The Laci Trial: Star Witness

Amber Frey may have looked demure in her black suit and white camisole blouse when she took the stand Aug. 10, but the testimony she offered about Scott Peterson was straight out of a bodice ripper: In a quiet but firm voice, she told how Scott used champagne and strawberries to seduce her on their first date, and how during a later encounter he stroked her face and chest with the petals of a single rose. But what was most remarkable was the breathtaking speed with which Peterson seemingly tried to capture her heart. By their second date, she testified, her nouveau beau was already burbling about the “many more bottles” of wine they would share in the future.

Now, of course, the only thing they share are leading roles in Peterson’s murder trial in Redwood City, Calif. After 11 weeks of often dense testimony, Frey’s appearance—expected to last at least a week—holds the promise of perhaps jump-starting a prosecution case that has at times seemed to be going nowhere. “It all comes down to Amber,” says Michael Cardoza, a former Alameda County prosecutor, and her relationship with Peterson, 31. Was he, as prosecutor Rick Distaso contends, so infatuated with her that he murdered his wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son, Conner, so that they could be together? Or was the Fresno massage therapist, as Peterson’s attorney Mark Geragos argues, just an inconsequential fling? “After Amber’s testimony, we will all know whether the case will be won or lost,” says her father, Ron Frey. “She’s going to make it or break it.”

One thing for sure is that Frey, 29, seems a formidable witness. Never appearing flustered, she only locked eyes with Peterson once, when she was asked to identify him. He appeared to be staring at her throughout her five hours of testimony on the first day. “She’s been composed, she’s been direct. She’s been just as honest as can be,” says Bay Area defense attorney Daniel Horowitz. “She’s devastating Peterson.” Her attorney Gloria Allred acknowledged that Frey had been nervous about her appearance. “I don’t think anybody would want to trade places with her,” says Allred. “She knows that millions of people will see her and review her looks and actions and will talk about every word she says.” According to her father, in the run-up to her court date she took to wearing hats and sunglasses to disguise herself. She was accompanied to Redwood City by her boyfriend David Markovich, 44, a chiropractor with whom she has a 4-month-old son, Justin. (From a previous relationship, she also has a daughter, Ayianna, 3, who stayed with Frey’s mother.) During court breaks Frey nursed Justin, which offered little enough relief from the rigors she would be enduring on the stand.

During her first day’s testimony she told of how she readily swallowed Peterson’s sob story—that he had “lost” his wife and this would be the first holiday season without her (even though Laci was still very much alive at the time). When she asked if, given that, he was prepared to have a relationship with her, he emphatically replied, “Absolutely.” She also provided a window into Peterson’s attitude toward having children. The prosecution contends that he wanted nothing to do with the child he and Laci were about to have. Indeed, with Frey he discussed his willingness to have a vasectomy. “He didn’t feel he needed to have a biological child,” said Frey, “that if he were with me and my daughter, he would consider her his own and would raise her as his.”

Frey’s testimony, of course, will not go unchallenged. She faces the certainty of a tough cross-examination from Geragos, who in his opening statement pointed out that the lovers had a total of only four dates. Once it’s all over, says Frey’s father, she would like nothing more than to return to a more normal life. “She’s anxious to give her testimony,” says Ron Frey, “and be done with it.”

Bill Hewitt. Ron Arias in Redwood City and Lyndon Stambler and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles

Related Articles