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Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office Briefing

Aired April 15, 2003 - 14:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to shift from the Pentagon briefing in Washington to Richmond, California. A spokesperson for the Contra County Sheriff's Office will bring us up to date on the Laci Peterson investigation.
This is Jimmy Lee, public affairs officer for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office.

JIMMY LEE, CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: And when you guys ask questions, if you guys can just go kind of one at a time and try not to overlap each other. Yesterday -- yesterday it just got too chaotic. I couldn't...

O'BRIEN: Just to give you a little back story while they set up here, as obviously they're getting ready, we've been reporting all day the find in the San Francisco Bay area, near the Marine where Scott Peterson said he went fishing on Christmas Eve.

Well, let's listen in to Jimmy Lee.

LEE: ... make a statement. After that, I'll take some of your questions. I'll try to address them as much as possible. Keep in mind, the coroner's investigation is still going on, so there's many issues that I cannot touch on.

The autopsy was completed last night at about 10 p.m. The procedure lasted for about four hours. There is no obvious cause of death. That will require us to take it to the next step and what that means is, we need to do more testing and analysis.

As I said yesterday, analysis is a very time-consuming process. At best, we can get answers within several days. At worst, it might take several weeks or even longer.

As part of the coroner's investigation, what we're doing is bringing in an outside expert, one who specializes in eluviating damage. And from this person, we hope to get a better idea of how long the body may have been in the water.

Give you guys an idea of what happened yesterday, the forensic pathologist first of all took some X-rays of the remains. After that, he did an external examination. From there, any clothing was removed and collected and preserved. And then the autopsy begun.

At 12:30 this morning, the coroner's office received a phone call from the Oakland Police Department. Apparently yesterday an Oakland resident was out walking his dog. This was 2:30 in the afternoon, walking his dog in the area of the Berkeley Marina. This individual came across a bone. He took possession of that bone. He took it home. And he notified the authorities. And the Oakland Police Department contacted us. We have custody of that bone here at the coroner's division.

What we're trying to find out is number one, whether or not this is, in fact, a human bone. And number two, whether or not it's related in any way, shape or form to the adult female.

We're still trying to find out the identity of the body. And one of the key questions we're trying to answer right now is whether or not there's any relationship between the adult female and the baby male that was found from two days ago. I understand from the Modesto Police Department they will have a press conference this afternoon at about 4 p.m.

That's my statement. I will try to take some of your questions.

QUESTION: Can you describe the type of clothing that the woman was wearing? Were they in fact maternity clothes?

LEE: I have not seen the clothing. We're not in a position to respond to that. That's going to be part of the investigation itself and the coroner's investigation. We're not going to comment on the condition of the body, how the body was clothed. That's something that may come out later on but not just right now.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if the body was headless and was also missing its legs?

LEE: I don't have that information. None of that information was conveyed to me so I can't identify that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if the coroner plans to identify the body without any dental records, that type of thing? What are some other options they have?

LEE: Well, there is a series of procedures that they have available to them. I'm not going to go into detail about it, but when we have more answers, we'll provide that information to you as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Are they going to do any DNA testing?

LEE: Correct.

QUESTION: Can you tell now if the fetus' skeleton and this other skeleton are at all linked and related?

LEE: No, we don't have enough information to address that. That is really the key question we're trying to answer right now.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the bone issue? This is above and beyond the torso or this is inclusive to that?

LEE: Which one are you talking about?

QUESTION: The bone that the guy took home.

LEE: Well, right now, that's a separate issue. But what we're...

QUESTION: That was a separate person than the original...

LEE: Correct. It was somebody walking their dog yesterday, 2:30 in the afternoon. This was near the Berkeley Marina. This person came across the bone at the shore. He brought it home and contacted the authorities and we took possession of it.

QUESTION: You're trying to connect it to the other -- the bone to the other two.

LEE: Well, we're trying to find out if it is a human bone and whether or not it is related to the others.

QUESTION: Can you tell at all what type of bone it is?

LEE: I'm sorry. It's too early to tell what type of bone it is. That's what we're trying to do right now.

QUESTION: What have you been able to learn from the X-rays? Any other trauma to the torso, ribs broken, anything like that?

LEE: Nothing that we can release at this point. We need to talk a little bit more to the forensic pathologist before we address that information.

QUESTION: Have you...

LEE: Not that I've heard of.

QUESTION: Is the decomposition relatively the same on both bodies?

LEE: I mentioned earlier I'm not going to talk about the condition or state the bodies were in. That's part of the investigation and it's not really appropriate for me to talk about that.

QUESTION: Do you know the race of this person?

LEE: Don't know it.

QUESTION: Can you talk about...

QUESTION: Explain about the eluviating.

