- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

MODESTO, Calif., April 18 (UPI) — Police tailing Scott Peterson in San Diego County decided to move in Friday and arrest the Modesto fertilizer salesman for the murders of his pregnant wife and unborn child hours before their remains were positively identified.

Peterson was taken into custody while pulling a red Mercedes into a golf course in his old hometown — located a short drive from the Mexican border — on a warrant issued Thursday night as state crime lab technicians finalized their identification of the bodies of Laci Peterson and the male fetus that had been given the name Conner.

"There are a number of factors that led us to believe it was important to pursue a warrant and be prepared to make an arrest if the teams keeping track of Scott felt it was necessary," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wadsen told a nationally televised news conference in the central California city east of San Francisco Bay.

The chief continued his department's tight-lipped approach to the case when asked if there was concern Peterson might try to bolt into Mexico before the remains of his wife and son were identified.

"That was a concern," was all he said.

A golf pro at the seaside Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla told Fox News she witnessed an unmarked car with four or five plainclothes officers pull the vehicle over and take Peterson into custody around noon. The pro said there was a set of golf clubs in the Mercedes.

Before the day was over, the 31-year-old Peterson was being driven the nearly 500 miles from San Diego to Modesto where he was to be arraigned on capital murder charges Monday or Tuesday.

The inclusion of the unborn Conner in the charges could ultimately lead to the death penalty for Peterson, should he be convicted in a trial likely to draw heavy media coverage.

Under California law, a murder charge can be applied in the death of a fetus if the mother was more than seven weeks pregnant and the killer was aware his actions would cause its death. A conviction in the death of mother and fetus would be considered a multiple murder that would qualify the defendant for execution.

"That doesn't mean we will automatically be seeking the death penalty," Stanislaus County District Attorney Jim Brazelton told reporters. "There are a number of things we take into consideration."

Brazelton said he would oppose any attempt to move the trial to another jurisdiction because the mystery had struck a chord with the public across the nation.

"There has been media attention around here, but everywhere I've gone the past three months, statewide and nationally, everyone has a great deal of knowledge about this case," Brazelton explained. "That kind of cuts in favor of there not being a change of venue. Where are you going to go to find someone that has not heard of this case?"

Because the charges were filed in Stanislaus County, investigators apparently believe the murder occurred in Modesto rather than in Contra Costa County where the remains were discovered.

Peterson had maintained that he last saw his wife, who was eight months pregnant, at their Modesto home on the morning of Dec. 24 as he set off for a solo fishing trip on San Francisco Bay. He produced a parking receipt from a Berkeley marina where he said he had launched his small outboard motor boat.

He told police that his wife had planned to take the dog for a walk along a nearby trail. When he returned home late that afternoon and found the dog in the yard with its leash attached. Laci's car was in the driveway and her purse was in the house.

The remains of Laci, 27, and her full-term fetus were found not far from the same marina earlier this week and were positively identified Friday using DNA samples provided by Scott and by Laci's parents in a genetic test similar to that used to determine paternity. The cause of death was not determined.

Wadsen said there had been no other suspects in the case and nothing had occurred during the four-month investigation to indicate that Laci had been kidnapped or walked out on her own accord, even with $500,000 in reward money offered to entice anyone who might know where she was.

"As we developed this case, there was nothing that we could find that would suggest that Laci was missing of her own free will," the chief said. "I'm convinced, based on my experience and the amount of money, that had anyone had any information … we would have heard about it."

Wadsen and Brazelton declined to discuss any possible motive Peterson might have had to kill his wife during Christmas week.

Scott Peterson's standing in the public eye, however, had suffered a serious blow Jan. 24 when Amber Frey of Fresno came forward and confirmed at a packed news conference that she had been having an affair with Peterson, whom she met in connection with his job as a fertilizer salesman. She said she did not know he was married.

Frey's devastating disclosure was compounded by reports that Peterson had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife while she was pregnant.

Peterson was immediately ostracized from his wife's family and eventually dropped out of sight, retreating to San Diego County, where he had attended University of San Diego High School, a private school run by Jesuit priests, and where his parents still live in the coastal town of Solana Beach.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)


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