Scott Peterson is on trial for allegedly murdering his 8.5-months pregnant wife and throwing her body in the San Francisco bay from his fishing boat.
I found the forensic pathologist’s testimony terribly sad in its clinical detail. The details are gruesome and tragic. And compelling. I’m somehow gripped by the thought of Laci Peterson’s fraying body and the idea that poor little Conner Peterson was still attached by his umbilical cord to her, or was until very near the time of the discovery of their bodies. It has to do with the two of them floating in the cold, still waters of the bay, waiting and listening for police boats to find them in their shared amniotic silence. It’s a heartbreaking image.
I hope the dead find peace and the guilty get the justice they richly deserve.
ETA: The Modesto Bee offers ongoing coverage of the Scott Peterson case here.
Expert: Laci Peterson’s fetus expelled after her death
By Brian Skoloff
3:15 p.m. September 16, 2004
REDWOOD CITY – Scott Peterson wept Thursday, his chin to his neck, dabbing his eyes with tissues, while jurors in his double-murder trial looked at autopsy photographs of his dead wife’s fetus displayed on a large white wall screen.
Laci Peterson’s fetus was expelled from her decaying body after her death, a forensic pathologist testified.
Dr. Brian Peterson, who performed autopsies on Laci and the couple’s fetus, a boy they planned to name Conner, testified there was no evidence Laci had given birth prior to her death.
Her uterus had not returned to more of a normal size as is typical after a woman gives birth, said Peterson, who’s not related to Laci or Scott Peterson.
“That means Ms. Peterson was pregnant and the baby had not been delivered when she died?” asked prosecutor Dave Harris.
“That is my opinion,” Peterson replied.
Peterson said no cause of death could be determined for Laci Peterson or the couple’s fetus.
At times, his testimony seemed to contradict itself.
“It was her death that caused Conner’s death while he was still in the uterus,” Dr. Peterson said under questioning from prosecutors.
However, on cross-examination, Peterson acknowledged he could not determine whether the fetus had been born alive. He estimated its age to be nine months.
Prosecutors claim the fetus was expelled from Laci’s decaying corpse, while defense attorneys say the baby was born alive and murdered later, which they say proves their client couldn’t be the killer.
Laci Peterson’s autopsy photographs were displayed to jurors Wednesday, while photos of her fetus were shown Thursday.
Her family hasn’t been in court all week. Scott Peterson’s mother, Jackie, used a small notebook to shield her face from the larger-than-life images. His father, Lee, simply looked away.
Several jurors were visibly shaken. A few cried. Others squirmed in their seats or covered their mouths.
The fetus’ remains appeared gelatin-like, its outer tissue somewhat transparent.
“This body was very soft,” Dr. Peterson said. “It came apart very easily.”
The fetus was discovered with a tape-like twine wrapped around its neck. Prosecutors claim the material attached to the body while it floated in San Francisco Bay. Defense lawyers have implied it may have been used to strangle the fetus after birth.
Dr. Peterson testified there was no indication the tape had been used in such a way.
“I could see neither external nor internal damage that could have been caused by this material,” Dr. Peterson said.
Dr. Peterson said the fetus’ body was much better preserved than its mother’s body and still had all of its limbs and organs. Nothing on the remains indicated it had been severely damaged by currents, tidal action or fish feeding, he said.
“If he had spent substantial unprotected time in the water like Laci did, he would have been eaten. There simply wouldn’t have been anything left,” Dr. Peterson said.
“My conclusion … is that Conner had likely been protected by the uterus” and expelled possibly weeks after Laci’s body was put in the water, he added.
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Peterson killed his eight-months pregnant wife on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her weighted body into the bay.
The remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed up along a bay shore in April 2003, not far from where Scott Peterson says he launched his boat that Christmas Eve morning for a solo fishing trip.
Defense lawyers maintain that someone else abducted and killed Laci as she walked the couple’s dog around the neighborhood after Peterson had left for his fishing trip.
Dr. Peterson also said the fetus’ umbilical cord hadn’t been cut and there was no food in its stomach which would indicate a live birth.
Prosecutors then worked to provide an explanation for why police were unable to find any of Laci’s blood or signs of some sort of struggle.
Dr. Peterson speculated she may have died from strangulation or smothering which could leave behind no forensic evidence, but it was impossible to be sure because her head and neck were missing, as well as her forearms, most of both legs and all internal organs, except for the uterus.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Mark Geragos first reiterated for jurors that Dr. Peterson could not determine a cause or time of death, and that the fetus appeared to be full term.
Geragos then questioned the doctor’s findings, implying that because the remains were so badly decomposed, nothing could be certain about their deaths.
Dr. Peterson acknowledged there “might be other scenarios.”
Geragos implied the fetus could have been cut from the top of the uterus from where Dr. Peterson said it was eventually expelled.
“I couldn’t say yes or no,” Dr. Peterson replied.
The questioning went back and forth for several hours before Judge Alfred A. Delucchi stepped in.
“I’ll tell you what, this is the last go around,” Delucchi, obviously growing impatient, told attorneys.
Later, a forensic anthropologist testified that Laci Peterson’s body had been in the water for three to six months.
Alison Galloway, an anthropology professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, estimated the fetus’ age to be between 33 and 38 weeks based on bone measurements.
Geragos implied the estimation couldn’t be exact because of the state of decomposition.
“I hate to say mushy, but that was sort of the way it was and that doesn’t allow you to get an accurate measurement,” Galloway said of the fetus.
At day’s end, the judge said the autopsy photos would remain sealed. Court was set to resume Monday.