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Scott Peterson Arrested

Aired April 18, 2003 - 19:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Major developments are breaking today at this hour in the investigation into the disappearance of Laci Peterson. What we can tell you, her husband, Scott Peterson is now under arrest in custody.
For more on that let's go to CNN's Mike Brooks in Modesto, California. Mike, a lot going on. What can you tell us?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good evening, Cooper. There is a lot going on here in Modesto. Just a short time ago I spoke with a California law enforcement source who told me that Scott Peterson was arrested today in San Diego by Modesto Police. He did not say exactly what the charges were against Scott, but that he was arrested by Modesto Police and they're bringing him back here to Modesto, California from San Diego.

A short time ago the Modesto Police also announced that there was going to be a news conference at 6:00 p.m. Pacific time, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And in the press advisory they said there has been a significant change in the Laci Peterson investigation.

So that we are now able to confirm that Scott Peterson has been arrested. The exact charges, we do not know. And we also do not know if there has been any change in the DNA analysis from the California Department of Justice.

So hopefully, Anderson, we'll be able to get some more information from Modesto Police when they hold their news conference at 6:00 local time here -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, of course, CNN will be bringing -- following that press conference very closely.

Last we had heard from the state they were analyzing the DNA both from the body of the adult body that was found and also the body of a child which was found. Thursday, I believe, was the last time there was a public statement made by anyone from the state on this matter. But the DNA process and the identification process, they were saying could take -- they were saying anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. So then why is it such a lengthy process?

BROOKS: Well, Anderson, it's -- there is -- without going and getting into the nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA and the exact DNA samples that were taken from both remains, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Now the few days, I know from being a detective and from other cases that they can get kind of -- if you will, down and dirty and a pretty good idea whether the two remains are linked within a matter of days if the DNA is of good quality. And we heard yesterday that the DNA from the infant child was a very good quality. So that's probably why.

But we still don't want to speculate on what Modesto has to tell us. It's either about Scott Peterson or some more findings of the DNA.

COOPER: Yes, Mike, just so you know, we're going to be talking to a forensic pathologist shortly who's going to go into a lot more detail on exactly how the DNA works. And also some of the details, we'll try not to get too gory, but some of the details about bodies that have been in water for a long period of time, what can and cannot be found from examining those bodies.

I want to stay with you though, Mike, for a little while. From your experience as an investigator, you were in law enforcement for a long period of time. It was only recently that authorities there in Modesto reclassified this as a homicide. What is the significance of that? How does that change an investigation?

BROOKS: Well on March 6, they changed the classification from a missing person to a homicide investigation. Exactly what there was that made them change that, they have not said anything.

Anderson, they've been very close to the vest with all of the facts in this particular case. But we do know they have done two searches of Laci and Scott's home here on Covina (ph) Avenue in Modesto. In the first search they went in, they took some things. They went back again in February and they spent two days at the home and they took some other things from out of the house. They were looking up into the rafters of the garage, doing a very thorough search there.

They've also had a number of searches in San Francisco Bay. Divers have been back there a number of times. And, you know, what they have been able to glean from that, again, Anderson, they've been playing this case very close to the vest.

COOPER: Mike, I just want to read you two statements. One this, is from Thursday from the Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton. He felt strongly that the discovered bodies that washed up on the shore were Laci Peterson and her child. Again, that just sort of said pretty strongly. That's a quote.

Then there was a statement from the family spokesperson. She said, quote, "If this turns out to be Laci, we want the animal responsible for this heinous act to pay. We believe if this is Laci, God has allowed her to be found."

Let's talk a little bit about where she was found and where the -- if it was in fact her and the child -- both the adult body and the child's body that was found, relatively close, not too far from where Scott Peterson said he went fishing on the day Laci Peterson disappeared.

BROOKS: That's exactly right. Both bodies had washed ashore on a park, right alongside of a path and were found by people out walking their dogs. The infant was found on Sunday afternoon and the torso of the woman was found on midday Monday afternoon. So -- and they were about a mile apart.

But these were just north of the Berkeley Marina where Scott Peterson said he went fishing on the morning of December 24. And that is the day that he allegedly came home and found Laci missing. And as we -- as you recall, Anderson, some of the neighbors had found her golden retriever wandering around a neighborhood with a collar and leash still attached.

