REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – At least one strand of dark hair found on Scott Peterson's (search) boat probably came from his dead wife, a DNA expert testified Wednesday at the former fertilizer salesman's double-murder trial.
Prosecutors say the hair found in a pair of pliers is significant because Laci allegedly was never on the boat while alive and was even unaware her husband had bought one.
Defense lawyers don't concede the hair belonged to Laci and have offered innocent explanations for how it might have ended up there, including that she was once on the boat or that it may have fallen from Scott Peterson's clothing.
Constance Fisher (search), a DNA expert with the FBI who tested the hairs, told jurors how the mitochondrial technique used in the case varies from nuclear DNA testing, which can produce a virtually definitive genetic fingerprint.
"Mitochondrial DNA cannot be used to point to an individual to the exclusion of all others, as nuclear DNA can be," Fisher said. "It is less discriminating."
The less-precise mitrochondrial method is used when the hair tested does not have a root.
Fisher said testing excluded the possibility that the hair came from Scott Peterson and, according to comparisons with a swab taken from Laci's mother's cheek, it likely came from Laci.
She said "about one out of 112" Caucasian people would have the same mitochondrial DNA makeup.
Defense lawyers have attacked the mitochondrial testing, calling it unreliable. They also have attacked the way police collected the hairs.
Detectives testified they took one hair from the pliers. But Detective Allen Brocchini (search) testified that two hairs were discovered when he and another officer opened the evidence envelope months after collecting the single strand.
Only one strand was tested, Fisher said.
Defense lawyer Mark Geragos (search) implied Brocchini may have contaminated the evidence by opening the envelope in a non-sterile environment — a police waiting room.
Karen Korsberg, an FBI trace evidence expert, testified that a visible examination of hairs from one of Laci's brushes indicated it matched the hair from the pliers.
Laci Peterson, eight months pregnant, vanished just before Christmas 2002 from the couple's home in Modesto. Her remains and that of her fetus washed ashore along San Francisco Bay several months later, not far from where Scott Peterson claimed he was fishing alone the day she disappeared.
On cross-examination, Korsberg acknowledged she was unaware of a pubic hair collected from duct tape found on Laci Peterson's remains and never compared that to samples she was given from Laci's hairbrush. Fisher, too, said she was unaware of the pubic hair and never tested it for a match to the hairs found in the pliers.
Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his wife in their home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then drove to San Francisco Bay and dumped her body from the boat.
Defense lawyers contend someone else abducted and killed Laci while she walked the couple's dog in the neighborhood, then framed their client after learning of his widely publicized fishing alibi. Peterson faces the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.