REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – A police officer described in painstaking detail Wednesday the search for Laci Peterson (search) after her husband, now charged in her murder, reported her missing.
Modesto police Sgt. Ron Cloward was put in charge of the search efforts on Dec. 26, two days after Scott Peterson (search) said he last saw his pregnant wife.
Searchers first scoured a park near the couple's home looking through "bushes ... piles of leaves, anything at all" and checked with registered sex offenders (search) and recent parolees in the area, Cloward testified Wednesday at Peterson's double-murder trial.
The search then expanded to cover the entire city of Modesto, in manholes, rivers, alleys, canals and orchards, Cloward said.
Soon, a $500,000 reward was offered for information leading to Laci Peterson's safe return.
The truth would come out months later when the remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed ashore in April 2003, just miles from where Peterson claimed to have been fishing that Christmas Eve day in 2002 — the day Laci Peterson vanished.
On Tuesday, Modesto Police officer Jon Evers testified that Scott Peterson quickly produced evidence for an alibi as authorities swarmed about his house in the hours after his pregnant wife vanished — but police were still suspicious and immediately began checking his story.
Among their first steps was to search the warehouse where Peterson stored the small boat he said he took on a solo fishing trip that day. Prosecutors charge he used the boat to dispose of Laci Peterson's body.
Evers said that as he and Peterson walked around the couple's home on Christmas Eve 2002, Peterson volunteered a parking receipt from a marina in Berkeley. He told police he returned from a trip on San Francisco Bay to an empty home.
"I had a quick conversation with Scott about where he went fishing," Evers testified, "and he said, 'In fact, I have a parking receipt. Would you like to see it?"'
Under cross-examination, however, Evers was confronted with statements he made during Peterson's preliminary hearing.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos (search) read a transcript in which Evers said he asked Peterson if he could prove his fishing story, and that's when Peterson produced the receipt.
"Isn't that actually what happened?" Geragos asked.
Evers said he couldn't remember.
He was the first police officer dispatched to the home in the hours after Modesto police received the call that Laci Peterson was missing. He testified that although he didn't see "any obvious evidence of a struggle," small clues suggested something was awry -- a crumpled throw rug, a wet mop and a pile of dirty towels in the otherwise tidy home.
Peterson's defense attorney has accused authorities of conducting a sloppy investigation and focusing too quickly on Peterson, to the detriment of other leads.
When Evers testified that the crumpled rug by a door inside the home "was kind of odd," Geragos pounced.
"I said, 'Hey Scott, is that rug always like that?"' Evers said. "He said, 'Oh, the cat and dog must've been playing in here."'
Evers said he remained suspicious, particularly after Peterson used his foot to straighten out the rug, but under cross-examination he couldn't say why he felt the scene was odd.
"Did you see blood anywhere on it, anywhere on this rug? Did you see fibers ... did you see hairs?" Geragos asked.
"No," Evers replied.
"Did you see anything that (indicated) that rug was an instrumentality in a homicide?" Geragos asked sarcastically.
"No," Evers again replied.
The rug was not collected as evidence, Evers said.
Prosecutors allege Peterson, 31, murdered his wife in their home on or around Dec. 24, 2002.
Peterson's attorneys have asserted that someone else abducted her while she walked the dog and then framed Peterson after intense media coverage made his alibi widely known. Prosecutors allege that Peterson's affair with a massage therapist drove him to kill. He could face the death penalty or life without parole, if convicted.
Testimony concluded Tuesday with three medical assistants who worked for Laci Peterson's doctor.
Laci Peterson's estimated due date was Feb. 16, 2003, according to the testimony, more than seven weeks after she disappeared. That date is important because while prosecutors allege Peterson dumped his wife's pregnant body into the bay, Geragos said he will prove the fetus was born alive weeks after Laci Peterson disappeared, making it impossible for Peterson to be the killer.