New Docuseries Questions Scott Peterson’s Guilt

By C.W.S.

A&E’s has premiered a new docuseries called The Murder of Laci Peterson which includes Scott Peterson's first public statement from Prison in the 15 years since his conviction. Peterson is still maintaining his innocence, despite being one of the most hated figures in true crime history. However, this new series feels different—and it feels like it is being made in an attempt to exonerate Peterson, despite producer John Mark’s statement that exoneration is not his intention: "I just want people to say, 'What actually happened here?'"

The first episode of the series came out Tuesday night and exists mostly as a reminder of the background of this case, though it is peppered heartily with counter evidence and questions of the possibly of Peterson’s innocence.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant with a child she had named Conner when she disappeared on Christmas Eve, 2002. It didn’t take long for a local reporter to stake out the case of the missing pregnant, pretty, white, suburban wife. But it was her husband’s behavior that turned a local story into a national phenomenon.

 Laci Peterson

Laci Peterson

Peterson alleged that he came home from a fishing day trip to find their dog in the backyard, still wearing a leash. The door was unlocked and Laci was no where to be found. But Peterson was unconcerned. He took off the clothes he was wearing and washed them, took a shower, and ate some pizza. Then he called over to Laci’s mother’s house, where he assumed he would find his wife. She was not there. Laci’s father reported her missing to the police that night.

A neighbor would come forward to state that she had found the Peterson's dog walking down the street trailing his leash. She walked him into the couple’s backyard and shut the gate.

Scott first refused a polygraph, creating suspicion among police. Then his aloof interviews and statements started rubbing the media and the public the wrong way. Photographs of Peterson smiling and laughing at a vigil for Laci further solidified public suspicion. Peterson also attempted to halt a police search of the couple’s home. The polygraph refusal is rationalized in the first episode through conversations with Peterson’s father, who mentioned that he encouraged him not to take the polygraph, as he believed it could only be used against him. As for the warrant, another family member claimed that Peterson was simply waiting on approval from his attorney.

The biggest bombshell in this case would come with the discovery of an extra marital affair that Peterson had been having with a woman named Amber Frey. Amber told police that Peterson had not told her he was married, and phone messages would prove this. Amber would also tell police of a phone call that Peterson made to her from Laci’s vigil, pretending he was celebrating New Years Eve in Paris. Amber would fully cooperate with authorities, keeping quiet to him about her discovery that Scott Peterson was married and a person of interest in a murder. The police would tape numerous phone calls in which Amber would attempt to get information out of Peterson, but nothing significant was discovered.

Up until the point Amber came forward, Laci’s family stuck by Scott Peterson. After the revelation, however, they joined the rest of the country in their condemnation of Peterson.

Then in April, Laci’s body, as well as the body of her child, were found on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay in Richmond's Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, north of the Berkeley Marina, where Peterson had been fishing the day of Laci’s disappearance. Laci’s body had been dismembered and beheaded, and she had several broken ribs not attributed to the time her body had been carried by the current. A few days later, Peterson would be arrested. His hair and facial hair had been dyed blonde, though he claimed it was chlorine from a local pool that altered its color. He was in possession of the following items:  $15,000 in cash, four different cell phones, several credit cards belonging to his family members, a great deal of camping equipment, nine pairs of shoes, several changes of clothing, double-edged dagger, a printed map to Amber Frey's workplace, a shovel, two ropes, 200 packs of sleeping pills, Viagra, and his brother's driver license. He was just 30 miles from the Mexican border.

 Scott Peterson 2011 mugshot

Scott Peterson 2011 mugshot

Though there was a serious lack of forensic evidence, aside from a hair of Laci’s found in a pair of pliers aboard Peterson’s boat, the jury convicted Peterson of first-degree murder. They noted that the Peterson home and Scott Peterson’s boat had been cleaned right before police arrived, and that there was a lingering smell of bleach. This verdict, based almost entirely in circumstantial evidence, was nonetheless followed by a public outcry of support. The jury gave Peterson the death sentence. By the end of 2017, the court has to respond to Peterson’s request for appeal. If Peterson is unable to make an appeal, which his legal team has been attempting since 2005, he will be put to death by 2021.

Peterson’s recent statements from prison appear in the docuseries. Peterson describes the moment the guilty verdict was announced: "Oh, it was crazy there. Just like this amazing, horrible physical reaction I had. I couldn't feel my feet on the floor. I couldn't feel the chair I was sitting in, my vision was even a little blurry."

"I..I was staggered by it. I had no idea it was coming," Scott said.

Peterson also stated: "I wasn't the last one to see Laci that day. There are so many witnesses who saw her walking in the neighborhood after I left."

It’s hard not to feel a bias in the show’s presentation of the evidence, hard not to notice the timeliness. Producer Marks stated this explicitly in an interview with ABC News: "There's an appeals process that's ongoing, so his case is under appeal. So it felt like a moment, I think, for him and for his lawyer to step up and... say something about the case."

This series, Peterson’s statements, and the upcoming deadline for the courts to reveal their decision on his appeal, are all sure to reignite America’s anger around Peterson. It is doubtful that any documentary could change the public opinion of Scott Peterson, and perhaps that isn’t what it is setting out to do. We might be seeing yet another true crime series existing solely for a ratings grab, capitalizing on the Serial-esque theater of wrongful imprisonment, as well as one of the most incensing cases in American true crime history.