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Laci Peterson: Lust, Betrayal, and Murder

The early years of marriage are so exciting no matter what age you are. It can be especially exciting when you're young, with dreams and plans of what your future and family will look like. Will you have children together? Will you start a business together? Will you buy a brand new house, or a fixer-upper to work on together? The possibilities are endless. But usually our plans mean little when life starts rolling uphill, or down.

Wikipedia states that Laci Denise Rocha was born on May 4, 1975. Her father, Dennis Robert Rocha, was a dairy operator that owned a farm just west of Escalon, California. Her mother, Sheron, met Dennis when they were in high school. Before Laci's birth the couple had already had a son named Brent, born in 1971. Inspired by the name of a very pretty girl Sheron had gone to school with, she decided that her daughter would carry the same name. From a young age, Laci and Brent worked on their father's dairy farm. It was here that Laci's love for horticulture grew and blossomed, and would later shape her life.

Dennis and Sheron divorced when the two children were still quite young. Sheron, Brent, and Laci moved to Modesto, California, but the kids would visit their father's farm every weekend. Sheron remarried to a man named Ron Grantski, who came into their lives when Laci was only 2-year-old. He stepped up as a paternal figure, helping to raise her and her older brother.

In junior high and high school, Laci was on the cheerleading squad. She graduated from Thomas Downey High School before going on to California Polytechnic State University. It was there that she truly honed her most loved skill when she majored in ornamental horticulture. While she was in college, she met the man that would change her life forever. Before he ended it.

She would visit with a friend that worked at a restaurant in Morro Bay called the Pacific Cafe. While sitting at the cafe, she met a coworker of her friend's named Scott Peterson. Laci boldly made the first move, sending him her phone number. Immediately after meeting, she told her mother that she had met the man she was going to marry. When Scott called, they arranged their first date. A deep-sea fishing trip on which Laci became seasick. Romance was still in the air, though. The couple continued to date and became quite serious about each other.

As the relationship progressed, Scott decided that it was time to set aside his dreams of professional golf. It was time to grow up and start focusing on a career in business. They dated for two years before moving in together. While Scott was finishing up his senior year, Laci took a job in nearby Prunedale. It was around this time, according to prosecutors, that Scott engaged in the first of at least two affairs. The woman's name has never been released to the media.

The couple got married in a beautiful ceremony at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in San Luis Obispo County's Avila Valley after Laci's graduation. What she thought was the most joyous occasion of her life was held on August 9, 1997. Nearly a year later, in June 1998, Scott graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business.

Once both had graduated they opened a sports bar that they called The Shack in San Luis Obispo. Business started out slowly, but started picking up considerably. The weekends were their best time for business as with any bar. They did well with their venture, but eventually decided that it was time to settle down and start a family. They put The Shack up for sale and moved to Laci's hometown of Modesto.

With thoughts of a nursery and a backyard big enough to play in, the couple bought their first house together in an upscale neighborhood near East La Loma Park in October 2000. It was a beautiful three-bedroom, two-bath bungalow on Corvena Avenue. Ready to turn to the next chapter in their marriage, they purchased the home for $177,000. Today that sum would be worth $305,070.09. After moving in the couple easily slid into their new suburban lifestyle. Scott began working with a newly founded subsidiary of a European fertilizer company called Tradecorp USA. With his $5000 a month salary, Laci was able to take a part-time job as a substitute teacher and settle into her new role as a housewife. Scott's salary would amount to a monthly sum of $8,617.80 today.

Laci thrived during this point in her life. She loved to cook and keep her home clean, but more than anything, she loved to entertain. She took to her role in the home like a duck takes to water. Laci Peterson truly was the picture of the all-American housewife that we all knew so well. There wasn't a doubt among any that met her that she would be a tremendous mother when the couple finally had children.

When she discovered that she was pregnant in 2002, she and Scott were over the moon. With her due date set for February 10, 2003, Laci was ready to welcome her son into the world and shower him with all the love she had to give. When they informed her and Scott's families of the pregnancy everyone was thrilled. Parenthood was the next natural step for them in their adult lives, and they seemed to be fully prepared for the challenges ahead. They chose the name Conner for their baby boy and started preparing for his arrival.

