Scott is hot!
A herd of salivating media. High-priced lawyers who sign autographs. Groupies who just can’t get enough. What’s not to love about the Peterson murder trial?
It’s 7:59 a.m., and I’m waiting in eager anticipation outside the San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City. It’s just one minute before the cutoff time for the daily lottery.
Only 30 of us will fulfill our dream of going beyond the pages of supermarket tabloids to actually sit amid the courtroom action at the infamous Scott Peterson murder trial.
“I drove all the way from Santa Rosa,” states an elderly woman in a blue windbreaker. “I have over 35 videotapes on the trial at home,” she proudly proclaims.
We, as Americans, love our sensationalized tabloid stories and all that surrounds them. From O.J. to Scott, these sordid exploits are passionately followed by the masses with the furor of a Survivor finale. Like the Menendez brothers and Ted Bundy before him, Scott has even gotten groupies. Adoring cards, letters and even pornographic materials have been sent directly to his jail cell. Most likely, there are groupies here today.
“I’ve been inside the courtroom 15 times,” boasts a patiently waiting middle-aged woman caked with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes. “I’m going to bring my out-of-town guests to the courthouse next week,” she adds, as if this place of judicial law were, say, Fisherman’s Wharf.
“Is this your first time?” asks an older man with bug eyes who spots me as fresh meat.
I vigorously nod my head, adjusting my baseball cap where I hand-scrawled the words “Scott Is Hot” on the brim. Yes, in order to find Scott Peterson followers infatuated by the cult of celebrity as made by the media, I decided to pose as a Scott groupie.
“You missed yesterday,” Bug Eyes confirms, not questioning my subtle apparel. “There was some good stuff.”
The regulars all seem to know each other, and their demographic is not unlike, say, that of movie extras (some look like drifters). It’s a whole goddamned subculture of Scott Peterson-courtroom fanatics. The courthouse ritual gives structure to their day, allowing them to attach themselves to a supermarket-tabloid story, do some name-dropping and share tidbits about the key players. The more experienced have brought pillows to sit on.
“OK, folks, we’re about to start!” bellows a gray-haired sheriff’s deputy next to an older woman who’s going to call the winners. Public seating for Scott’s case is chosen just like Lotto, with a random spin of a wheel and numbers read off of lottery-like tickets.
This trial is already fun!
Luckily, there are only 34 of us here today, being that it’s a slow court day with no “celebrity” witnesses, which could yield up to hundreds vying for the precious courtroom seats.
Big, grinning smiles radiate from the elite selected today when numbers are called; it makes people happy.
“8441!” cries the wheel spinner.
It’s me! My goddamned number is called. I let out a girlish shriek. Turning to the woman from Santa Rosa (in your face!), I scream, “Oh my god! That’s me!”
I try to instigate a hug, but she doesn’t go for it, so instead I “come on down” like it’s The Price is Right and I’m about to win a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni and a Puerto Vallarta vacation.
The woman checks my name off the list. She hands me a public-seating card. I make a dreamy face and exclaim, “The guys at my gym are going to be soooooo jealous!” Hot damn, I’m in!
Much like me in my hand-scrawled Scott Is Hot baseball cap, Scott himself is a wearer of many hats. For some, he’s a top-notch fertilizer salesman; to others, an avid fisherman; and for many, a handsome ladies’ man with a wife and a Fresno blonde on the side with a stripper’s first name. But to me, Scott’s biggest accomplishment: media-circus ringmaster.
I have never been to a murder trial before!
I hope there’s some point at which I can dramatically stand up in the courtroom and provide a crucial piece of overlooked evidence that will somehow solve the case, or at least yell, “Objection!” every now and then.
“Zip up your pants,” the security guard whispers to me after I go through the metal detector. I look down. My fly is gaping open. “Sorry,” I whisper. “I’m just overly excited about being in the same room as Scott.” Again, I make a dreamy face.
