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Expert: Peterson researched extensively before San Francisco Bay trip

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

REDWOOD CITY, California (Court TV) -- Prosecutors zeroed in on Scott Peterson's Web surfing Wednesday in an attempt to prove he began plotting his wife's murder weeks before she vanished.

A police computer expert who pored over the double-murder defendant's five hard drives testified that Peterson went online to shop for a boat, study water currents and purchase a gift for his mistress: the means and motive for carrying out the crime.

The expert walked jurors through a minute-by-minute account of Peterson's Internet usage on one particular weekend about two weeks before his wife, Laci, disappeared.

Prosecutors have hinted that Peterson hatched the murder plan that weekend after learning his mistress was about to find out he was married.

Detective Lydell Wall of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's High Tech Crimes Task Force said Peterson used one of four laptops he owned to search classified ads for a fishing boat on Saturday December 7, 2002. The following day, he visited a plethora of Web sites about the San Francisco Bay and looked at maps, fishing reports and a U.S. Geological Survey chart of water currents.

The chart was "clickable," allowing users to enlarge specific areas, Wall said, and Peterson zoomed in on an area of the bay that included Brooks Island.

He later told police he was fishing off Brooks Island December 24 when his wife went missing. A hydrologist from the USGS is expected to testify that the location of Laci Peterson's remains and those of the child she was carrying indicate they floated ashore from a position near the island.

The day after he researched the currents, Peterson bought a 14-foot fishing boat and told his mistress, Amber Frey, that he had once been married but had "lost" his wife and would be spending his first Christmas season alone. Frey is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution.

Wall also analyzed e-mail and said one December 23 message concerned a gift Peterson had shipped to Frey. The e-mail receipt identifies the item as a "Star Theater 2." According its manufacturer, the Star Theater 2 is a home planetarium that projects light in the shape of stars and planets on ceilings.

Peterson's second date with Frey included star-gazing, according to a police report obtained by Court TV's Catherine Crier.

Wall also showed jurors files from eBay that indicated Peterson was selling a diamond watch inherited by his wife. Her sister, Amy Rocha, testified that Laci Peterson found the watch too gaudy to wear. Prosecutor Dave Harris noted the online ad listed Scott Peterson as the seller.

The 31-year-old defendant always appears engaged in court proceedings, but as Wall described his Internet habits, Peterson seemed to pay especially close attention. He whispered to his lawyers while flipping through evidence binders and occasionally pointing at the large projection screen displaying images of the sites.

A 'frantic' call to a friend

His demeanor changed markedly Wednesday afternoon when his friend, Greg Reed, briefly testified. When Reed, a young father, who lived in the Petersons' neighborhood took the stand, Peterson stopped paging through papers on the defense table and stared at him.

Reed said his friend never mentioned a fishing trip when they talked Christmas Eve afternoon. He said that Peterson left a distraught message on his voice mail later that evening.

"The perfect word would be frantic," he said.

In the message, Reed said, Peterson asked, "Have you or [Reed's wife] Kristen seen or talked to Laci today or yesterday?"

The mention of "yesterday" is puzzling because Peterson later told police he had seen his wife that morning. Prosecutors are likely to argue he had not yet decided on his alibi when he phoned Reed.

But if Reed's recollection of the phone message assisted prosecutors, much of the rest of his testimony did not. He said that, about an hour after police arrived at Peterson's house, an officer suggested police had already concluded Peterson was the culprit.

"As we were just about to leave the garage, one of the officers mentioned they felt they already knew what had happened," Reed said.

Peterson's defense lawyers have accused the Modesto Police Department of rushing to pin Laci Peterson's murder on her husband and ignoring more viable suspects.

Under gentle questioning from defense lawyer Pat Harris, Reed said he thought the Petersons were a happy couple eagerly anticipating their first child.

He recalled a time when they were paging through a catalog that carried camouflage clothes in children's sizes.

Didn't Peterson say he could not wait to buy the clothes for his own child, asked Harris.

"I remember that clearly, yes," Reed said.

Peterson appeared to cry during this testimony, and several jurors stared as he dabbed at his face with a tissue.

Peterson faces the death penalty if convicted of the murders of his wife and unborn son. The trial is now in its third month.

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