Friends would later say that they had never seen the couple argue. They seemed to be perfectly happy in this picture-perfect life they had built together. Laci's half-sister, Amy Rocha, told Fox News that her sister "thought the world" of her husband. Unfortunately things aren't always as they seem. Especially not to those caught in the situation, without an outside perspective to see from.

In November 2002, when Laci was seven months pregnant, Scott was introduced to a Fresno massage therapist named Amber Frey. A friend of his made the introduction that he likely came to regret. According to public statements reported by Fox News, Amber said that Scott told her he was single. Rolling Stone reported that in early December 2002, Scott and Amber were photographed together at a Christmas party, looking particularly cozy. It was at this party that Scott confided something to his new girlfriend. He said that his wife had passed away and that this would be his first Christmas without her. Police would later wonder if this was tantamount to a confession as Laci was still alive and well at the time. Could he have been planning his pregnant wife's murder from the moment he met his mistress?

The week before Christmas, Scott's parents saw Laci for the last time as they spent a three-day weekend together in Carmel, California. On December 23, 2002, her half-sister, Amy, saw her for the last time when she and Scott came to her place of employment, Salon Salon. Every month, Scott would come to the salon for a haircut from Amy. As he got his hair trimmed the three talked and Amy mentioned a fruit basket that she needed to pick up for grandfather the following morning. Scott eagerly offered to help, saying that he would be spending the morning of Christmas Eve at a nearby golf course. It would be no problem at all to pick it up on the way back. Prosecutors would later point out that Scott told others about his plans to go golfing.

At around 8:30 that evening, Laci talked to her mother on the phone. A woman named Margarita Nava had come to clean the couple's home that day and noticed that she seemed tired. She thought nothing of it, though as she typically did appear to be tired when Margarita came to clean.

The morning of Christmas Eve arrived and according to Scott, the couple awoke together and ate breakfast. He said the last time he saw his wife she was watching a cooking show on TV as she prepared to mop the floor, bake some cookies, and walk their dog to the park nearby. It was about 9:30 in the morning when he said that he left the house for Berkeley Marina to go fishing for sturgeon. At this point, Laci was seven and a half months pregnant.

At around 10:30 that morning, a neighbor named Karen Servas found the couple's golden retriever, McKenzie, all alone outside. She returned the dog to their backyard and never noticed that anything was amiss. At about 10:45, another neighbor named Mike Chiavetta spotted the dog while playing catch with his own pooch. An unnamed woman also encountered McKenzie wandering around with a muddy leash. She returned the dog to Laci and Scott's backyard for the second time that morning and didn't get the sense that anything was off.

According to Scott's statement to police, he drove to his warehouse nearby to send some emails and get his boat. He took the boat to Berkeley Marina to fish for about 90 minutes before returning it to the warehouse and going home. Timestamped emails and a receipt from the marina confirm that this was true. The strange thing was that he had bought a boat that no one in his family, including his wife, knew anything about. At 2:15 PM, he left a message for Laci, saying, "Hey Beautiful. It's 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley." It was as though he was trying to establish a solid alibi that no one could question.

But there were many questions raised from his nonchalant attitude during the search for his missing pregnant wife. There was no panic, no sense of urgency. He placed himself directly on the investigator's radar the moment they met him.

Scott claimed that when he came home it was to an empty house. He showered and placed his clothes in the washing machine because he had gotten wet while fishing in the rain. Though Laci's 1996 Land Rover Discovery SE was still parked in the driveway, he assumed that she had gone to her mother's house. He found McKenzie still in the backyard and claimed to have disclosed this piece of information to Sheron. In her book, she denies this claim, though.

Once Scott had showered, he sat down to eat some pizza with milk. After finishing his strange meal, he called Sheron to see if his wife was there. This was the first that she heard her daughter was missing. It was half an hour after Scott's call to his mother-in-law that Laci's stepfather reported her missing.

