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Was The Scott Peterson Trial Real Justice?


By James Donahue

December 2004


I doubt if there is a person over 12 years of age in America that isn’t aware of the Scott Peterson conviction for the sensational Christmas 2002 murder of his wife and unborn son.


Not since the O.J. Simpson murder trial has a nation been so involved in a murder case, even though murders as heinous, and worse, go on all over the nation every day. That is because the media clamped onto this particular case and sensationalized it.


The producers of Court TV were especially successful in keeping folks captured on the minute details of the trial, even though it dragged on for long boring months, and stalled at various times to allow lawyers time for additional research.


Peterson, who held a menial job in California as a fertilizer salesman and lacked the fame of Simpson, apparently married some degree of wealth. He lived in luxury. He also was carrying on with another woman, the lovely Amber Fry, ever after his pregnant wife, Lacy, mysteriously disappeared on Christmas Eve.


Thus the story was perfect for public television dramatization. It had all the elements for a real-life drama . . . a beautiful murdered woman found floating in San Francisco Bay the following spring, taped telephone messages with Frey that continued on after Lacy Peterson went missing, the purchase of a boat and unexplained fishing excursion at the very place where the bodies of Lacy and the baby later appeared, the remains of the manufacture of a concrete boat anchor at the Peterson home that police believed was used as a sinker to hold the bodies down, and lastly, an apparent attempt by Peterson to flee to Mexico just as police were moving in for the arrest.


It was all circumstantial evidence, of course. But there were so many parts to this puzzle that pointed to Scott Peterson as the culprit in this murder that the police, and finally a 12-member California jury, had no trouble convicting the man. After lengthy deliberation, they even recommended a sentence of death, something very rare in that liberal thinking state.


Obviously Peterson was his own worse enemy in this case. Even the jurors later stated that it was his callous, unemotional attitude throughout the trial, and even during his sentencing, that turned them against him.


That Peterson told authorities he was fishing at the very place where the bodies later floated ashore, that he was openly carrying on a romantic relationship even after his pregnant wife disappeared, that he expressed little concern during the manhunt for her that followed her disappearance, and finally, the fact that he dyed his hair, bought a different car and was found with a great deal of money in Mexican pesos at the time of his arrest, all led to his conviction.


It was a sensational story all right. And the television anchor reporters at Court TV convicted Peterson verbally throughout the trial. Even though Judge Alfred A. Delucchi wisely kept television cameras out of his courtroom, the reporters managed to use electronic transmissions to give the nation a blow-by-blow account of almost every word uttered from the day that trial opened.


Peterson never had a chance. Even though the jury was ordered not to watch television news or read newspapers during that long six-month trial, the chances are strong that some if not all of the jurors were influenced in some way by all of the media coverage that trial received.


During the years that I covered court cases as a newspaper reporter, I was present during several murder trials. None of them lasted longer than a few days. The longest trial I ever covered involved an attempted murder by arsenic. It was a very complex case and involved hours of testimony from specialists in poison. That trial lasted about a week.


The Peterson case should not have lasted as long as it did.


Even though I came to the same conclusion the jury did . . . that Peterson was a cad who killed his wife and then dropped her body in the bay . . . I had a feeling that his trial was a sham. It was turned into a public circus. The old concept of innocent until proven guilty was tossed right out of the window from day one.


Suppose it was a crime of passion. Had Peterson confessed his crime to police instead of attempting to cover it up, that baby might have been saved. Not only that, but Peterson probably would have been convicted of a lesser crime . . . perhaps no more than second degree murder. He might have been out of prison within 10-15 years.


His continued silence throughout the trial only compounded the judgment against him.


The gasps and expressions of horror that gripped the courtroom when the jury delivered the sentence of death are understandable. That Peterson has been sentenced to death is spiritually wrong and everyone in the room knew it.

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