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Tapes of Lovers' 'Embarrassing' Calls Played at Peterson Trial

Jury hears baby talk secretly recorded by the defendant's former girlfriend.

August 12, 2004|John Johnson | Times Staff Writer

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Hoping jurors will believe that a cad could also be a killer, prosecutors continued their assault on Scott Peterson's character Wednesday, playing four hours of cooing, baby talk-punctuated phone calls between Peterson and girlfriend Amber Frey.

As Peterson praises Frey as "wonderful," "amazing," and so special that he needs a "better, bigger word" to describe her, police and volunteers were combing rural Modesto for his missing, pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, who had disappeared only days earlier.

Peterson, a Modesto fertilizer salesman who began an affair with Frey, a Fresno massage therapist, only weeks before Laci Peterson disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002, is on trial facing two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and the child she was carrying when she vanished. Their remains washed up several months later in San Francisco Bay.

The tapes of the telephone calls were played for the jury on the second day of testimony from Frey, the prosecution's star witness.

Despite the embarrassing nature of the tapes, they have so far yielded nothing that would tie Peterson to his wife's disappearance and murder. But prosecutors hope to show jurors that Peterson did not care about his wife and that he killed her, at least in part, to be with Frey.

The tapes might have been between two starry-eyed teen lovers, except that each was hiding secrets from the other. Peterson's secret was that he was married to a woman whose disappearance was becoming a widely publicized crime story. Frey's secrets were that she eventually learned of his wife's disappearance, went to police and began recording her phone calls with him.

Among the revelations from the tapes: Peterson is a film buff whose hero is Warren Beatty and favorite movie is the Jack Nicholson horror classic, "The Shining." Frey sounds on the tapes like a sweet, if somewhat unsophisticated, woman who was hoping to find a partner in life.

Peterson appears to believe he could pull off the ruse of convincing Frey he was traveling in Europe on business during his wife's disappearance. He frequently refers to the city -- Paris or Brussels -- he is supposed to be in and reminds Frey of the time difference of nine hours, which Frey appears to have trouble grasping. When she asks what Europe is like, he tells her it's cleaner than American cities.

When she scolds him for sleeping in one day, he explains that people in Europe work later, until 9 p.m. each day. They make up for the long hours, he said, by taking two-month holidays. "Wow," Frey said.

He has trouble coming up with a New Year's resolution, despite repeated urgings by Frey. Finally, after he blows off a telephone call he doesn't want to deal with, he said his resolution would be to "deal with [problems] ... immediately" and to be "a better person."

Jurors' reactions to the marathon of tape recordings was difficult to gauge. All along, critics have chided the district attorney's office for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style with which it presents evidence. One juror was seen rolling his eyes at one point. Reports circulated around the courthouse that Frey was in tears during a break. Her attorney, Gloria Allred, said, however, that she hadn't seen that.

"It's not easy listening to the tapes," Allred said. "It's embarrassing."

She also said Frey did her best to help the police and it wasn't her fault if Peterson did not betray himself.

Peterson, dressed in a brown sports jacket, showed little emotion, following along on his copy of the transcriptions.

Legal observers said the accumulating evidence is doing an effective job of showing Peterson to be a scoundrel who at the very least had no regard for his missing wife as he charmed Frey.

"It's obvious he lives in two different worlds," said Dean Johnson, a former Northern California prosecutor. "But eventually those worlds were going to collide."

Johnson implied that Peterson's deceptions -- he told Frey he had a condo in San Diego and vacationed in Maine -- might have been almost as much for his benefit as for Frey's. "He did not want to be a married-with-children fertilizer salesman from Modesto," he said.

"There was nothing incriminating on the tapes," said Stan Goldman, who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he said, it was a good day for the prosecution.

Peterson is "lying through his teeth and the jury knows it," he said.

Today, more tapes are expected. In them, Frey allegedly confronts Peterson with her knowledge of his wife's disappearance.

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