And right down the street from their home, just about a block and a half from the Peterson home is a path where Laci went walking all of the time. In fact, yesterday I spoke with one of the neighbors and she said that she saw Laci with her -- very, very pregnant Laci Peterson out walking the dog all of the time and she would walk down this steep hill on to the path and to get her exercise and she would see her out there all of the time. And that is where Scott said that he thought that she was missing from the path.

But again, getting back to the marina, the Berkeley Marina, that is exactly where Scott said he had gone fishing. Put his boat in and went into the vicinity of Brooks Island which is just north of the Berkeley Marina to go fishing for sturgeon -- Anderson.

COOPER: Mike, we're going to let you go for a moment because I know this thing is breaking fast and you've got more news to cover.

I want to ask you one more question, though. What exactly does this mean? He's now under arrest. We're told he is in custody. Just from your experience as an investigator, what happens now? What's the process for him?

BROOKS: Well, the process is Modesto Police will bring him back here to Modesto. Of course, they would Mirandize him, advise him of his rights. If he decided he didn't want to say anything to police and, as they say, lawyer up, ask for his attorney, then the law enforcement basically would not have anything to say to him until his initial appearance here in Modesto.

But again, we're going to wait for the Modesto Police to give us more facts and hopefully they will give us more facts when the press conference occurs at 6:00 local time, 9:00 p.m. Eastern -- Anderson.

COOPER: And we want to remind viewers, of course, we will be carrying that press conference to you. Mike Brooks, appreciate it. We'll let you go, gather some more information, then check in with you in a little while.

We want to check in right now with Chris Filippi, he's with KFBK Radio. We have often talked to Chris over the many months of the investigation. He has been following very closely even during the war when many of us were focused elsewhere. Chris has been monitoring the situation. Chris, what can you tell us?

CHRIS FILIPPI, KFBK RADIO: Well, Anderson, obviously I think the thunder's pretty much been stolen from this press conference. The big news has to be that Scott Peterson has to be arrested. Apparently it happened several hours ago in San Diego County. Obviously this comes from the fact they must have identified these bodies. At this point, of course, no official information yet out of the Modesto Police Department. All they will tell us at this point is that there is a significant change in the case. But clearly the other shoes are already starting to drop.

COOPER: Chris, I think for a lot of people who have not been following this story as closely because of the war, there -- they really perhaps are caught by surprise that -- that developments have -- have come to this. What -- what has been going on over the last couple of weeks. If you can obviously, the discovery of these two bodies both on Monday and on Sunday were big events. Does this come as a surprise to you?

FILIPPI: A little bit. I'm surprised at the timing of this.

Once the bodies were found, we were told it would take days and obviously it has been days. But the possibility of weeks, in terms of trying to do the DNA testing necessary to identify the bodies -- I am surprised that it's happened so soon because I was expecting weeks just based upon the information that we had heard about how badly decomposed these bodies were.

But apparently the whole key to this has been the fetus that was recovered. Apparently the fetus was in much better condition than that of the unidentified woman that was found and authorities with the state Justice Department were able to get enough DNA evidence out of the fetus to make a DNA match. That's apparently what has happened here.

Going back to the whole notion of the war, clearly the Modesto Police Department Just because the war was going on -- they did not stop their investigation. We know for a fact that all throughout March they had continued to search the waters off of the coast of Richmond in that area around the Berkeley Marina, searched the waters of the San Francisco Bay looking for any sort of evidence they could find. They came up with nothing.

But I think what paid off in this particular case is the weekend that this actually happened, that the fetus was found, there was there a significant storm in the Bay area and there's a lot of suspicion that that might have done something to churn these bodies up and bring them to shore.

COOPER: And -- and they came -- these came -- these bodies came to shore relatively close to where Scott Peterson says he went fishing the day Laci disappeared. Is that correct?

FILIPPI: Yes, that -- and clearly bad news for Scott on that point because these bodies were found just three miles away from the Berkeley Marina. In fact, the bodies themselves were found about a day apart and about a half mile apart from each other.

So you really start to look at what sort of a coincidence would it take for this to not be Laci Peterson. How many cases are there involving a pregnant woman and how many missing persons cases at this time are in that location? I mean, you're talking about a very finite number and, clearly, again, just the location of the find had to be bad news for Scott because he had said that he was fishing at the Berkeley Marina on Christmas Eve and for the bodies to turn up so close, clearly that was a setback for him.