LEE: Yes, it's a specialist. It's a specialist in what's called eluviating damage. And essentially, that person will analyze the body and should be able to tell us roughly how long that body has been in the water.

QUESTION: Where are they from?

LEE: I don't have that information.

QUESTION: How long will that take?

QUESTION: Using DNA evidence, we should be able to instantly compare this to Laci Peterson's DNA if, in fact, this is her. Why are we not knowing if it's her?

LEE: The only thing I will say to that, it's not instantly. It's going to take some time. And like I said earlier, it's a time- consuming process. It's going to take us anywhere from several days up to several weeks and possibly even longer.

And I did mention one thing yesterday. The results of the autopsy will be released through the investigating agencies. So what that means is, if it is Laci Peterson, that information will be conveyed to Modesto P.D. They have to follow up on their end and make the proper notifications. And then the media will be informed.

QUESTION: Are you aware...

QUESTION: Are they releasing that information at 4 p.m. this afternoon?

LEE: I am not sure what they're going to be releasing. They told me Modesto Police will have a press conference at their office at 4 p.m.

QUESTION: Do you have...

LEE: I don't think it's taking long at all. This is part of a normal process. And you just have to understand there's a lot of testing and analysis and these things take some time.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any missing person's case in this area that involve a woman and a child?

LEE: That is something we're looking into. We're going to have to check that out further. We're just not sure at this point.

QUESTION: But at this point you don't know of any other cases?

LEE: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that you are, in fact, doing -- have begun doing DNA testing?

LEE: I'm not going to address that specifically but we've done some follow-up testing, some follow-up analysis. And once we get more information on that, we will try to convey that information to you.

QUESTION: Who will do the DNA testing?

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to the public affairs officer for the Contra Costa County sheriff's officer -- office, bringing us up to date on the investigation now into the discovery of a woman's body -- a pregnant woman's body, as well as an infant, an infant with the umbilical cord still attached, which washed up two separate locations on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Not far from the Berkeley Marina where on Christmas Eve, Scott Peterson, the husband of Laci Peterson, has admitted he went fishing.

He says that he saw Laci Peterson the last time that morning, off for a walk with her dog. Scott Peterson later admitted that he had had an affair.

At this point, though, what the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office is telling us is that they have no firm identifications on the body. That was supposed to happen this morning but obviously those tests are taking a little longer.

Let's go to Paul Vercammen, who is at the news conference. Paul, first of all have we heard from Scott Peterson at all?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we have not seen Scott Peterson. Of course, he could possibly be in Modesto, where the couple lives, or he could be in San Diego, where he has spent a lot of time in recent months. That's where his family is from. So Scott Peterson not to be seen at this point.

Interesting, Miles, you may have heard as part of this news conference, a bone has turned up. Someone who was walking near the Berkeley Marina yesterday -- this is separate from the finding of both what seems to be the skeleton remains of a female and the remains of the fetus. A bone was found by somebody else.

The reason this might be significant is there have been reports that the female skeleton was missing both its head and its legs. So there's a possible link right here and they are now trying to find out if this could possibly be a leg bone that is connected to the female skeletal remains that were found in the Richmond area.

We should tell you also that all of this is part of the greater San Francisco Bay, so these little inlets and areas are governed by the same tides. We've had some heavy storms in recent weeks so they are looking at the possibility, of course, that all of these remains are linked -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Paul, worth pointing out that when asked, the spokesperson, Jimmy Lee, did not know of another case in the Bay Area involving a missing pregnant woman. We can only presume if there was one, we would have heard about it or certainly Mr. Lee would have.

What does that -- is that leading to some degree of speculation there?

VERCAMMEN: Well, a couple of things here. Without speculating on background, we can say that the law enforcement community here is not quite certain but strongly believes that this is a link to the Laci Peterson case. We will know more when Modesto Police speak later today. Also, another part of this, you may have heard some of us shouting questions and I asked him if he could link the skeletal remains of the fetus to the body, and he said at this point that is the key question and that's what they are trying to find out right now.

Because of the reports, also I should note, miles, that they are missing a head in this case. Not to try to get too morbid, but we can't confirm this but you know from your own experiences if they don't have the head, then the hard thing is that they can't get the dental records and make a very quick confirmation on the identity. Therefore, they must turn to DNA.

And DNA testing can be very quick. It can also be very lengthy. I talked to some prosecutors who say they spent up to a year trying to get a positive DNA match.

So they've brought in an expert that they call an expert in alluvial damage. Basically what they're talking about here is the ability to try to determine what might have happened to skeletal remains that have been submerged in salt water for a very long time. And that's the issue that they're confronting here in Contra Costa County.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll leave it at that. CNN's Paul Vercammen at the news conference there in Richmond, California. We will, of course, bring you the details as they become available to us.


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