As we stand in line in front of courtroom 2M for the 9 a.m. kickoff time, the regulars go on about how exciting it was the day they showed the baby’s autopsy photos. Bug Eyes is a world-famous authority on the trial, and he theorizes that Scott was coached by world-famous mouthpiece Mark Geragos to cry and dab his eyes with Kleenex.
For a second time, I’m spotted as fresh meat. “The best seats are on the far right,” strategically advises a 17-time courtroom veteran, an older man taking me under his wing. “Whatever you do, don’t sit behind the post!” he warns like Obi-Wan Kenobi to a green Luke Skywalker, as he scrunches the eyebrows that appear to be pasted on his bald head.
“I hope I get a seat where I can look into Scott’s big brown eyes,” I quip.
As I enter the courtroom, the sheriff at the door makes me take off my Scott Is Hot baseball hat (the bastard!). Inside it’s much smaller than I imagined, and there’s a seating pecking order. The back row is reserved for us spectators, the front row for members of Laci’s and Scott’s families, and the middle portion for the numerous hack journalists who have swarmed here like flies on murderous dung.
Even true-crime writer Aphrodite Jones (a name sounding like it’s right out of a 1970s Melvin Van Peebles blaxploitation movie) is here, looking less airbrushed than on her Web site. Wearing a black dress and swarming the courtroom like a queen bee, she’s writing yet another award-winning true-crime book that I’m sure housewives and those who like reading in dentist-office waiting rooms will simply love.
Like the popular kids in class, the well-groomed reporters from Court TV take their place, right in front of me. They are the pop stars, the Britneys and Justins, mind you, of tabloid murder-trial reporters (and believe me, they know it!).
“Will we learn about fishing and concrete today?” sarcastically snips a well-groomed Court TV reporter to his clique of fellow reporters (the female Court TV reporters resemble United Airlines stewardesses). Ah yes, television-courtroom-reporting humor.
“Sir, I see you on television. Can I get an autograph?” shyly asks the woman from Santa Rosa in the blue windbreaker, approaching her favorite Court TV reporter from her spot in the back of the courtroom. Yes, she’s a fan. The Court TV reporter gladly signs his name. It doesn’t occur to those involved in this interaction that maybe autographs from a reporter are a bit inappropriate in a murder-trial courtroom.
“I usually have the Court TV reporters autograph the back of my card,” remarks the bug-eyed man, holding up a public-seating card with numerous courtroom autographs. He even has lawyer autographs (the goddamned lawyers, mind you!). “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he adds with excitement. And then he speculates, “This may never happen again for another 15 years.”
The regulars start murmuring when a hotshot lawyer with a $500 haircut walks in (they know all the key players). He’s simply here to take in the case like a tennis fan would take in Wimbledon. The older bald guy (who’s taken me under his wing) comes clear across the room.
“See who just walked in?” he gossips, referring to the hotshot lawyer. “He’s usually never here,” he adds with excitement. He then goes back across the courtroom to where he was sitting.
Mr. Fancy Haircut starts boasting. “I was all set to do Kobe’s, but that’s over. I was driving out there and turned around,” he says, adding to the spectators’ awe. “I’m going to do Michael Jackson’s. That’s going to be nuts.”
“Who is that?” I inquire of the elderly woman next to me, as I point at Mr. Fancy Haircut. “You could always ask for an autograph and find out who it is,” she strongly suggests.
Then, “Here comes the parents,” she says, nudging me as if two new cast members have been added to the Big Brother house. “That’s his father,” she says, pointing to a man with a bandage on his arm, accompanied by Scott’s mom, who has oxygen tubes sticking out of her nose. “He always has a bandage on his arm,” she elaborates.
The giddy bald guy (whose wing I’m under) again comes clear across the courtroom.
“That’s his old man. He always has a bandage on his arm,” he informs. I note that the bald guy’s breath smells not unlike, say, booze.
Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for: Ladies and gentlemen, from inside the judge’s chambers, the star, the media ringmaster, fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson emerges with a half-smirk on his face (note that this description shows my tainted opinion of him). Clad in a tailored suit jacket, also with a well-coifed haircut, Scott is just a little bit of a man, so ordinary but yet capable perhaps of doing one of the most unthinkable acts imaginable.