COOPER: Also, just want to give a note to our viewers, Chris, if you'll bear with me for a second. I almost want to apologize because in our discussion here with Chris and with Mike we're referring to -- to the two individuals who were found as the bodies and -- and really the reasoning behind that is -- is they have not been positively identified. It is certainly no disrespect meant and I know it sounds sort of callous to be referring to the fetus and the bodies. I simply don't know a way around that right now. But I just want to point out that we are -- I at least am aware of that and I'm sure anyone who has been following this thing closely is aware of that and is just one of those things at this point. Those bodies have not been positively identified so it's difficult to figure out a way to refer to them which is a little less inappropriate, at least.

Chris, have you heard anything from the families, either from the family of Scott Peterson or the family of Laci Peterson?

FILIPPI: No, I have not. We've been trying to get a hold of Scott for some time, actually, because it's really been the big question this week. Where has Scott been? Once the bodies were found, there had been no sightings of him in public at all. The only thing we know for certain is that he had not been to his house for some time. The word on the street was that he was spending time -- spending his nights at a friend's house in Modesto. But we also had information that he was down in the San Diego area and apparently that is the case today, since that's where the arrest was made, that's where his family has been.

Now as far as Laci's family, they've been very quiet throughout all of this. They made a statement through a family spokesperson earlier this week once the bodies were found, but most of them were very quiet. But we did hear from Laci's father just yesterday. He had spoken to a station -- a TV station in Boston, I believe, and said that really, quite frankly, it made him sick that Scott had not been arrested. Well, apparently he got his wish today.

COOPER: And -- and while the war was going on, was anything heard from Scott Peterson? I mean, the last time I remember hearing from Scott Peterson was he was giving a bunch of interviews to television stations, I think some radio stations as well, and then there was the story of him sort of selling off some -- some belongings. Had -- had you been hearing from him in the last month or two during the war?

FILIPPI: No. No, not at all. In fact what's happened is he hired a lawyer. And basically, since that happened, he stopped talking to the press. I think there's a perception that he might have kind of put his foot in his mouth a few times in some of his interviews and that really did come to a stop. There were no more interviews. No more public appearances by Scott. In fact, it was really his effort to try and get out of the limelight, to stay aware from the pressure and stay away from the press for quite some time.

COOPER: Chris, I know you got to go. I just want to ask you one more question.


COOPER: Investigators, we know, they -- they -- they twice searched the Peterson home. Was anything ever publicly known about what they found, if anything?

FILIPPI: Very tight-lipped and that's one of the other shoes we're waiting to dropped is that all of the warrants have been sealed and they remain sealed. There was a court challenge for that. That challenge was rejected in effort to try to open up those search warrants. And of course, if you open up the warrants then all of a sudden you know every item that they were searching for when they entered the house. In fact, we know there were multiple warrants not just for the house, but for his boat, for his office and even for his person, presumably to take DNA samples.

As far as what was recovered from the house, we know very little. One bit of information we were able to recover on KFBK is that they did take two computers from his house. Now as far as what information office was on those computers, we really don't have that much detail on that at this point.

COOPER: All right. Chris Filippi, KFBK, you've been following this thing for a long time. We've spoken a lot in the past. I appreciate you joining us on this evening where developments are moving very quickly. Chris, we'll check in a little while with you.

If you are just joining us, the information we have -- CNN has confirmed Scott Peterson has been arrested, is now in custody. We will be following this thing really all evening long and no doubt for the next couple of days very closely.

We are anticipating a press conference at 9:00 p.m. East Coast time, 6:00 p.m. West Coast time, the Modesto Police news conference. Apparently -- certainly they will be announcing the arrest, the word of course has gotten out. It will be interesting to see if they say anything else at that press conference. A lot of people, including us, will be watching.

Joining us on the phone, our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who I believe is in New York. Jeffrey, moving fast -- developments moving fast here. Were you surprised by this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I -- I -- I was, considering this case had been outstanding for so long. And the mere discovery of the bodies, as -- as we learned in the Chandra Levy case -- just because you have a body, it doesn't mean you make progress in the investigation, necessarily. They found the body in the Chandra Levy case, yet that investigation appears to be going nowhere.

Here, apparently -- and again, I don't want to speak disrespectfully of these bodies -- but apparently something in the discovery -- obviously, the proximity to where he said he was fishing that day is important -- something tipped the evidence where the police think they have enough to proceed against him.

You know, it's -- it's rare that someone is arrested this long after a murder. Usually it -- it -- it's -- it's kind of a now or never situation. Here the police kept after it and they think they've made progress.

