The Guilt of Scott Peterson: When You’re 50% Sure You Were 100% Right

For the past couple months, I’ve had a feeling of guilt over presuming someone else’s guilt.

This started 15 years ago back when I was the new morning guy at KHOP in Modesto, California. You probably don’t know much about Modesto. If the small city’s name does ring a bell, there’s a 99% chance it’s because you remember the story of the horrendous murder of Laci Peterson. The only thing you could possibly otherwise know it for is it was the setting for the movie American Graffiti. But you’re probably not old enough to remember that movie. I’m not. And I’m old.

My time in Modesto was too long. The people were nice. Really nice. Generous, kind, down to earth hard working people. But the city itself was brutally dull. I have two prominent memories of life in Modesto. A nearly constant breathtaking sour odor of cow manure on the fields forced me to keep a t-shirt in my car 24/7 to put over my face when I was driving. And then there was the black cloud that was the Laci Peterson murder.

Fortunately Modesto was in the shadow of some pretty great places like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Monterey, wine country and San Francisco. Weekend road trips became essential. Another guy my age seemed to want to escape his Modesto life too. He had a miserable job selling that cow manure. And a baby was on the way he didn’t want. At least that’s what TV news reports led me to believe. Scott Peterson was so desperate to get out, he murdered his pregnant wife so he could run off with his petite blond girlfriend who lived 100 miles away. That was the Modesto PD narrative.

I bought it hook, line and sinker. So did my audience. I remember a coworker from our country station who got to know Scott coming up to us using two fingers to point at his eyes and said “I looked into his eyes. He didn’t do it.” He’d later change his tune, as Laci’s family did, when Scott’s secret girl on the side came forward.

Seeing Laci’s mother cry out in pain moved everyone. Everyone. We all felt her pain and connected with her so deeply that what she believed, we believed without question.

The trial was long, but the public got the result the media convinced them they wanted. Jury members who didn’t think Scott was guilty were removed and he got the death penalty. There was a creepy celebration in the streets. It was over.

It’s 15 years later. Modesto is a memory. The case was a memory. But a TV series on A&E, for the first time, is giving equal time to both sides of the story. Any time given to the defense’s side of story was an asterisk in the TV movies and endless barrage of Dateline NBC type rehashes of the soap opera version of the Scott and Laci drama. Any loopholes in the script were ignored or glossed over. Cheating husband. Pregnant wife. Hot secret girlfriend. Murder. Conviction. Closure. Roll the credits.

That closure, by the way, was only for you and I. Onlookers like us were allowed to move on. Scott and Laci’s family and friends have had to live without them ever since.

Back then, anyone who questioned Scott’s obvious guilt was looked at with a raised eyebrow. How could he be innocent? He lied constantly.

During the trial, we had a woman as a guest on the morning show who did the unthinkable. She presumed Scott’s innocence. Our justice system insists on it. Few did it. We already saw OJ get off. None of us wanted something like that to ever happen again. But this woman who ran ScottIsInnocent.com erased emotion and looked just at the facts of the case. Oh sure. We heard her out. We were even quite respectful as I listen back to the interview now. But off and on the air, we dismissed her as someone who just probably had some misguided affection for Scott. He was a good looking dude. She seemed cold and weird. She must be, we thought. After all, she thought Scott had nothing to do with it.

Forgotten and suppressed details about the investigation are just now starting to make us think analytically and not emotionally. My disgust isn’t gone of hearing Scott Peterson’s voice as he lied to his girlfriend about being at the Eiffel Tower while he was at a vigil for his missing pregnant wife. It’s all I needed back then to convict him. But now that time has passed, the ability to separate emotion from fact is easier.

There are too many unanswered questions. If Scott killed Laci during the night, who was on the computer shopping for an umbrella stand with sunflowers on it that morning… and would Scott really watch Martha Stewart for a lemon meringue recipe instead of trying to get rid of the body? What about the people who say they saw Laci walking the dog? What about the guy at the marina who saw nothing in Scott’s boat? If Scott did kill her, how did he get rid of every shred of evidence in a matter of minutes? What about the science of how he’d have sunk his tiny boat if he tried to dispose of Laci’s body in the bay? What about the police saying a burglary happened across the street 2 days after Laci went missing… when media crews covering her disappearance would have seen it happen? What about the evidence that says the baby was alive in January? Would Scott really take time to send Christmas messages to his boss and watch videos of how to build work tools instead of focusing on getting rid of the body?

These are just a sample of the questions you’ll have after watching this series. It’s troubling. I still want to believe Scott did it – if only for Laci’s family because they are convinced of it. I don’t want them to have to go through any more pain than they already have. In fact, I’m sure the pain has never stopped for them. And I also want to still believe Scott did it so an innocent man who lost his wife didn’t lose a good chunk of his own life. If Scott is innocent, can you imagine waking up every morning in prison, wasting away waiting to die, while someone is out there walking free after murdering your pregnant wife?

Two words will inevitably come into your vocabulary while watching “The Murder of Laci Peterson” on A&E – reasonable doubt.

