REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Prosecutors rested their murder case against Scott Peterson (search) on Tuesday, having presented 174 witnesses trying to convince jurors he was a cheating husband who killed his pregnant wife and lied to police and family alike to try to cover his tracks.
The prosecution ended its 19-week case by portraying the defendant as a man on the run. Modesto police Detective Jon Buehler said Peterson had a load of new camping gear and nearly $15,000 in cash when he was arrested April 19, 2003, near San Diego.
Peterson was arrested soon after the remains of Laci Peterson (search) and her fetus washed ashore not far from the marina where Peterson launched his boat the previous Christmas Eve. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his eight-months-pregnant wife in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body into the bay. Defense lawyers maintain someone else abducted and killed Laci.
Prosecutors have put together a detailed web of circumstantial evidence to cast suspicion on Peterson. The prosecution couldn't point to a murder weapon, a crime scene or even a cause of death, but legal experts said a detailed narrative from Modesto Detective Craig Grogan helped improve the prospects for their case.
On Tuesday, Buehler testified that when Peterson, 31, was arrested, he had a backpack and an overnight bag stuffed with everything from hunting knives and a water purifier to snorkeling and fishing equipment to a shovel and duct tape. Much of the camping equipment had been purchased a month earlier, Buehler said.
The camping equipment was found in a used red Mercedes he had bought using his mother's name, Jacqueline. Peterson also had several changes of clothes, four cell phones, two driver's licenses -- his and his brother's -- and six credit cards, including one in girlfriend Amber Frey's (search) name.
But defense lawyer Mark Geragos (search) showed photos of similar clothes and equipment found in Peterson's truck months earlier, portraying him as a man who simply lived out of his vehicle.
On the day he was arrested, Peterson drove a circuitous nearly 170-mile route in Southern California in what prosecutors suggested was an attempt to evade police. Defense lawyers have maintained Peterson was trying to elude media scrutiny.
In the trunk of Peterson's car were several flyers advertising a reward for Laci Peterson's safe return, Buehler said. Peterson also had packed "The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?"
Frey had given him the book, along with a card dated Feb. 16, 2003. "I can only hope that this will come to an end soon," she wrote. "I wish I could go back in time. I'm praying for you and your family."
Experts disagreed on whether the last day of testimony was as dramatic as it needed to be to stick in jurors' minds.
Chuck Smith, a former San Mateo County prosecutor, said the prosecution's case "ended with more of a whimper than a bang."
But Paula Canny, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor who has been watching the trial, said the prosecution showed that Peterson "lied to everybody."
"The strongest evidence the prosecution has is what Scott Peterson said and what Scott Peterson did," she said.
Geragos will begin calling witnesses when court resumes next Tuesday. Observers expect him to present experts who will contradict scientific evidence like the age of the fetus and law enforcement officers who will shore up the defense's accusation that police targeted Peterson and failed to look at other possible suspects.