The Peterson Case: More Heartache
It was at once a solemn and surprisingly joyful noise—the roar of more than a thousand motorcycles cruising through streets where Laci once lived. The third annual Laci and Conner Peterson Memorial Ride—a 20-mile trek to her grave site and her hometown of Escalon, Calif., on Oct. 1—was the first public remembrance of Laci and her unborn son since Scott Peterson was found guilty of her 2002 murder and sent to death row this March. But for Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, who attended the upbeat memorial, it was clear that the verdicts against Scott have done little to lessen her pain. “I’m taking it day by day,” says Rocha, 53. “It’s still difficult moving forward.”
Part of the reason may be that she isn’t through fighting on Laci’s behalf. The next battle? Laci’s $250,000 life-insurance policy. Scott Peterson is the beneficiary and has asked a judge to stop her family from claiming the money until his appeals are exhausted, which could be 20 years from now. A hearing is set for Oct. 21. “I’m confident the [guilty] verdict is going to be overturned,” says Peterson’s lawyer Mark Geragos. The claim, counters Rocha’s lawyer Adam J. Stewart, “is absurd. This is Scott still trying to control the purse strings from his cell.”
It isn’t the only financial dispute stemming from Scott’s conviction. Stanislaus County officials petitioned the state of California for $3.2 million to reimburse them for the cost of prosecuting Peterson. On Sept. 26 the state agreed to repay only $764,054, viewing some of the additional costs in police overtime, investigative work and court fees as normal operating expenses. “We haven’t given up,” says Stanislaus County CEO Rick Robinson, who plans to keep petitioning for more funds.
Then Laci’s family must gear up for their $25 million wrongful-death suit against Scott Peterson, slated to go to trial in April 2006. Even if the Rochas again prevail in court, however, the victory will be bittersweet. As a somber Sharon Rocha said after the memorial service for Laci and Conner, “It will be a long time,” she says, “before I am ready to celebrate anything.”