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Laci Peterson case: Defense: Two-timer, yes, but no murderer

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 2004.

(Court TV) -- Scott Peterson's lawyer conceded Wednesday that his client was a cad who two-timed his pregnant wife, but he insisted the fertilizer salesman was "stone cold innocent" of the mother-to-be's murder.

"You want to say his behavior is boorish, we are not going to dispute that," defense lawyer Mark Geragos said in his opening statement. "But the fact is that this is a murder case and there has to be evidence in a murder case."

Geragos told the six-woman, six-man jury that Peterson loved his wife and eagerly awaited the birth of his first child, and was not "going to chuck this entire life he had" for the masseuse mistress he took out on just four dates.

Prosecutors, he maintained, had "zero, zip, nada, nothing" in the way of forensic evidence. In addition, he said, medical experts and eyewitnesses supported the defense theory that Laci Peterson was abducted on Dec. 24, 2002, while Peterson was 90 miles away on a fishing trip in San Francisco Bay.

Geragos indicated that doctors who examined the remains of Peterson's wife and those of her fetus concluded that the baby could have been born alive a month and a half after she vanished.

"If this baby was born alive, then clearly Scott Peterson had nothing to do with this murder," said Geragos, as he flashed photos of severely decomposed remains on two screens before the jury.

The suspicious van

The defense presentation came the day after a prosecutor told the jury that dozens of small pieces of circumstantial evidence, when taken together, prove that Peterson killed his wife of five years and then dumped her body in the bay. He is charged with two counts of murder, one for his wife and one for his child, and faces the death penalty if convicted of both.

Geragos told the panel that he will present evidence that two men and a woman saw a pregnant woman matching Laci Peterson's description walking her dog the day after prosecutors say she was slain, during a time Peterson has a solid alibi.

The defense attorney said a former police officer also would recount seeing a woman resembling Laci Peterson in the company of "homeless or scruffy men," who pulled her into a van. Moreover, he added, a neighbor will describe a similar van parked across the street from the couple's home the day she was reported missing.

Geragos said that, while prosecutors had only assembled a circumstantial case, these five witnesses were direct evidence of Peterson's innocence.

The high-profile Los Angeles attorney, whose previous clients included Winona Ryder and Michael Jackson, was more animated and emotional than the prosecutor who delivered his opening statement Tuesday.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso spent just under four hours  about twice as long as Geragos  explaining in an exhaustive and methodical manner how Peterson's secrets and lies led police to suspect him.

Geragos breezed through his opening, striding confidently in front of the jury box, bouncing between shouts and occasional whispers, and cracking jokes at the expense of investigators and the media.

Peterson seemed to follow his attorney's words closely, but appeared relaxed for a man on trial for his life. He smiled broadly at his family as he entered court and chatted gamely with a female court officer during the morning coffee break.

Geragos told jurors that Peterson was wrongly portrayed as indifferent to his wife's disappearance. In fact, he said, the defendant worked tirelessly to find her, handing out fliers, setting up a tip line and even working with his mother to hire a psychic.

He said Peterson may have appeared unfeeling because he had been raised by his strict father, Lee, not to cry.

"He was very emotional behind closed doors," Geragos said.

Making meringues

The lawyer lambasted detectives for what he described as a rush to judgment and ridiculed them for focusing on just one part of Peterson's account.

Peterson told officers that when he left his wife on Christmas Eve she was watching her favorite show, Martha Stewart Living. The episode concerned baking meringues, Peterson recalled.

Investigators told a judge that Peterson had lied, because the meringue episode was actually aired Dec. 23, a day earlier.

But in court Wednesday, Geragos played a clip of the Dec. 24 episode that appeared to contradict the police. In it, Martha Stewart and cookbook author Dorie Greenspan are seen discussing various Parisian desserts. When Greenspan mentions meringues, Stewart squeals, "Oh, that will be nice."

Geragos said he played the clip twice "just in case the Modesto Police Department couldn't hear," a jab that prompted chuckles from his client's family and several others in the public gallery.

The meringue dispute was just one of many pieces of circumstantial evidence that Geragos said had perfectly innocent explanations.

He said, for example, that Laci Peterson's hair was in her husband's new boat because she visited it on Dec. 20, not because he used it to dispose of her remains. He said that no one else in the family knew about Peterson's purchase of a 14-foot fishing boat because the couple planned to surprise her stepfather, Ron Grantski, with the news on Christmas.

At the lunch break, Scott Peterson's mother, Jackie, gave Geragos a hug and said, "I'm a fan."

She added, "We knew the truth. It was nice to hear it publicly."

First witness: I mopped

Following the defense opening, the first witness, housekeeper Margarita Nava, stepped in to the jury box. Jurors, who are likely to hear from scores of witnesses during the proceeding, estimated to last six months, picked up white notebooks and pens as she was sworn in.

Nava, who testified through a Spanish interpreter, described cleaning the couple's Modesto home Dec. 23. She said she mopped and dusted the entire residence and then left the mop outside to dry. She stuffed the dirty rags in the mop bucket and put it on top of the washing machine so that Laci Peterson could launder them later.

That testimony is important because Scott Peterson told police that his wife was mopping the kitchen floor when he last saw her the morning of Dec. 24. Prosecutors have suggested that a woman nearly eight months pregnant would not mop a floor less than 24 hours after her housekeeper had done the same work.

Police who arrived that evening found two mops and a bucket outside, the rags piled atop the washer and a small load of Peterson's clothes in the machine. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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