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Neighbor testifies of finding Petersons' dog

Leash was attached, but no owners in sight

From Rusty Dornin
CNN

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Karen Servas leaves court after testifying Wednesday.
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Scott Peterson
Laci Peterson
California

REDWOOD CITY, California (CNN) -- A neighbor of Scott and Laci Peterson testified Wednesday that she was backing her car out of her driveway on Dec. 24, 2002, when she saw the Petersons' golden retriever standing in the street, its leash attached but its owners nowhere in sight.

Under questioning by prosecutor Rick Distaso, neighbor Karen Servas said she delayed her plans to run errands, and instead got out of her car and grabbed the dog by its leash, which was covered with moist leaves and grass clippings.

Servas, who put the time at 10:18 a.m., said Laci's car was parked in the Petersons' driveway, but the gate was locked, so she went to another gate at the side of the house and locked the dog in the yard.

As Servas then returned to her house to wash her hands, she testified, she saw a man who appeared to be walking from the park, a common event.

After completing her errands and making a phone call -- cash register receipts and telephone records helped her reconstruct her timeline -- Servas said she returned home at 4:05 p.m.

Servas acknowledged having testified during a preliminary hearing that the time was 5:05 p.m., but said a review of her schedule led her to revise her estimate.

Servas said Scott Peterson called her at 8:30 that night to tell her that Laci was missing. When she told him that she had found their dog wandering the neighborhood, Scott handed the phone to a detective, she said.

Afterward, Scott invited her to join him and his parents for Christmas dinner, enticing Servas -- a vegetarian -- with an offer of cheese tortellini, she said.

At the Petersons' house, Servas found Laci's parents -- distraught and in tears over the disappearance of their daughter, Servas said.

While she was there, Scott told her that the Modesto police had taken a gun and rags from the house without telling him, she said.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Geragos, Servas said that she saw no signs of struggle in the yard when she returned the dog.

Prosecutors allege that Peterson's affair with a former massage therapist led him to kill his wife in their Modesto house, drive the body to a marina in Berkeley and dump it from his boat.

Peterson contends that he returned home that day from a fishing trip to find his wife missing, and that someone must have abducted her.

Laci Peterson's body and that of her fetus washed ashore in April 2003, several miles north of the Berkeley marina.

The neighbor's appearance in court Wednesday followed those of relatives of Laci Peterson, who testified that accused killer Scott Peterson acted in odd ways in the days and weeks after he reported his wife missing.

Harvey Kemple, whose wife is a cousin of Laci's mother, testified that he saw Scott in the driveway of his house on the night of Dec. 24 and that he tried to talk to him. Peterson was talking on his cell phone and did not acknowledge him at first, Kemple said. After the call ended, Scott told Kemple his wife might have walked their dog in the park.

Kemple said Peterson told him he had not been with his wife because he was playing golf.

"Did he ever tell you he went fishing that day?" Distaso asked.

"No, he did not," Kemple said.

Peterson has told police he had gone fishing that day, and produced a receipt from the Berkeley marina to confirm that he was there.

Kemple testified his suspicions had been raised that first night. "When he told me he was playing golf. My wife told me he said he went fishing."

Two other neighbors also testified Wednesday that when Scott came to their door Christmas Eve looking for his wife, he told them he had been out playing golf.

Kemple said he asked Peterson one day in early January where he was going to hang fliers seeking information about Laci's disappearance. Then, he followed the former fertilizer salesman as he drove to a mall, which was closed, and watched as Peterson sat inside his car for 45 minutes.

Another time, he said, he followed Peterson from the volunteer command center to a golf course. "He pulled into the lot, and I kept going," Kemple said.

On cross-examination, Kemple told defense attorney Pat Harris that Modesto police did not question him until June -- when they approached him about another problem he had with Peterson.

Kemple told police then that he saw Peterson get more upset about burning barbecue chicken than he did when he reported his wife missing.

It was only during that conversation with police, some six months after Laci was reported missing, and two months after her body was found, that he told police Scott Peterson had told him he had gone golfing -- not fishing, Kemple said.

About Kemple's testimony that he was surprised Peterson had not searched for his wife the night of Dec. 24, Harris asked, "Did you know Scott had been told by police not to leave the house?"

"No," Kemple responded.

And about his client's visit to the mall, Harris asked, "You thought it was strange that a man whose wife was missing would want to be alone for a while? Don't you think it was strange that you watched him for 45 minutes?"

"That's a fair statement," was Kemple's response, which elicited laughter from the courtroom.

As he left the courthouse, Kemple responded to reporter's questions, despite a gag order imposed by the judge.

"I only said about half of what I wanted to say," Kemple said.

"It's not over," Kemple said. "There's still more to be said."

Gwen Kemple, Harvey's wife, told jurors under cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Geragos that she showed up at the Petersons' house Christmas morning, where she found Scott Peterson.

Kemple acknowledged that she waited until May 1 to share with police her concerns that he was not out posting flyers seeking information about Laci's disappearance in a nearby park where defense witnesses claim to have seen her early Dec. 24 walking their golden retriever.

"Did you have an epiphany? Is that why you waited so long?" Geragos asked.

"Sort of," Kemple responded.

"You thought you were making helpful observations by telling police Scott never left the house?"

"Yes," Kemple said.

Concluding testimony for the day was Susan Aquino, Laci's aunt. She was also in the Peterson home in the hours after her niece was reported missing, and said that two police officers told Scott and the family that two witnesses had seen Laci in the neighborhood.

After the officers left, Aquino said, Scott suggested that the witnesses couldn't have seen his wife.

"She doesn't go that way," Aquino recalled Scott saying.


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