Peterson Trial Turns to Evidence, Theories

Police investigating Laci Peterson's (search) disappearance omitted from reports that a plastic tarp near her body carried the odor of decaying flesh, according to testimony Wednesday at her husband's murder trial.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos (search) noted Modesto authorities failed to immediately test the tarp for evidence, even after another officer informed them of the odor.

Lawyers for Scott Peterson (search) are trying to show police narrowly focused on the defendant to the exclusion of other possible leads, and even bungled the case by not testing all potential evidence.

Officer Timothy Philipps of the East Bay Regional Park District Police Department responded to the scene where Laci Peterson's remains were found in April 2003. On Wednesday, he detailed items found near the body, including the tarp and four pieces of fabric, one of which a cadaver dog "alerted on" — but which also was never tested, Geragos said.

"As I got in close proximity to the bag ... I did notice an odor about it," Philipps said. "To me, the odor was similar to the odor of the remains that were recovered."

The revelation was provided to defense attorneys several weeks ago, and the tarp was then tested. Results have not yet been revealed; according to a previous prosecution witness, a visual check revealed no blood or tissue.

Philipps and another officer said they told Modesto detectives about the odor; no mention of the smell is in police reports.

Prosecutors allege Peterson killed his wife on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body in San Francisco Bay. Her remains and those of her fetus washed up about four months later, a few miles from where Peterson claims to have been fishing alone the day his wife vanished.

Defense lawyers claim someone else abducted and killed the pregnant woman while she walked the couple's dog.

Geragos also suggested Wednesday Laci Peterson's body could have been tossed into a nearby channel and washed out to the spot where it was discovered — implying there was ample opportunity for someone else to have dumped the body.

Philipps said the area near where Laci's body was found is accessible by car and foot, and is also frequented by transients.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Dave Harris noted fabric discovered near the remains wasn't tested because it was a pair of women's underwear. Philipps said Laci Peterson's body was discovered with underwear on the remains.

Harris also noted a cadaver dog used to search the area did not "alert" on the plastic tarp. He suggested the smell from the body may have simply lingered with Philipps to where the tarp was found.

Also Wednesday, a search dog handler testified his animal didn't pick up Laci Peterson's scent at the marina where Peterson launched his boat. A prosecution witness previously testified her search dog did pick up the woman's scent at the water's edge.