“If these girls would sit down, I could see him,” stresses the irritated woman who drove from Santa Rosa, pointing to the Court TV United Airlines stewardesses. “I got 35 tapes at home on the trial,” she states once again. “I’ve seen him on TV so many times, I just got to see his face!”
Licking my lips, I put my hand on her shoulder and reply, “I just got to see the cut of his trousers!”
Scott shares a laugh with one of the large San Mateo sheriff’s deputies before taking a seat at the defense table. He’s sharing a laugh! To share a laugh, one must create common ground. What is that common chuckle about? In another scenario, would these two be good fishing buddies? Have the deputy and Scott become two antsy kids in a classroom, taking it upon themselves to make fun of the teacher and other students as the school year drags on?
“Oh, he’s gotten thinner,” the Santa Rosa woman remarks, like a concerned mother.
“Yes, but in all the right places,” I add.
Looking not unlike movie actor F. Murray Abraham (who’ll surely play him in the made-for-TV movie), super-lawyer Geragos, a man who has hobnobbed with the likes of Jacko, makes his entrance.
“He’s really arrogant,” expresses the Santa Rosa woman, providing running commentary. Geragos has the smarmy, self-assured attitude of one who would dine upon animals that are endangered species. He looks ready to rip, humiliate and ruin the good name of anyone who crosses his client’s path (that’s why he gets paid the big bucks!). He could represent the devil himself and make Mother Teresa look like a two-bit whore. Yes, look out Amber Frey! Look out Michael Jackson’s sleepover buddy! Look out some teenage girl pathetically trying to take on superstar Kobe Bryant! Here comes Geragos!
Good move on Geragos’ part; there’s only one black juror (a jury of black people would see right through this shit and have no problem with convicting a rich white guy).
“See the red-haired girl?” the elderly woman asks, pointing toward the jury box. “She sometimes wears crazy outfits,” the woman explains as if we’re watching a live soap opera in which you get to pick your favorites. “And the young guy who sits in the corner, he’s a good-looking guy, but he sometimes looks bored.”
I look over. “He’s not as good-looking as Scott, though!” I retort.
The honorable Judge Alfred A. Delucchi kicks off the court proceedings. Lead Detective Craig Grogan takes the stand to be cross-examined by the prosecuting district attorney, the attractive Birgit Fladager (who is wrapping things up this week, a mere 18 weeks after the trial began). The hack journalists all pull out laptops and start loudly clacking away (clackity-clack-clack).
Then a woman from San Diego dressed like an 1800s schoolmarm opens her bag. Taking out an arts-and-crafts kit, she pulls out paintbrushes and starts opening little canisters of paints. She’s actually going to sketch Scott! As she lays a few brush strokes upon the paper, a courtroom deputy manning the door comes over.
“We can’t have you doing that in court,” instructs the officer. The schoolmarm makes an unhappy face. She packs up her brushes, twisting the lids back onto her paints. Minutes later, the schoolmarm leaves the courtroom not to be seen again for the rest of the day. (Perhaps crying took place in the ladies room?)
Back to the judicial proceedings
Ever since the O.J. case, it’s important for the prosecutor to show that detectives didn’t rush to judgment in arresting the defendant. Grogan tells Fladager there were 41 reasons that all roads led to Scott. With more than 42,000 pages of documents, 10,000 phone tips and 300 reporting officers, homework certainly was done before officers jumped to any hasty conclusion about it being Scott—instead of other theories, such as an ambiguous transient abducting Laci for her grandmother’s jewelry and that ambiguous satanic cult we keep hearing about.