COOPER: Yes. Of course, the other thing very rare that you find, that two bodies wash ashore a day apart, so close together an adult and a child.

For -- for prosecution of this, for -- for the -- for this thing to go forward, was it essential that there be bodies?

TOOBIN: Well, interestingly, there have been criminal prosecutions, so-called missing body murder cases, where the -- the -- the prosecution goes to the jury and says each though we don't have a body, we can prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that these defendants did it.

People may remember the case in New York City of the Grifters, the Sante Kimes and her son. They -- they were tried and convicted of murdering their landlord and even though the landlord body to this day has never been discovered. So it can be done. There's no legal prohibition against it. It's just tough to -- to make a case beyond a reasonable doubt when a defense attorney can say, Look, how can you charge my client with this murder when you don't even know that -- that -- a murder has been committed?

COOPER: And -- and bolstering that argument that a defense attorney would make, would they point to the fact that this thing was a missing persons case for a long time before it was ever classified as a homicide?

TOOBIN: For a very long time. And just, you know, looking ahead -- I don't want to jump too far ahead -- but obviously one avenue of defense that -- that certainly might be raised in a case like this -- here you have a woman, perhaps despondent over the fact that her husband was having an affair -- as we do know he was having an affair, one defense in this case might be suicide, not homicide. That -- that is the kind of thing that -- that -- that -- that can be raised in a case like this. I don't know if it will be, but, you know, when you have this much time pass and these mysterious circumstances, those are the kinds of things that are raised.

COOPER: And -- and someone who might just be watching this who knows that the adult body that was found was decapitated, we're actually going to have a forensic pathologist on in a little while who will explain a little bit about how that might have happened post- mortem.

TOOBIN: Right.

COOPER: We're -- we're going try not to get into too much detail, too much gruesome detail. But -- but I guess that would bolster the case that you just mentioned that -- that alternative explanation for it being some sort of suicide, that there is a reason and a possibility of why something -- why a body would end up being decapitated.

But before we go down too far that road, what does Scott face now? He's been arrested. He's in custody. What happens now?

TOOBIN: This is something -- looking ahead to the news conference --that we know he's been arrested, but we don't know exactly what he's been arrested for. And I think that's very important.

One thing to look for when the police hold their press conference is -- do they assert that this was murder with special circumstances because that might make him eligible for the death penalty? So that's something very much to keep in mind as the police move forward.

And along those lines, California has a very unusual statute. It's one of a handful of states that makes murder of a fetus a potentially separate crime. It's actually a law that's been very controversial. It's been caught up in abortion politics, and it's never really been tested by the California supreme court.

But why that's significant is -- if you charge the murder of a fetus separately for murder of the mother, that makes it a double homicide and that is one of the special circumstances that makes someone eligible for the death penalty. I don't know if that's what the police are going to do, but it's something to keep in mind as this case proceeds.

COOPER: Well, barring that, you talk about the murder with special circumstances and, again, just as you importantly brought up, we do not know what Scott Peterson -- why exactly he has been arrested. We know he's been arrested. He's in custody. Beyond that, we simply don't know and -- as you said -- I hope to hear that in this 9 p.m. Eastern time press conference.

But special circumstances -- what does that mean?

TOOBIN: Well, California law, like most states, has a specific list of circumstances that take first degree murder and elevate it to the point where -- the legislature believes -- it's eligible for the death penalty.

For example, murder along with kidnapping -- that could make it a death penalty. Murder with lying in wait -- sort of an ambush-style murder. That can be -- that can make someone eligible for the death penalty. Double murder. Those are the kinds of circumstances that California has decided makes an ordinary murder -- hate to use a word like that -- but an ordinary murder, a murder eligible for the death penalty. COOPER; Jeffrey, I think we're going to let you go right now. Is there anything I missed -- anything we should talk about that we haven't?

TOOBIN: No, but I think even though we know he's been arrested, it's very important what the police say in terms of what the precise charges are because that affects the penalty and we'll all be watching closely for that.

COOPER: And I'm sure -- at least I hope -- you'll be available for discussion after the press conference to analyze a little bit further, probably on "NEWSNIGHT." That'll be around the time -- I imagine -- the press conference ends. That's, of course, at 10:00 Eastern time at CNN. But the press conference is live at 9:00 Eastern time -- East Coast. Six, West Coast.

Jeffrey Toobin, thanks. We'll check in with you in a little bit.

We have more on this case coming up. As I mentioned the forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, will be coming in. Has some very interesting things to talk about.


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