Hairs on Scott's pliers in his boat could well be Laci's, an expert witness testifies

By Frank Swertlow and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated July 22, 2004 04:00 PM
Credit: POOL-Bart Ah You/ZUMA

A California Department of Justice hair expert testified Thursday in the double-murder trial of Scott Peterson that two hairs found on a rusty pair of yellow-handled pliers in Peterson’s boat may have been Laci Peterson’s.

Speaking on the witness stand, hair analyst Rodney Oswalt said the hairs were “within the range of variation” of strands tested from hairbrushes used by Laci. The two strands also were “mashed, splayed and frayed” by a mechanical object, suggesting that they may have been torn from someone’s head.

Oswalt’s claim could also potentially place Laci inside the fishing boat that prosecutors claim her husband used to transfer her body and that of the couple’s unborn child to San Francisco Bay.

“It looked as if something had come down on it quite hard and mashed the fibers hard,” Oswalt said of the strands.

Scott Peterson, 31, is charged with killing his pregnant wife Laci on Christmas Eve 2002 at the couple’s home in Modesto, then dumping her in the Bay. He has pleaded not guilty.

With his testimony, Oswalt also ended the controversy over whether the hair on the pliers was a single strand that had broken, or was two separate pieces.

Both fragments exhibited “mechanical damage” which caused the splaying and fraying, it was stressed. “It was not tweezer damage,” Oswalt testified. “It was much more extensive.”

Asked if the pliers could have caused the damage, Oswalt answered, “Yes, the pliers could do that.” He also said that the hair damage appeared to be of a violent nature.

Stan Goldman, a Loyola law professor who has been observing the trial (now in its 28th day), said the importance of Thursday’s testimony is that it shows that Laci Peterson could have been in the boat.

“The key is the pliers,” Goldman said. “Before, there was testimony she had not been in the boat, but now the pliers can potentially put her in the boat.”

Geragos was expected to cross-examine Oswalt vigorously during the afternoon.

At one point during the morning session, Oswalt managed to elicit a laugh in the courtroom by admitting of himself: “It’s an oxymoron that a bald guy would be a hair expert.”