The lead detectives on the case were Modesto police detectives Jon Buehler and Allen Brocchini. They met Scott at the park near their home that Laci was known to walk their dog to. Buehler told ABC News in 2017 that the moment he met the so-called distraught husband and father-to-be, he knew that he was guilty. Immediately they started putting him through a series of "tests" that he had no idea he was taking. Though he didn't realize it at the time, his every reaction was being closely gauged. They suggested going back to their house to look around. When they took him for questioning that night, he declined to take a polygraph and would continue to refuse further requests to do so. This in itself isn't an admission of guilt as polygraphs aren't exactly known for their accuracy, though.

His strange behavior extended to his mother-in-law as well. Sheron ran straight to the park to help search for her daughter. When she saw Scott, standing only about 20 or 30 feet away, she began calling out to him. He ignored her as though he couldn't hear her at all. She continued to yell for his attention to no avail. Back at their house, he remained distant and even angled himself away when she tried to hug him.

The detectives took notice of Scott's lack of questions about the investigation. Normally a man in his position would be asking for their cards and calling repeatedly for updates. This wasn't the case with Scott Peterson, though. For a man missing his seven and a half month pregnant wife, he wasn't acting right. On top of that, his priorities during the investigation were way out of line. He was more concerned with his car door being struck by his other car door in the driveway than his wife and unborn son. When the tracking people came with their dogs to join the search, he actually wanted a receipt for the pink slipper and sunglasses they used for her scent. He also had a hard time answering simple questions, like what kind of bait he used that morning on his fishing trip.

The day after Christmas a search warrant was executed on the bungalow. Scott again refused to take a polygraph when asked. As police searched the home they discovered Laci's purse in a closet. Inside were her sunglasses, keys and wallet.

In the weeks immediately following Laci's disappearance, Scott made himself look even guiltier than he had before. He turned the baby's nursery that his wife had worked so hard on into a storage room. He sold her car, and he even looked into selling their house. Every step he made only served to incriminate him more. He was wasting no time whatsoever in erasing his wife and unborn son before anyone even knew if they were okay.

After the search of their home the entire country turned their eyes towards Scott. Before he knew it national news networks had descended upon his house, setting up camp on the street. They were ready to pounce with an arsenal of questions each time he entered or exited his house. Quickly the loud trucks and bright lights became a nuisance to the neighbors. Their quiet little neighborhood had turned into a media circus overnight, with few signs of quieting down.

As time went on, Laci's story became a fixture in the news as it was reported all over the country. In March 2003, George W. Bush led the country into war with Iraq. As weapons of mass destruction and the Axis of Evil dominated the airwaves, Laci's story played right alongside. Americans collectively held their breath during the hunt for Saddam Hussein, and the search for Laci Peterson.

Police and lawyers from both sides used the media to their advantage, leaking rumors both true and false to sway the public's opinion each time the story aired. There were falsehoods reported, such as Laci being murdered by a Satanic cult. Facts were also leaked, such as Scott's affair with a secret mistress. Meanwhile, Laci's family made tearful pleas to the public for help and information. Through all of this, they publicly supported their son-in-law. They didn't think for a second that he could've had anything to do with her disappearance. Though he seemed to have pulled the wool over their eyes, he hadn't been so successful at fooling the rest of the country. His aloof behavior was catching not only the attention of authorities, but the public as well.

On December 31, Laci's family arranged a candlelight vigil for her and Conner. The entire town of Modesto came together for this solemn occasion. Scott declined to speak at the vigil before being caught in two very damning photos. In one, he kneels down next to his niece as he places a candle, with a big smile spread across his face. In the second he can be seen laughing as he stands with a group of people. Many saw this kind of behavior as suspicious, especially burgeoning cable news legal analyst and former prosecutor, Nancy Grace. She took aim at the target that Scott had placed directly on his own back, and fired.

The day after Laci's disappearance an extensive search was held along Dry Creek. Helicopters equipped with searchlights, canine units, water-rescue units on rafts, and police on horseback and bicycles were combing the area for any sign they could find. Thirty police officers took part in the search as Laci's loved ones posted fliers to raise awareness of her disappearance. In the first two days of searching up to 900 people got involved. Divers using sonar equipment took to the Berkeley Marina on January 5, 2003, believing they would find her remains, but nothing was recovered.