Unfortunately, dry, conclusive facts bore the pants off of jurors (who don’t have enough wits to get out of jury duty). What jurors want nowadays is to be dazzled with the entertaining Las Vegas courtroom theatrics of a Geragos or Johnnie Cochran. Otherwise, they get booooooooored. Crucial evidence goes right over their Joe Average heads. What people want is to watch TV. Fortunately for the prosecution, Scott did numerous TV interviews for such esteemed programs as Good Morning America and ABC’s Primetime Live. Projected in the courtroom, Scott emotes on videotape for Diane Sawyer and numerous other TV-news broadcasts, coming across like a smooth-as-hell fertilizer salesman trying to sell naive people, well, shit. An interview outtake shows him totally switching emotional gears when his cell phone accidentally rings mid-interview. In the courtroom, Scott calmly watches himself on the large screen.
“Had you told anyone?” Sawyer asks Scott of his relationship with Fresno masseuse Frey. “Did you tell police?”
“I told the police immediately,” he says to American news institution Sawyer, adding that this occurred on the very first night they questioned him.
Grogan points out that this is not true; Scott didn’t admit to the affair until after later prodding. “He was very emotional on Good Morning America,’” the detective adds. “That was not so during his interviews with investigators on December 24 and 25, 2002.”
When more pesky questions from other newscasts turned to his cheating affair with Frey at the height of his wife’s disappearance (in wiretapped phone calls after Laci’s disappearance, Scott wooed hottie Amber with poetry—poetry mind you!), Scott played up his emotions in order to avoid answering.
“I’m not going to waste this newscast defending myself against other things,” exclaimed an indignant Scott on several newscasts. “The attention right now should be on finding Laci!” And, “We got to keep looking for Laci. This is taking away from looking for Laci.” Also, “We should keep the attention on looking!”
Even eerier (to the point of shivers up the spine), Scott keeps referring to his wife in the past tense, even though she was only considered missing at the time: “She was amazing … is amazing.”
He goes on to explain on video how normal it was for him to go fishing on Christmas Eve with a very pregnant wife at home and how an affair wouldn’t cause martial conflict, and he adds the obligatory “Violence toward women is an unapproachable act to me.”
My take: This guy is guiltier than three O.J.s combined.
“This has turned out to be one of the better days,” says the Santa Rosa woman sitting next to me.
“You and I both know what happened to Laci,” Grogan says in a wiretapped phone call to Scott.
“Do you know what happened to her?” exclaims a desperate-sounding Scott.
“We both do!” Grogan says, informing him that the only possible location is in the San Francisco Bay. “Let’s end this,” the detective states. Scott whines like a man crumbling, grasping for straws, as he throws in his obligatory “We got to keep looking for Laci. This is taking away from looking.”
We move on to … lunch
I wonder if Scott is lunching with his deputy buddy. Are the two of them laughing so hard that milk spews out of their noses? Outside the courthouse, the atmosphere is like a class break in high school as the Court TV reporters gossip like kids in the hall by their lockers.
“Hey, Laura. Did Strawberry Shortcake cry?” inquires one reporter about a juror in the front row. “Yes, Strawberry Shortcake was crying,” another confirms. And then they use what sounds like tough-talkin’ 1940s newsroom slang.
“Know what my opinion is?” asks some large man passing the numerous camera crews waiting, literally, under a large circus-like tent—one from every damned network, all poised and ready to grab news-interview sound bites from the key players.
The large guy says, “Free him or fry him. Just get him off my TV.”
What a freakin’ circus.
After I’ve dined on a Quiznos sub (quality subs at fast-food prices!), one of the regulars spots me and enthusiastically shares his conspiracy theories on the case.
“I think he just got involved with some shady dealings, and they kidnapped his wife to send a message, and it just went too far,” says the older man with a gray ponytail, who, in a different circumstance, might be theorizing about black helicopters and government UFO vaults. “The only reason he didn’t report it is he’s afraid they will go after his family next.”
With pen and notebook in hand, this 18-time courtroom veteran has been meticulously jotting down every detail for his very own Scott Peterson conspiracy Web site.
“He was a fertilizer salesman,” he continues. “The properties of fertilizer are used in the production of crystal meth, right? Not to mention terrorist bombs.” Swiftly, I nod my head at his speculation of a fertilizer deal gone awry. (Is it illegal to buy fertilizer?)
