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Peterson skips testimony about wife's remains

Judge allows admission of mitochondrial DNA test results

Scott Peterson has pleaded innocent to killing his pregnant wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son.
Scott Peterson has pleaded innocent to killing his pregnant wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son.

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Scott Peterson
Laci Peterson
Crime, Law and Justice

MODESTO, California (CNN) -- Scott Peterson left the courtroom Monday rather than sit through a pathologist's testimony about the remains of his wife and unborn son as his preliminary hearing on murder charges entered its 11th day.

Peterson, 31, is accused in the death of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child. Both bodies washed up separately on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay in April, nearly four months after Laci Peterson was reported missing.

Forensic pathologist Brian Peterson testified that Laci Peterson's body had been in the water for months before it was found, but said the child was not likely to have been separated from her remains for more than "a couple of days."

The woman's remains bore no sign of gunshot wounds or tool marks that would indicate a cause of death, he said.

Peterson told police he last saw his 27-year-old wife on December 24, when he left the house to go on a solo fishing trip to San Francisco Bay.

Also Monday, Judge Al Girolami allowed evidence from a form of DNA testing that prosecutors say proves a hair that police found on a pair of pliers in Peterson's boat probably belonged to his wife.

As the pathologist prepared to take the stand Monday, defense attorney Mark Geragos told Girolami that Scott Peterson preferred not to remain in court during his testimony.

Girolami allowed Peterson to leave after making sure the defendant affirmed that he was waiving his right to be present.

"Yes, I do not wish to be present," Peterson said.

Peterson could be sentenced to death if convicted. The preliminary hearing in the nationally publicized case has lasted longer than many full trials as prosecutors are attempting to demonstrate that they have enough evidence against Peterson for him to stand trial.

The ruling from Girolami allows prosecutors to present mitochondrial DNA tests that identify the hair sample as Laci Peterson's. The hair is the only physical evidence that prosecutors have presented to show that she was ever in her husband's boat.

It allows the hair sample's comparison only to a database of samples from Caucasians to demonstrate the probability that the hair belonged to Peterson's wife. Girolami ruled that the database of Hispanic samples was not accurate enough to be allowed in court.

Geragos had fought to exclude the sample, arguing that mitochondrial DNA analysis is not accurate enough to identify the hair as belonging to Laci Peterson.

And in an effort to raise questions about the handling of the evidence, Geragos split verbal hairs with a Modesto detective on the witness stand Monday afternoon over whether one or two strands had been found in his client's boat.

Detective Dodge Hendee testified he found the hair on a pair of pliers in Peterson's boat. He described holding the pliers in an evidence envelope and shaking the hair off the tool. But when the envelope was opened six weeks later, Hendee said two hairs fell out.

"I didn't know if it was a hair that broke or whether it was already two hair fragments," he said.

Geragos also has questioned whether police followed leads that could have implicated someone other than Peterson in his wife's death.

In other testimony, computer forensic investigator Kirk Stockham said Peterson had downloaded information about bodies of water in northern California, including San Francisco Bay and lakes in the Central Valley area around Modesto.

Among the data was information on water currents in central San Francisco Bay, Stockham said.

But Geragos said some of this information could be easily linked to a fishing Web site Peterson visited.

Still unclear Monday was whether Peterson's former girlfriend, Amber Frey, would testify.

Frey's lawyer, Gloria Allred, said Friday that Geragos had indicated he probably would not call her to the witness stand.

But Geragos said a decision would have to wait until after the testimony of a detective who questioned Frey.

Frey has said she did not know Peterson was married when they became involved.

CNN's David Mattingly and Chuck Afflerbach contributed to this report.

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