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The trial convened on December 25, 2002, the day after his wife vanished, and the day after he went fishing on San Francisco Bay. Well, he says he went fishing.
Who can resist? The story has it all. Attractive, loving wife nearly eight months pregnant disappears Christmas Eve. Husband fails to react in a manner approved by the Great American Grief Script. Then, as if culpability knew no bounds, the other woman appears at a press conference. Scott Peterson's boat ramp ticket is now valid for a one-way trip to San Quentin's death row.
Laci and Scott Peterson are no longer real. They are incarnations of perfect good and perfect evil brought to us nightly by the name brands that grace our tables. She is the Madonna. He is Beelzebub.
Then there is the matter of Laci Peterson's fetus, "Conner." Although passing directly from pre-life to post-life, Conner Peterson has achieved the Christ like status reserved for superstars like Elian Gonzalez.
We trust soups, soaps, cars, and beer to sell us the truth. Corporate sponsors trust the corporate media to infotain us. No harm, no foul, right?
Can you say, "Sam Sheppard"?
In Cleveland's Bay Village suburb, late on the night of July 3, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard retired for the night. She was four months pregnant and sleepy after entertaining friends that evening. Her husband Sam remained downstairs, alternately dozing and watching a TV movie. The couple's seven-year-old son was asleep.
Some time during the night, Sheppard heard his wife call him. He ran to her aid, struggled with a "bushy-haired" intruder, and lost consciousness from a blow to his head. Marilyn Sheppard had been savagely beaten to death. The murder would later become the basis for the TV series and motion picture "The Fugitive."
In the run-up to the trial, the media gorged themselves on titillating tales of Sheppard's infidelity, his lies about his other woman, rumors that he had a child by yet another other woman, and that his wife had described him as having a dark side. The jury returned the expected guilty verdict.
Sheppard spent ten years in jail before the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. In its ruling the Court said, "The massive, pervasive and prejudicial publicity attending petitioner's prosecution prevented him from receiving a fair trial consistent with the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment."
Opinion polls indicate 90% or more of those responding are prepared to convict Scott Peterson for the murders of his wife and unborn son. Whether these polls reflect the attitudes of the jury pool is moot, but there can be no argument about media saturation.
The latest skirmishes over autopsy report contents and an alleged in-law burglary have kept the pot bubbling. Unnamed sources conduct a debate over whether bones were manually severed, or torn away by sea beasts; a Rocha vs. Peterson pissing match over diamonds, dresses, and food blenders. None of this has anything to do with media's responsibility to its public to monitor and objectively report the procedures of the criminal justice system.
The manner of Laci Peterson's death was homicide, but the cause of death is unknown. Any evidence that might link Scott Peterson to his wife's murder is not in the public domain.
What happened to Laci Peterson was indeed tragic. It is even more tragic that women are murdered daily in the United States. Perhaps the saddest aspect of all of this is that the media created and whetted public appetite for every detail, every opinion, relevant or not.
It may be too late to gag the principals in the case. Change of venue? Baghdad, perhaps. Like Sheppard, if Scott Peterson is convicted, the case will be back to bite the court on the ass.
Now to the promised culinary paragraph. Did you know that sturgeon is cartilaginous? Yep. Just like shark. Versatile? You bet. Whether you want it stir-fried, batter-fried, or baked, haul out your favorite chicken recipes and substitute sturgeon. Oh, and be sure to adjust cooking time.
Now back to our continuing coverage.
John Philpin is the author of The Murder Channel (Bantam), a novel that examines the impact when reporting the news is not enough for a Boston TV station.
©John Philpin 2003
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