- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

MODESTO, Calif., April 19 (UPI) — Police in San Diego County abruptly moved in Friday and arrested Modesto fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson in the suspected murders of his pregnant wife Laci 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.

The 31-year-old, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence since his wife disappeared nearly four months ago, faces arraignment Monday or Tuesday on two murder charges — including that of the unborn child known as 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. However officials told CNN that the identification of the bodies was not necessary to make the arrest, suggesting police were working on evidence closer to the Petersons' home.

Asked if police thought Peterson might flee across the border into Mexico, Chief Wadsen replied, "That was a concern."

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 Peterson's vehicle over and take him into custody around noon. The pro said there was a set of golf clubs in his car.

Before the day was over, 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 sentence for Peterson should he be convicted.

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 — though California seldom carries out death sentences.

"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 riveted the attention of the public far beyond California.

"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 said. "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, 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 — just a few miles from where the bodies were recovered as well as 20 feet of plastic that could have been used to wrap the body.

Peterson 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 has 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. Authorities had offered $500,000 in reward money to anyone for information on her whereabouts.

"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 disclosure was accompanied 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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