Opening statements kick off Tuesday in the Scott Peterson double murder trial

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 01, 2004 05:00 PM

Opening statements in Scott Peterson’s double murder trial kicked off Tuesday morning in a Redwood City, Calif., courtroom as prosecutor Rick Distaso addressed the six-man, six-woman jury by recapping the events of Dec. 24, 2002 – the day that the eight-months-pregnant Laci Peterson 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.”

“There is an important point in that conversation, which was Scott’s wording … ‘Laci is missing’ … which Mrs. Rocha thought was a very suspicious way to put it,” legal expert Dean Johnson tells northern California TV station KCRA.

Distaso set the rest of the scene for jurors, despite objections from defense attorneys, the Associated Press 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.”

Distaso also told jurors that Peterson 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 by Tuesday afternoon.

The courtroom for the trial was jam-packed on Tuesday, with 30 seats (of the 100 available) for the viewing public turned over to a lottery system.

The trial, which is expected to last 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.

Prosecutors lack a murder weapon or even a cause of death, but are expected to call hundreds of witnesses – including Peterson’s mistress, Amber Frey – though it remains unclear exactly who will be called, because the list is sealed and attorneys are working under a sweeping gag order, AP reports.

According to a prosecution filing last week, Geragos submitted a list of only 18 witnesses.

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.