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Early Suspicions in Peterson Case

Responding officers quickly summoned a detective to the home, police sergeant testifies.

June 11, 2004|From Associated Press

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Within hours of arriving at Scott Peterson's home the evening he reported his pregnant wife missing, police determined that the scene was suspicious and summoned a detective, according to testimony Thursday.

Modesto Police Sgt. Byron Duerfeldt said he received a missing-person report about 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2002.

Duerfeldt first went to a park near the Petersons' home where friends and family had gathered to search for Laci Peterson. Her husband, Scott, told authorities she had been preparing to walk the couple's dog in the park when he left for a solo fishing trip that morning.

Duerfeldt said he met briefly with three other officers there before heading to the Petersons' Modesto home.

"I wanted to make sure that Laci wasn't inside the house, that she wasn't in the backyard somewhere," Duerfeldt testified.

The sergeant said he then summoned a helicopter to fly over the park and received a briefing from the other officers who had already been inside the house about whether they had found anything "unusual or suspicious."

"Based on what they told me, I felt it was necessary to have a detective respond," Duerfeldt said, acknowledging that wasn't common practice.

He was stopped from explaining further because he is not allowed to testify about what others told him, but he made it clear that their observations led him to call the detective.

Prosecutors allege that Peterson killed his wife in their home, then dumped her body from his small boat in San Francisco Bay.

His attorneys have speculated that someone else abducted her while she walked the dog. They have accused authorities of focusing too quickly on Peterson, ignoring other leads.

After the remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed ashore nearly four months later, just two miles from where Scott Peterson says he was fishing, he was arrested.

Duerfeldt was the first law enforcement officer to testify in the trial, which concluded its second week of testimony Thursday. If convicted, Peterson could face the death penalty or life in prison.

Duerfeldt said officers searched a vacant home on the street as friends and family gathered at the Petersons' house.

Additional officers were summoned to search the park, and a frantic scene unfolded at the house.

"Chaotic. Emotional," Duerfeldt said, describing it.

He said he was peppered with questions from friends and family. "I was the source of a lot of emotions, questions and anger," he said, adding that Scott Peterson never approached him that night.

A detective later took over the investigation, Duerfeldt said.

Testimony was set to resume Monday.

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