A $25,000 reward was offered for any information leading to Laci's safe return. That reward was increased to $250,000 as her family eagerly waited for any scrap of intel they could get. Finally it was increased to $500,000. Fliers, posters, and blue and yellow ribbons were circulated in the hopes that someone would come forward. The husband of one of Laci's friends also launched the basic version of the website. Family, friends, and volunteers set up a command center at the Red Lion Hotel. There they recorded developments in the case and circulated information. More than 1500 volunteers signed up to help.

On December 30, 2002, things started to fall apart for Scott. Amber Frey saw an article in the newspaper about Laci's disappearance. She wasted no time in calling the tip line and revealing herself to police as the mistress. Working directly with the investigators, she started recording her phone conversations with Scott. In all, she recorded more than 29 hours of audio. On December 31, he told Amber that he was in Paris, ringing in the New Year with friends. He was actually at his wife's vigil, raising eyebrows with his odd behavior.

Neither Scott's family, nor Laci's, had any idea he was having an affair. No one would've guessed that he was being recorded, especially Scott. The affair managed to stay under wraps until mid-January before the lid was blown off. The National Enquirer had a picture of Amber and Scott looking particularly cozy together, and they had every intention of publishing it. When the police learned this, they were less than pleased. On January 24, 2003, Amber appeared before the world for the first time at a press conference. She shocked viewers everywhere with her revelation of their affair along with the fact that Scott had told her he was single.

That press conference changed everything for Scott. Though the police were already rightfully suspicious, now the entire country was realizing just how guilty he was. He also lost the support of his in-laws as they turned on him along with their volunteers. He hadn't even realized how thin the ice he was standing on was until it broke out from underneath him, plunging him into cold reality. No one was on his side anymore. Even his girlfriend had turned on him to work with the police. Still, he allowed his narcissism and hubris to drive him straight to television as he prepared to damn himself even further.

In late January 2003, he decided to appear on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer in an attempt to defend himself. His interview was nothing short of a disaster as he outright lied on air and even referred to his missing wife in the past tense. He claimed that he was honest with police from the moment Laci went missing about his affair, though this was a blatant lie. He also enraged his in-laws as he stated that his wife knew about the affair and was "OK with it." By the end of the interview that was meant to win the public over to his side, he had become the most hated man in America.

On April 13, four months after this nightmare had begun, locals found a decomposed body that had washed ashore. The very next day, another was discovered. The torso of an adult female and the decomposing remains of an infant were immediately taken for DNA testing. In just a matter of days it was determined that these were the remains of Laci and Conner Peterson. They were found to have been dumped in the San Francisco Bay.

Laci's head, neck, forearms, and a portion of one of her legs were missing. At a preliminary hearing a pathologist testified that exposure to saltwater and sea life made it impossible to determine the cause of death, or the weapon that had been used. Though there were no signs of her having given birth, the baby was detached from her body. What shocked and angered investigators all the more was the plastic tape wrapped around the tiny infant's neck. Of course, Scott's defense team would call the origin of this tape into question when he stood trial.

News of the discovery was kept quiet due to the fear that Scott would flee. He had been staying with his family in San Diego, supposedly to avoid the media. On April 18, he was pulled over and arrested roughly thirty miles from Mexico. By that time police had already received nearly 10,000 tips. Due to his proximity to the border and the items found in his car it was clear that he had been caught on his way out of the country. He had $10,000 cash, camping gear, four cell phones, and his brother's ID. He had also grown a beard and dyed his hair blonde.

He was arraigned on April 21 and charged with two counts of murder, for his wife and son. Under California's fetal homicide law any fetus eight weeks or older is protected. This same month President Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as "Laci and Conner's Law," criminalizing the harming of a fetus during the assault of a pregnant woman. Reproductive rights activists saw this as nothing more than a sneaky attempt at establishing personhood for fetuses.

