Laci Peterson’s story is full of tragedy and heartache. What no one could have anticipated, however, was how long after her 2002 death that pain would endure.
Laci was eight months pregnant with her first child when she disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002. Her husband, Scott Peterson, claimed that he had been out on a solo fishing trip. He reported her missing that night, stating that the only plans she had in place that day were to go for a walk with the family dog.
As investigators delved into Laci’s disappearance, they began to suspect foul play. It’s hard to say when the focus fell onto Scott, as spouses are always investigated in these matters. When the world learned that Scott was cheating on his pregnant wife, sentiment quickly shifted against him.
Scott’s girlfriend, Amber Frey, came forward publicly to admit her involvement with the married man in January, although she contacted police almost immediately after realizing what she’d become involved in. Amber told the media that she began seeing Scott in November, at which time he claimed he was a widower.
Scott tried to counter this by saying Laci was aware of the affair and it was something they planned on working past. That opportunity, whether truthful or not, would never come to pass. Police began treating the case as a homicide by March 2003.
On April 13, 2003, a couple walking their dog Point Isabel Regional Shoreline Park, north of Berkeley, discovered the remains of a late-term fetus. The remains were later confirmed to be those of Laci and Scott’s unborn son, Conner.
The next day, Laci’s remains were recovered. Her head and parts of her limbs were missing. Days later, DNA analysis confirmed the remains belonged to her, devastating her family.
Scott was arrested on April 18, 2003. Police found Scott with a number of baffling items in his car, including $15,000 in cash. The items and changes he had made to his appearance had many believing he was caught amidst an attempt to flee to Mexico.
Scott’s trial would prove to be a painful ordeal for Laci’s family. They not only heard details of their daughter’s painful demise but also heard Amber testify to the nature of the affair between herself and Scott.
Powerfully, Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, took the stand to speak out for her daughter. “Divorce was always an option, not murder,” she shouted at her son-in-law in the courtroom, as Scott remained emotionless.
Sharon described the sheer agony she went through as a mother, unaware of what happened to her child and future grandchild.
“You knew where she was,” she leveled at Scott.
“Instead, you just let us go through this every day.”
Sharon also recalled what the moments before her daughter’s funeral were like for her. “I knew that I needed to spend some time with her,” she said.
“I knew she was in the casket and I knew the baby was there and I knew she didn’t have arms to hold him … She should have had her arms.”
Sharon wasn’t the only member of the family to testify. Laci’s stepfather, Ron Grantski; her half-sister, Amy; and brother, Brent, also spoke.
Some of Sharon’s most heartbreaking statements came in her victim impact statement during Scott’s sentencing.
“Your selfish act of murdering Laci has caused unbearable pain and heartache. You took a beautiful life and her precious baby away from us. There’s a huge hole in my heart that will never heal. I grieve every single day for Laci and Conner. I miss Laci so much. I miss having a daughter,” she said.
“Our friendship, our talks and our laughter. I miss making plans with her and our shopping excursions, our lunches together. I miss teasing her, hearing her giggle, watching her mature. I miss telling, miss her telling me about the plants she purchased for her yard and a new recipe she’s going to try tonight.
“I miss hearing her talk about her baby and her plans for the future. I miss her asking me for advice or for my opinion. I miss being my daughter’s mother. I’ll never have the opportunity to see her become a mother.
“I’ll never meet my grandson. I’m left only to wonder what color would his hair and his eyes be. Would he look like Laci? Would he have her long, dark eyelashes? Would he have her dimples? Would he have her upbeat personality? Would he have her laugh? What would his interests be? What kind of person would he be? Would he like school? Would he like sports? What costume would Laci have him wear for his first Halloween? Would he cry when he has his picture taken with Santa? What would be in his Easter basket?”
Later, she continued:
“It’s truly a miracle and I thank God that both of them were found and they’ll be together again for eternity. We had to bury Laci without her arms to hold her baby and without her head to see and hear and smell and kiss her sweet little baby, Conner. There was a time I couldn’t bear to look at a picture of Laci because each time I did I envisioned her this way. You have no idea what that, the thought of that does to my soul.
“I finally convinced myself to see her body as she was and not as she is. Now what I see when I look at her picture is her beautiful smile and her contagious giggle, her happy heart, her love of life and her great expectations of becoming a mother, her generous soul, her knowing how much I love her and knowing how much she loves me. I’m haunted every single day with visions of you murdering Laci.”
Scott was convicted by a jury on November 12, 2004. He was found guilty of two counts of murder: first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing Laci and second-degree murder for Conner. On December 13, 2004, a jury rendered Scott the death penalty.
Scott’s legal team began the appeal of his conviction and sentencing in 2012, a decade after Laci’s death. The appeals process went back and forth until this year.
On August 24, 2020, the Supreme Court of California upheld Peterson’s conviction but overturned his death sentence in a 7-0 decision. They explained that trial judge Alfred Delucchi dismissed jurors who opposed capital punishment without asking them whether they could put their views aside.
Justice Leondra Kruger explained that per Supreme Court rulings since 1968, “Jurors may not be excused merely for opposition to the death penalty, but only for views rendering them unable to fairly consider imposing that penalty in accordance with their oath. This is the meaning of the guarantee of an impartial jury.”
A source close to Laci’s family recently spoke with People magazine on how the decision has affected them.
“The family is in pain again,” the source revealed.
“It’s not even so much that he’s getting off death row for the time being, but now there will be another trial and they’re going to have to sit through it and possibly testify.”
Laci’s family, particularly Sharon, are left with no choice but to steel themselves for the battle ahead. She is without the support system she had the first time around. Both Laci’s father, Dennis Rocha, and her stepfather, Ron, died in 2018.
“The old wounds are being reopened yet again,” the source said.
“There is no end to the pain that Scott Peterson has put this family through.”