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Defense to Examine Laci Peterson Remains

Aired August 8, 2003 - 19:18   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the latest on the Laci Peterson case.
A California judge today gave the go-ahead for Scott Peterson's defense team to conduct their own examination next Monday of Laci Peterson's remains and those of their unborn child. The Contra Costa Coroner's Office tells CNN that the examination will be conducted by forensic scientist and criminalist Henry Lee. The question is, what exactly will he be looking for?

For that, we're joined by forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz in Southfield, Michigan.

Doctor, thanks very much for joining us.


COOPER: The bodies of Laci Peterson and Connor have been in the coroner's office since May -- excuse me, since April. Can new information be found?

Well, yes. New information can be found.

But one piece of advice. Beware of artifacts, since -- well, first of all, the body has been decomposing before April. Then it's been examined. And then it's been placed back in a refrigerator, I presume. And that would not have entirely stopped the decomposition process, plus added a new factor of dehydration. So, this must be a difficult project, to say the least.


COOPER: What will Dr. Lee be looking for?


COOPER: Go ahead.

SPITZ: Dr. Lee is not a pathologist. Dr. Lee is a criminalist. So, therefore, he's going to be looking for trace evidence. He is not going to be looking for interpretation of injuries.

COOPER: When you say trace evidence, go into some detail here. What exactly do you mean?

SPITZ: Bullets, fragments of bullets, hair, fibers.

COOPER: Things like that?

As you know, the cause of death has never been released. There's a lot of speculation, of course. But, at this late date, can the cause of death be determined, if it was, say, strangulation or, as you say, a gunshot?

SPITZ: To diagnose strangulation in a fresh body is difficult. To diagnose it in a body like this is what I would think nearly impossible.

COOPER: Just because


SPITZ: Let me say, it would be based on exclusion.

Of course, if there's a bullet wound, if there are big cut in the body, not those made by an outboard motor, if that is the case, that is possible -- then it would be possible to diagnose strangulation, because strangulation many times is a diagnosis of exclusion.

COOPER: This is obviously a common thing. The defense wants access to bodies to compare, to see if they can find out any new information. What, theoretically -- for instance, if there was sexual assault -- the defense, at one point, was talking about the possibility of a satanic cult and perhaps that Ms. Peterson had been sexually assaulted. At this late date, would they be able to determine whether sexual assault took place?

SPITZ: Very unlikely. Very unlikely.

And even if they do find a laceration or something in that area of the body, the interpretation of that should be practically impossible, in view of the decomposition, the handling, etcetera, that occurred since.

COOPER: All right. Well, all this happens on Monday.

Dr. Werner Spitz, thank you very much for joining us to talk about your expertise. Thank you.

SPITZ: My pleasure.

COOPER: So what is the legal importance of this decision, if any, really?

Harvey Levin of "Celebrity Justice" joins us from Glendale, California, trying to explain some of the latest.

Harvey, good to see you again.


COOPER: We knew this was going to happen. Today, we learned it's going to happen on Monday. Legally, how significant?

LEVIN: I think it's pretty significant.

I've seen Henry Lee work on the stand before. And what he can do -- well, he can do several things. No. 1, if he makes it so clear that it's impossible to know the cause of death and that people are speculating, juries tend to be very uncomfortable about speculating when it comes to somebody's life, namely, Scott Peterson's. So that works in favor of the defense the more uncertain it is. Secondly


COOPER: Let me just interrupt. In a sense, you're saying it's not so much what they find; it's what they don't find?

LEVIN: Oh, I absolutely think that's the M.O. here, that what they don't find will create the uncertainty that makes juries uncomfortable.

However, there's something else that I've seen Henry Lee do before. And that is, if there is something that would be consistent with an injury that might exclude Scott Peterson -- I'll give you an example. Suppose that he says that there's some sign that could suggest that the fetus had been attacked. And there has been this devil-worshipping theory floated out there.

As long as he can find something to suggest, well, that doesn't exclude that possibility of that theory and he can create that and reinforce it for the defense, again, I think something like that works for Mark Geragos. It's not that he's going to show anything to a certainty. It's that he's going to suggest possibilities that might tend to exclude Scott Peterson that would work for Scott Peterson.

COOPER: Henry Lee was on the stand in the O.J. case, wasn't he?

LEVIN: Huge.

And I got to tell you something. I was privy to something just by happenstance. I was in one of the defense lawyer's offices early, early on. And there was a big poster board in there that the lawyer had in the open. And I looked at it. And it was signed by Henry Lee. And it was basically four different scenarios, depending on what the evidence showed.

So Henry Lee is a very, very smart man, a very competent man. But you have to understand, too, that, if he's working for one side, he's not going to torpedo that side. And there are always ways of interpreting evidence. And I think that's going to happen here.

COOPER: When will the autopsy be released? When is that likely?

LEVIN: I think that's unclear, when the autopsy is going to be released. I can see the judge going two ways on this.

On the one hand, you would think that he would release it fairly soon, only because it's not like it's not going to be admitted in trial and prejudice the jury, because it is what it is. On the other hand, I think this judge is worried about pretrial publicity and prejudice to the jury. So, honestly, I think it could go either way.

COOPER: All right, Harvey Levin, good to talk to you, from Glendale, California. Thanks very much.


COOPER: All of this, again, happens on Monday.


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