August 12, 2004 04:10 PM

In perhaps the most riveting presentation yet in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial, prosecutors on Thursday played a police-recorded phone conversation in which the accused killer admitted to his mistress, Amber Frey, that his wife, Laci, was missing and that he repeatedly lied to her.

The audiotapes, played during the morning’s court session, reveal a Jan. 6, 2003, chat between Frey and Peterson beginning with Scott’s saying, “The worst thing in the world …”

Moments later, he adds: “I have not been traveling during the last couple weeks. … I have lied to you that I’ve been traveling. … The girl I’m married to, her name is Laci. … She disappeared just before Christmas.”

Peterson followed in the tapes by repeatedly apologizing to Frey in an often choking, sometimes tearful voice. Under Frey’s relentless questions about his lying and loyalty to her (she had been primed by police to pose questions to Peterson), the former fertilizer salesman also begs her to understand that he cannot tell her all the truth about what might have happened to his wife.

“The media has been telling everyone that I had something to do with her disappearance,” Peterson said in the Jan. 6 call. “So the past two weeks I’ve been hunted by the media. … I know that I am, you know, I’m destroyed.”

Later in the conversation, Frey said, “So, you know, you and I …”

“Are destroyed,” Peterson said.

The audio tapes – more than 300 calls between Frey and Peterson – are part of an effort by authorities to show jurors that Peterson’s motive to kill his wife and their unborn child was to be with Frey, a massage therapist who has become the government’s star witness.

Peterson went quiet on the line as Frey barraged him with questions about his marriage and his unborn child.

In a call later that same day, Frey asked Peterson why she shouldn’t be afraid of him. His response, “I am not an evil person … I would never hurt anyone.”

Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his wife and their unborn child on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body from his small fishing boat into San Francisco Bay. He has pleaded not guilty.

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