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Laci Peterson case: Defense suggests transients involved

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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 hinted Wednesday that the body of the double-murder defendant's pregnant wife was dumped into a narrow canal in the San Francisco Bay by transients.

Attorney Mark Geragos suggested the new theory on the third day of the defense case as he questioned a police officer who collected debris from the shore near where Laci Peterson's remains were recovered on April 13, 2003.

East Bay Regional Park Police Officer Timothy Philipps acknowledged that squatters frequented the area where the 27-year-old's body was found.

"Are we talking transients or homeless?" Geragos asked.

"Yes, sir. Homeless encampments," Philipps replied, adding that the shoreline could be accessed by a foot trail and that the area was not well-lighted at night.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty against the 31-year-old Peterson, contend he attached weights to his wife's body and tossed it in the bay during a fishing trip on Dec. 24, 2002 -- the day he reported her missing.

During the prosecution's 19-week case, the defense repeatedly pointed jurors' attention to homeless people who lived in a park and a shelter near the Peterson's Modesto neighborhood.

It was unclear if Geragos planned to argue to jurors that the transients in the two areas -- 90 miles apart -- were somehow related.

Geragos focused on a large plastic bag recovered about 800 feet north of Laci Peterson's body on the other side of the canal, known as the Hoffman Channel.

Philipps told jurors that after someone pointed it out to him, he walked over to it and noticed a distinctive smell.

"To me, the odor was similar to the odor of the remains that were recovered," Philipps testified.

The officer said he took the bag as evidence not only because of the smell, but also because duct tape was attached to it. A strip of duct tape was also adhered to Laci Peterson's torso.

He said he told his superiors about the smell.

Asked by Geragos if he told Modesto police officers at the coroner's office about the smell, Philipps replied, "I believe I did."

A prosecution witness identified the bag as a pallet cover used to transport construction materials to job sites.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Dave Harris, Philipps acknowledged that a cadaver dog dispatched to the bag did not detect the scent of decay.

Philipps also said that at the time he found the bag he had been near Laci Peterson's remains for seven hours.

"And that smell lasted with you?" Harris asked.

"Yes, sir. I'd say it did," Philipps said.

The officer also testified that he did not mention the odor in his report because he was not certain there was any connection between the body and the bag.

"My thought was the crime lab would be able to tie it in if there was a link," Philipps said.

Harris is to continue cross-examining Philipps after lunch.

Legal expert gagged

Also Wednesday morning, Judge Alfred Delucchi announced after two hours of closed-door hearings that legal commentator Michael Cardoza is barred from discussing the case because of a mock cross-examination of Peterson he conducted at the request of the defense.

"The court is of the opinion an attorney-client privilege was indeed created by the arrangement between defense counsel and Mr. Cardoza," Delucchi said. "So, the court has imposed a gag order on Mr. Cardoza which will be in full force and effect."

On Monday, Cardoza said he was gagged from discussing the contents of the cross-examination, but not the case generally. He also said he planned to continue appearing as an expert on the Today show and Larry King Live.

Delucchi made the announcement outside the presence of jurors.

He later told the panel that the defense case was going more slowly than anticipated, but he still hoped for deliberations to begin on Nov. 3.

"We may be a little behind in the date we're going to get this to you, but counsel are still optimistic," Delucchi said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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