The Laci Peterson Murder, 16 Years After Pregnant Wife Went Missing

Laci Peterson was last seen alive on Dec. 24, 2002. Subsequently, husband Scott was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife

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On August 9, 1997, Laci Rocha married Scott Peterson, a man she had met in a café while she attended California Polytechnic State University. The couple soon opened a popular restaurant near the college campus, which they ran for two years. They sold the business and moved to an upscale section of Modesto, California, to start a family. Scott landed a job as sales manager for a fertilizer manufacturer, while Laci stayed at home.

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Family photo via The Modesto Bee/AP

After the couple tried for more than a year to conceive, Laci Peterson eventually became pregnant in May, 2002. By all accounts, she was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mother. She soon learned that she was expecting a baby boy. The couple selected the name Conner and began decorating a nursery for him.

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Laci Peterson, 27, was last seen on December 23, 2002, when her half-sister, Amy, came to her house. Later that evening, she spoke on the phone with her mother, Sharon Rocha. Shortly after 10:15 a.m. the next day, a neighbor found Peterson's dog, McKenzie, running loose in the neighborhood and returned him to the Peterson's yard. Scott Peterson, then 31, was allegedly fishing in the San Francisco bay, about 90 miles from the family home.

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John J. Kim/The East Bay Times/AP

Laci's parents called police at 6 p.m. to report Laci missing. Police organized a massive search of the Modesto area, involving several law enforcement agencies from several counties. Friends and families plastered missing posters around town and organized candlelight vigils. Police immediately suspected foul play, saying that Laci wouldn't have vanished on Christmas Eve. During a press conference, detective Al Brocchini called Laci's disappearance "completely out of character for her."

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Paul Sakuma/AP

Amber Frey, a 27-year-old massage therapist, had started dating Scott Peterson a month before Laci's disappearance. He had told her that he was a widower.

After Laci vanished, Frey saw a news article about the case. She immediately contacted the Modesto Police Department hotline. At authorities' request, she began recording her phone calls with Peterson. "Scott told me he was not married," Frey said in a press conference. "We had a romantic relationship. I'm very sorry for Laci's family and the pain this has caused them."

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Mark DuFrene/Contra Costa Times/AP

On April 13, 2003, a couple walking their dog discovered the body of a late-term male fetus in San Francisco Bay. A day later, the body of a recently-pregnant woman washed onto the shore one mile away from where the baby's body was found. DNA tests verified that they were the bodies of Laci and Conner peterson. Authorities were unable to determine a cause of death because the bodies were badly decomposed -- and Laci's body was missing the head and both forearms.

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Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office/Getty

Scott Peterson was arrested on April 18, 2003, near a golf course. Although he claimed to be meeting his father and brother to play golf, he had survival gear, camping equipment, viagra, $15,000 in cash, two diver's licenses and four cell phones in his Mercedes. His naturally dark hair had been dyed blonde. Police saw these items as an indication that he was planning to flee to Mexico. He was charged with two felony counts of murder with premeditation and special circumstances. He pleaded not guilty.

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Al Golub-Pool/Getty

Laci Peterson's family sought the death penalty for Scott. The district attorney did too. Jury selection began on June 1, 2004, and took several weeks. During the trial, jurors heard testimony from Amber Frye and Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha. Prosecutors also showed the jury two photos in which Peterson was smiling widely while his wife was missing. The prosecution contended that his motive was to collect a $250,000 insurance policy on his wife.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty

On November 12, 2004, Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in Laci's death and second-degree murder for Conner's death. In subsequent interviews, jurors said Peterson's lack of emotion and his behavior with Amber Frey indicated that he was guilty. The judge sentenced Peterson to death, calling Laci and Conner's murder "cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous."

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Al Golub-POOL/Getty

Peterson, now 46, is appealing his conviction. His attorneys have alleged multiple factors they say kept him from getting a fair trial. The defense alleges that a juror lied on her application. They also maintain that neighbors saw Laci alive after Scott had left the family home for his fishing trip. Peterson remains on death row, while his case is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court of California.

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