Conspiracy Guy babbles on some more about the aforementioned ambiguous satanic-cult theory. I love the ambiguous satanic-cult theory. (Think about this as an excuse: A cult, whose identity we don’t know—but we do know that it worships Satan and kills mothers and their unborn babies—was in the exact location where the husband was last known to be fishing.) Conspiracy Guy also goes on about how the wrongfully accused Scott just might be the unluckiest guy on Earth (just like in some Harrison Ford movie!).
“The reason why he took the boat out on Christmas was to give it a test run,” he states. “It was supposed to be a surprise for Laci.”
Rambling on, he concludes his fact finding with the phrase “and that’s why he’s going to get off!” When finished, I want to applaud. My show of appreciation is interrupted by him asking, “What do you think really happened?”
I’m drawn in. I start babbling my amateur-sleuth conclusions. Agreeing with him on his theory that Scott was framed, I add, “Sometimes I wish I could just give him a hug—a really big hug!”
Heading back, outside Bob’s Court House Restaurant, a star-struck kid in a blue sweatshirt suddenly screams, “Mr. Geragos, can I get an autograph?” He’s obviously a fan—a goddamned fan of the super-lawyer! The kid holds out a pen and a piece of paper, and the super-lawyer is happy to oblige his adoring public. This star-spotting and celebrity idolatry is just like in Hollywood, only this is supposed to be about courtroom justice.
“That’s a new tie. I like it,” a voice exclaims from one of the outdoor tables. I look over. It’s Scott’s mom! I almost didn’t recognize her; she’s not wearing her courtroom oxygen nose tubes. I get the pleasure of watching her make pleasant, smiley small talk with super-lawyer Geragos, making me wonder where the family got the money to pay his seemingly astronomical legal fees.
Scott’s mom holds up a newspaper and points to the daily crossword puzzle. She says with a smile, “I’m looking for a seven-letter word …”
She hopes the super-lawyer can assist in solving her puzzle. Indeed.
The intrigue builds: dyed hair, a new goatee and $10,000 in cash
After lunch, the hotshot lawyer with the $500 haircut is now wearing casual clothes, and there’s a much younger woman accompanying him whose thong underwear creeps out of the back of her jeans. The TV reporters, waiting for things to kick off once again, sit and gossip like a bunch of sorority girls.
We learn that after the disappearance, Scott had a bag packed containing two envelopes filled with hundred-dollar bills ($10,000), along with the fact that he dyed his hair and grew a thick goatee right before he was arrested (remember O.J. and the disguise kit they found in his car?). “It looks like he was ready to split a long time ago,” notes an astute reporter.
Outside, after the day’s courtroom action has concluded, the media circus once again is in full swing, as copious amounts of reporters, from most large television-news stations in California (including Sacramento’s KCRA), scramble like floppy-shoed clowns exiting a very tiny car, trying to get that all-important news sound bite. One producer leads several camera crews like a general directing his troops.
“He just left the courtroom. He just left moments ago,” says the producer, as he leads the team like a quarterback on a fourth-down drive. Cameras swiftly follow Laci’s brother and mom as they exit. Photographers also flash shots of Scott’s parents.
I came here looking for groupies, and that’s just what I found. Everyone here is a groupie: the reporters, the spectators, Aphrodite Jones, Geragos and all the others. They love to be attached to the spotlight on the famous in this three-ring media circus. For who’s more famous than a man high on the deadly tightrope, whose face is constantly blazoned on the front page of the newspaper?
And Scott just might get off. Sure, there’s a trail of circumstantial evidence and a strong motive, but there’s not much physical evidence, which becomes even softer under Geragos’ ability to cause a reasonable doubt (again, that’s what he gets the big money for), causing witnesses to crumble on the stand as he humiliates them in front of the entire class like a mean school headmaster.
Besides, rich and famous people so seldom get convicted for crimes they are so blatantly guilty of. Scott will be a free man, open to live his life however he chooses. He could go golfing daily with O.J. as they help each other try to find their respective wives’ killers. Then it would be off to the bar to pick up chicks who want a taste of fame.