Peterson trial focuses on jewelry

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – An aunt and a store clerk testified Thursday about Laci Peterson’s jewelry inheritance as prosecutors appeared to be trying to establish a monetary motive for Scott Peterson to want his pregnant wife dead.

A jewelry store clerk, Mary Anna Felix, said she remembered Laci Peterson bringing in items to be appraised and saying her husband wanted to know how much the jewelry was worth. When Felix estimated the jewelry to be worth more than $100,000, “she said that he would be very happy.”

Felix also said Laci Peterson wore a diamond pendant, and told her she never took it off, even when she slept, for fear of losing it.

Prosecutors showed a picture of the pendant atop a dresser in the Petersons’ home. The photo was taken after Laci Peterson vanished.

In the months before Laci Peterson’s disappearance, she and other family members had inherited jewelry from her grandmother.

Robin Rocha, Laci Peterson’s aunt, testified that she and Laci inventoried the jewelry and that after Laci disappeared, a watch and a pair of two-carat diamond earrings were missing.

Prosecutors have said Scott Peterson’s affair with a massage therapist drove him to murder. Thursday’s questioning introduced another possible motive – that with Laci Peterson out of the way, Scott Peterson might have thought that he could profit from the jewelry.

The owners of a Modesto pawnshop testified that Laci Peterson sold some of her grandmother’s jewelry on Dec. 10 for $140, and on Dec. 14, Laci and Scott Peterson returned to the store to sell more items for $110.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Mark Geragos displayed a receipt that showed someone sold a watch, identical to the one Rocha claimed was missing after Laci vanished, on Dec. 31, 2002, at another area pawnshop. Geragos didn’t say whose name was on the pawn hop receipt, but indicated it wasn’t Scott Peterson’s.

Defense lawyers claim someone else abducted Laci Peterson and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay to frame Scott Peterson after his alibi was widely publicized. They have hinted at a number of theories to create reasonable doubt, including one that Laci Peterson often wore a lot of jewelry, inviting trouble from transients in the neighborhood.

Prosecutors allege Peterson, 31, murdered his pregnant wife in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body into the bay. Peterson has told police he went fishing on the bay that Christmas Eve morning and returned to an empty house.

When the remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus washed ashore nearly four months later, near where Peterson claimed to have been on his solo fishing trip, he was arrested.

Peterson could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted.

Earlier Thursday, Modesto police Sgt. Timothy Helton described how authorities investigated several tips in the days after Laci Peterson vanished, following one that she had been seen in a nearby park and another that she was being held captive in Tracy, about 30 miles from her Modesto home.

Prosecutors appeared to use Helton, at least in part, to dispute defense claims that investigators focused solely on Peterson, ignoring other suspects.

Geragos has theorized that someone held Laci until after hearing Peterson’s fishing story, then dumped her body in the bay.

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