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Dread of fatherhood could be Peterson's motive, witnesses suggest

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

Court TV:  Case coverageexternal link

REDWOOD CITY, California (Court TV) -- Scott Peterson might have had more motive than a mistress to kill his pregnant wife, prosecution witnesses implied at his capital murder trial Tuesday.

Relatives of Laci Peterson suggested the fertilizer salesman did not want a child and felt trapped and depressed about his life.

His sister-in-law recalled asking him whether he was ready for fatherhood.

"He looked at me and said, 'I was kinda hoping for infertility,'" testified Rosemarie Rocha, prompting several gasps in the courtroom.

When a defense lawyer asked later if the comment could have been a joke, she answered, "He wasn't laughing and he wasn't smiling."

A cousin of Laci Peterson testified that when she spoke enthusiastically about the games of catch Peterson and the child, a boy, would surely play, he was dismissive.

"I've got friends who can do that," Gwendolyn Kemple quoted him as saying.

Laci Peterson's brother told the jury that, in a conversation with Peterson about becoming a father, he talked about "how he wasn't doing good in his job" and was worried about turning 30.

"He was down," said Brent Rocha.

Their descriptions of Peterson differed greatly from portraits drawn by others, including Laci Peterson's mother and sister, who said he was thrilled about his first child.

But it could prove important as prosecutors try to persuade jurors that Peterson murdered his wife when she was eight months pregnant. Prosecutors have focused heavily on his affair with massage therapist Amber Frey, but the defense has dismissed the affair as a motive because the couple only went on four dates. Peterson would never "chuck his entire life" for the brief relationship, they say.

Family members have said Laci Peterson wanted a child desperately and that Scott Peterson generally bent to her will.

The allegations of ambivalence about the baby came during yet another day of testimony concerning strange or suspicious behavior by Peterson surrounding the December 24, 2002, disappearance of his 27-year-old wife.

Perceptions of Peterson changed

The five witnesses called by prosecutors were people who rushed to Peterson's aid when he reported her missing. They initially believed him to be a loving, devoted husband struck by tragedy, but because of things Peterson said or did, they came to suspect he was involved in her disappearance.

Laci Peterson's stepfather, Ron Grantski, said that within a day or two, he had concluded that his son-in-law's alibi was bogus. Peterson told police he was trawling for sturgeon and striper 90 miles away in San Francisco Bay when his wife went missing from their home in Modesto.

"I said, 'I think your Berkeley fishing trip is a fishy story,'" Grantski, an avid fisherman, recalled telling Peterson. He said he asked Peterson if he was trying to cover for a liaison with a "girlfriend."

"He said, 'No,' and turned around and walked away," Grantski said.

Peterson confessed to the affair with Frey only after photos of the two emerged and she began cooperating with authorities.

Several witnesses said Peterson did not seem upset after reporting his wife missing. Her mother, Sharon Rocha, lost her composure as she searched a park for her daughter and later could not even stand upright for press interviews.

But Peterson, they said, appeared calm.

When he did speak, they said, what he said was often strange. Sandy Rickard, the closest friend of Sharon Rocha, said that he came up to her as she stood in the couple's front yard as police were combing the neighborhood for clues.

She said he blurted out, "I wouldn't be surprised if they find blood on my truck because I cut myself frequently."

Police found spots of Peterson's own blood in the pickup truck. He has said he hurt his hands while working on farms.

When Laci Peterson's remains washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay four months later, her body was too decomposed to determine how she was killed. Her husband's lawyers say extensive forensic testing did not find any of her blood inside their home.

Kemple, Laci Peterson's cousin, testified that Peterson did not do many of the things a husband looking for his wife would likely do. In the hours after Laci vanished, Kemple, said Peterson told her that he had not checked to see if her purse was in the house, nor whether she took her coat with her.

As the search stretched into days and then weeks, relatives continued to notice odd behavior. Brent Rocha told jurors that when the rest of the family assembled on stage at a December 31 community vigil for Laci Peterson, her husband was nowhere to be found.

As the event got under way, Rocha said, Peterson phoned him from the audience.

"He says, 'Well, if people are looking for me, I'm going to watch the vigil from down here with my friends,'" Rocha said.

Rocha also related two previously unknown conversations with his brother-in-law in the month after his wife vanished. Both, Rocha said, were prompted by tabloid articles about evidence in the case.

One claimed Peterson had a mistress. Rocha said he finally got Peterson to admit the article was true, but when he asked if Amber Frey might have had something to do with Laci Peterson's disappearance, Peterson said it was impossible because she hadn't even known that he was married until after his wife went missing.

The second story concerned a cement anchor police found in Peterson's warehouse. Rocha said Peterson explained that he "used to make cement anchors." When Rocha pointed out that investigators found only one anchor, "He said, 'Well, I used the rest as cement for my driveway.'"

The location of Laci Peterson's remains prompted speculation that Peterson weighted down her body and then dumped it in the bay.

Taking the microphone

Rocha also testified that Peterson refused to give media interviews, even in the frantic early days when the family believed getting the word out might bring his wife safely home.

Both Grantski and Rocha said Peterson repeatedly demurred, saying, "This isn't about me, this is about finding Laci."

Rocha said his brother-in-law didn't seem too upset to speak, as his distraught mother did. He also said Peterson wasn't known to be shy in front of cameras.

At Rocha's own wedding, he said, "He kind of took the microphone for like 10 minutes and gave a long speech ... and had no problem doing that."

On cross-examination, lawyers for Peterson suggested that several of the witnesses had concocted or embellished accounts of suspicious behavior after they learned of the affair and felt deceived.

Questioning Rickard, for example, defense attorney Pat Harris pointed out that she did not tell police about Peterson's comment about the blood from his hands until February, two months later.

Even then, he noted, she did not mention the word "truck."

"I thought I did," she said.

Brent Rocha also acknowledged under questioning by the defense that Peterson seemed devastated when his in-laws learned of his affair and still insisted that he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance.

The defense also scored points with Grantski's admission that he also took a spur-of-the-moment fishing trip Christmas Eve day. Many people said Peterson's holiday trip to the bay was so strange that it could only be a cover for disposal of his wife's body, but under questioning by defense lawyer Mark Geragos, Grantski said he had fished for bass that same morning.

"Almost exactly the time Scott Peterson went fishing?" Geragos asked.

"That's correct," he said.

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