contended that the analysis should not be admissible in the case.

The families of both Scott and Laci Peterson were in the courtroom for the preliminary hearing.

Peterson is charged with murder in the deaths of his wife and their unborn son and could get the death penalty.

Peterson reported his 27-year-old wife missing when he returned home from a solo Christmas Eve fishing trip. She was eight months pregnant with a boy they planned to name Conner.

The remains of mother and son were found four months later in April, along San Francisco Bay, within miles of where Peterson said he had been fishing.

Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, disputed the admissibility of the DNA evidence and suggested that someone may have tampered with the hair found on the boat. It was originally listed as a single hair, but prosecutors said it broke in half during their investigation.

The hearing is expected to give the most detailed picture to date about what clues led investigators to suspect Scott Peterson from the beginning.

The 31-year-old former fertilizer salesman has been held without bail since he was arrested not far from the Mexican border with his hair bleached and $10,000 in cash. In the months after Laci Peterson's disappearance, it was disclosed that he was having an affair.

Geragos has said that he would not only prove Peterson innocent, but would find the "real killers."

The defense team has intimated that a satanic cult may have been responsible.

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