Facing capital murder charges, Scott pleaded not guilty. Laci's family as well as the prosecution was pushing for the death penalty. As the prosecution argued that he had killed his wife and dumped her body from the fishing boat he'd bought in secret, the defense tried to push the narrative that Laci had been abducted and killed. The trial stretched on for over twenty-three weeks before he was found guilty of first-degree murder in Laci's death, and second-degree murder in Conner's. He was sentenced to death, but the ruling was overturned in 2020 by the California Supreme Court. As it turned out, prospective jury candidates had been improperly dismissed. This revelation was all it took to pull his death sentence off the table.

For years, Scott's attorneys argued that he was owed a new trial. They thought that it was warranted on the grounds of a bias juror, in particular Juror No. 7, as Richelle Nice would come to be known. They claim that she lied on her questionnaire in order to get herself appointed to Scott Peterson's jury. Stanislaus County prosecutors convened with his defense team regarding a possible retrial in 2022.

The defense pointed to a restraining order filed by Richelle in 2000, while she was pregnant. According to Fox News, she had told authorities that she "fears for her unborn child" at the time she filed the petition. Citing changes in her answers to certain questions and multiple contradictions made, they called her "inconsistent." They also highlighted the fact that she had refused to speak with either the prosecution or the defense in 2015. She finally agreed in 2022 once she was granted immunity. When Richelle was asked if her decision could've been based on preexisting opinions or influences rather than the evidence presented at trial, she simply said, "no."

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo noticed the several inconsistencies in the questionnaire. She asked Scott's lawyers pointedly why they did not have her clarify these answers for them back in 2003. David Harris of the Stanislaus District Attorney's Office quoted Richell's answer to a question that asked if she thought herself to be a fair person. Her reply, "I know what it's like to be judged." He pointed to the woman that seemed to hold Scott's fate in her hands, stating that she was a single mother when she sat down in that jury box for the first time in her life nearly twenty years prior. She had merely been trying to do her civic duty.

The twenty-three-page questionnaire that Richelle filled out in 2003 had a total of 163 questions. The prosecution said that "she did the best she could" when answering them. Her inconsistencies didn't necessarily make her a liar, just bad at filling out forms. Later adding that she seemed confused at times, they laid the cherry on top of their argument before pointing to Scott's obvious guilt.

The District Attorney's Office found it just as easy to convince a judge of Scott's guilt as they had in 2003. Pointing to his actions in the weeks following Laci's disappearance, it was clear to everyone that he knew she would not be coming home with their son. There was also the matter of his research into bay currents in the weeks before she died, and the boat he purchased without anyone's knowledge. He also visited the marina repeatedly for weeks after she went missing.

Richelle stated that she had formed no opinion of Scott before the trial. Once she heard all of the damning evidence against him it became obvious that he was guilty. Massullo ruled that Richelle had not been biased, but had acted purely out of emotion. Scott Peterson was not granted a retrial and now, at 50 years of age, is continuing to serve out his life sentence at California's Mule Creek State Prison. Laci's mother, Sheron, told the Associated Press that the judge's decision just proved that his trial had been fair. Amber Frey was glad to hear that he would not be receiving a new trial. Though she had been willing to testify again, it came as quite a relief that wouldn't need to.

Scott's lawyer, Pat Harris, told Fox News that he was "disappointed" to hear the ruling. They're not done fighting, though. He claims to have found new evidence that proves Scott didn't kill his wife. They plan to keep pushing until they get him out. They also "respectfully disagreed" with the ruling. Scott's sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, is also under the influence that he is innocent and was subjected to an unfair trial. Her theory is that Laci caught someone attempting to burglarize the neighbor's home across the street while walking the dog. She thinks that these burglars kidnapped and murdered her before she could call the police.

On a scale of America's most hated, Scott Peterson probably ranks right up there with Casey Anthony and Chris Watts. Thankfully for every woman walking the planet the only people that seem to believe in his innocence are his attorneys and his sister-in-law. A man willing to do something so unthinkable is capable of anything. A creature driven to such atrocities by lust is not one that should be allowed out of its cage. A ravenous, starved animal could be trusted to back you into a corner before Scott Peterson.

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