June 02, 2004 08:00 AM

Grisly photos accompanied the opening statements in Scott Peterson’s double murder trial, which kicked off Tuesday morning in a packed Redwood City, Calif., courtroom as prosecutor Rick Distaso addressed the six-man, six-woman jury.

Loud gasps greeted the projected photos of the decomposed remains of Peterson’s dead wife Laci and their unborn son, while Peterson – dressed in a beige suit and his hair cut shorter than it was at earlier court appearances – reportedly did not look up at the images.

Nor did he gaze at a photo of him with his mistress, masseuse Amber Frey, taken at a Christmas party, which the prosecution contrasted with a photo of the pregnant Laci, the Associated Press reports.

Stanislaus County prosecutor Rick Distaso began his remarks by recapping the events of Dec. 24, 2002 – the day that the eight-months-pregnant Laci disappeared.

Detailing a phone call from Scott Peterson to Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, in the early evening, Distaso quoted Peterson as saying, “Laci’s missing.” The prosecutor also played part of a call Peterson made to Frey, in which he said he was in Europe on business.

Distaso set the rest of the scene for jurors, despite objections from defense attorneys, the AP reports. “It’s Christmas Eve, there’s a woman who’s eight months pregnant who is missing under very mysterious circumstances,” he said. The defense, he argued, is “looking for evidence of a burglary. They’re looking for evidence of a robbery. There is nothing out of place.”

Calling the Peterson a liar, Distaso also told jurors that the former fertilizer salesman gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts on the day his wife disappeared – telling some he went fishing and others that he had been golfing.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos was to deliver his opening statement on Wednesday.

The trial, which is expected to last up to six months (jury selection took 12 weeks), will not be televised, though it has already been the subject of intense media scrutiny, as well as the subject of two books – with two more reportedly on the way – and a cable TV movie.

California’s attorney general once described the capital case against Peterson as a “slam dunk,” but as news reports on Tuesday pointed out, legal experts, noting an absence of direct evidence linking Peterson to the disappearance and murder, say that prosecutors appear to be relying on a web of circumstance.

Peterson’s father, Lee, also reiterated to reporters on Tuesday, “They have no evidence.”

Authorities allege Peterson, 31, killed his 27-year-old wife in their Modesto home because he was having an affair, then drove her body nearly 100 miles to San Francisco Bay and dumped it from his small boat.

Peterson, who besides being charged with the murder of his wife is also charged with killing their unborn baby, was arrested near the Mexican border in April 2003. He was carrying $10,000 and his brother’s driver’s license and had dyed his hair blond.

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