Scott Peterson cheated. He lied. He was selfish. He was weak. But when you erase all those emotional judgments and look at the lack of science and fact behind why he’s woken up in prison waiting to be put to death every day for 15 years, try to answer ALL of those questions with certainty. You can’t.

I’m not convinced Scott Peterson is innocent. It’s just now that I’m 50% sure I was 100% right.

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22 comments

    • (Cuzzin is replying to a tweet I said about how Modesto cops were under pressure to get their guy. ) <– sorry man, nobody knew what you were talking about. 🙂

      I definitely agree that they should have had some rock solid evidence to pursue Scott as hard as they did. Hindsight is also 20/20 though. Everyone felt Scott was the one with answers when the Amber thing surfaced. He was the only logical scenario to pursue at that point. Again hindsight is 20/20… we know now that the robbery across the street should have had more attention on it. In the latter stages of the investigation though, they really should have put on the brakes and looked at all their leads.

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      • Its funny. I’m so up on arms about this, and yet this probably happens every day to disenfranchised people.

        It seemed to me the cops “had their man” from the first night. Statistics I guess…

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      • As someone who watched how the media can manipulate stuff first hand, I see how it can happen. We did this community gathering at that Modesto radio station to get rid of some creep who was attacking women (like Laci) on a bike path. A Sacramento TV news station twisted it to spin as if “Local DJ encourages people to chase criminal with baseball bats” because of a goofy sarcastic comment I made.

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  1. The documentary on A&E really opened my eyes. No DNA in the home? No way the body could have been dumped from the boat? He had timestamps for whole day. Modesto PD botched the original investigation. They never spoke to the people who claimed that they saw Laci and the dog walking. They also never really followed through on the burglary. I agree that it’s fishy that he had a girlfriend that he was telling that this would be his first holidays without his wife, but lots of cheating men use the dead wife excuse. Nancy Grace is one of the most aggravating commentators on TV. How she presents herself as holier than thou is disgusting. She paved the way to his guilty verdict, just by her nightly commentary. Gomez didn’t help either.

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  2. Excellent column, thank you for leaving room for doubt. The public doesn’t realize that they are being fed information from the prosecution side only (!) so it’s no wonder they jump to the conclusion of guilt so vehemently. Well done.

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    • Thanks Julie. I wish it hadn’t taken 15 years for me to open my mind. And the irony is, what I saw on TV made me assume his guilt… and a TV show now is now making me question it. It’s going to be an interesting next few years. I just hope everyone can now step back and look at evidence and nothing more.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the column. Around 2009 I started reading about the case and was like, whoaaaaa there. For a couple of years I talked to anyone who would listen about what I’d found. Sadly enough it had about as much impact as the woman who went on your station. Not a single person listened to me. That’s how powerful media is.

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    • As much as I blame the media, I also blame the publics tendency to rush to judgment. I’m biased of course because I have worked in the media for most of my life. But generally the media gives the public what they want for ratings. If the public wanted meaningful dialogue about world events, you would see far fewer viral videos about kittens on the news.

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      • I work in the media. For most of my life. And I did report on the innocence evidence a number of times when the headlines were current. I could not interest any of my colleagues in what I had found. Not a one. I wrote the governor (who was then AG) and everyone else I could think of.
        But at least someone else somewhere who works in media gave some time to the defense side that wasn’t condescending and full of ridicule. I’m glad to hear about that.

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  4. Good points. I think you left out that no trace of Laci was ever found in the Bay, despite intensive searching. If the body was really there, it should have been found.

    People were listening, there have always been plenty of people stating that Scott was wrongly convicted, it’s just that they were (and are still) massively outnumbered by people who didn’t look too hard, and assumed he must be guilty.

    There is more to come. In January Spike TV will be airing a documentary about serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. There is evidence that he murdered Laci Peterson, including two apparent online confessions.

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  5. I didn’t believe Scott did it 15 years ago, and after watching the series, I’m positive even more so. I really never had a doubt about him. He was tried in the media and public. He did not get a fair trial.

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  6. I was so sure that he was guilty of this terrible crime 15 years ago. I would have helped arrange the noose used to hang him publicly.
    After watching the documentary I am ashamed of myself and I now feel fairly certain that he is innocent, I don’t know how in the world he could have done it if he did, there are too many things pointing to his innocence. I think it had something to do with the burglary that happened across the street. We’ll probably never know but I do believe in innocent man is on death row in San Quentin. I hope he gets a new trial with an objective panel of jurors.

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  7. Thank you for this article and for your open mind. I read on Twitter that you were interested in links so that a discussion could be had about issues in the case. I think this is a good place to start…the Aponte Tip (this is what another Twitter poster referred to as the Norco tapes). I am a member of the SPA Team shown in the series and would be glad to answer any questions that you have. I can’t tell you how good it makes us feel to see people change their minds and even better to hear you speak out about it! Thanks again Geno!

    http://pwc-consulting.blogspot.com/2008/06/aponte-tip-exculpatory-evidence.html

    There is also info here about the Aponte tip in the defense motion for a new trial:

    http://pwc-sii.com/CourtDocs/Docs/022505Def.htm

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