'Scott Peterson Is Innocent'

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Scott Peterson, now with a goatee and dyed hair, is in Modesto police custody

In an exclusive interview with TIME's San Diego reporter, Jill Underwood, Scott Peterson's mother Jackie and father Lee defended their son against allegations that he murdered his pregnant wife, Laci. Jackie Peterson, who is ill and requires oxygen, was clearly angry through her tears. Excepts from their conversation:

Lee Peterson: We're grieving for the loss of Scott's wife and the baby. Our family is just devastated, and we feel an equal amount of pain for the Rocha family — Sharon and Ron and the whole family. But... our son is innocent. We know that. We've known it from day one.

Jackie Peterson: They know it too. They supported him fully until the police misled them, and that was to divide and separate him from them. He was their support. They were his support.

Lee Peterson: We're just very critical of the way the Modesto police has handled this investigation. They worked strictly on a theory that was dreamt up by this lead detective within the first eight hours, and they've pursued it backward from there and they have neglected so many good leads. Chief (Roy) Wasden made a comment during his news conference that on the evening before Christmas Eve, Laci's mother had spoken to Laci at 8:15 and that's the last time anyone saw Laci. Not true. There are several people who saw Laci.

Jackie Peterson: Several people who the police immediately tried to discredit the minute they came forward, so they're not coming forward.

Lee Peterson: And one of these gentlemen — and they are prominent people — he's a three-term council member up there and an attorney, and they saw her and they know her and the police have disregarded this. If it doesn't fit their theory, by God, they don't want to investigate it. I just can't be any more emphatic than that. And we're gonna pursue this thing.

Jackie Peterson: I would like people to use their common sense and look at the big picture, not just one incident that for three months the police have been telling them Scott did not go fishing. Now conveniently, the body has been found where he told them he went fishing. Why would he go 80 miles fishing, come home with a receipt and buy gas and food along the way, have a receipt of the dock and tell the police exactly where he went fishing — and the body would be there! That does not make sense. It's too damn inconvenient for that.

Lee Peterson: I would ask everyone to consider Scott's family. We're a good family. We don't have a record of anything.

Jackie Peterson: He doesn't either. You can look.

Lee Peterson: He doesn't. There was no domestic violence.

Jackie Peterson: No drugs. No financial problems. He worked three jobs to put himself through college and put his wife through college. They both worked hard to get everything they had, and they were enjoying it to the hilt. And they adored each other.

Lee Peterson: We were with them the week before Christmas, and you never saw a more loving couple.

Jackie Peterson: Laci's mother stated the same thing prior to the police going to them. All her family talked about how much they loved each other. How happy they were. How happily married people they were. And how we all wished we were like that. And then it all changed when the police went to them. And with what we know now, now they're bragging about their technique of deception that they learned to be detectives. And that means they can lie to you but if you say anything in the same sentence different, you've committed perjury. But they can say anything they want and tell their parents anything they want and they're grieving and they're looking to them for help.

TIME: What has Scott told you?

Lee Peterson: We haven't been able to speak to him. Again, we're grieving for the baby as Scott is for Laci. And we'd like to extend our best to the Rocha family. But I think if they search their hearts and really position themselves where they were before the police deceived them, and look at this thing in the wide context, they'll see the police have just bungled this investigation from day one. They can come after me. That's fine. But they've bungled this case.

Jackie Peterson: I think it's inappropriate for the police to be preening and patting themselves on the back for a good job of four months when they've done a cheap shot ... is what they've performed. Not only that, but they were preening and patting themselves when the announcement of who those bodies were. That's totally inappropriate. If they want to pat themselves on the back, they should have a party somewhere else. I'm just appalled at that, that our public people are like that. You have a district attorney calling this a slam-dunk before there's even an arraignment. I'm feeling like I'm living in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. I've just sick of this. (Her eyes are tearing up.) I think every man out there should be in fear if this is the way the police worked. If a crime happens to your wife, you'd better know you're with six people and they weren't drunk and they are good friends who are going to be able to put up with this. If they have any kind of shady character, the police will dismiss them and you'll be ruined.

TIME: What about the police saying that Scott tried to sell the house and her car?

Lee Peterson: You can take this thing from the very beginning. There's no motive. That $250,000 life insurance policy they had for two years and it was on each of them. They did that when they bought the home.

Jackie Peterson: It's not a policy. It was a retirement policy that has insurance attached. (The police) lied to Laci Peterson's mother about that.

Lee Peterson: He did not try to sell the house.

Jackie Peterson: We were looking at new cars the week before in Carmel. Laci wanted a safer car for her baby. The police took his car. He's making a payment on a truck that they've had now for four months. He's not a rich man. He works and they live the way they want to live, but they budgeted and they do it on their own and they never ask for anything.

Lee Peterson: They made it sound like Laci loved that car. Laci hated that car.

Jackie Peterson: She called it a piece of shit. The only time I ever heard a bad word out of her mouth.

Lee Peterson: We talked a lot driving on the Carmel trip the week before this happened, and they were gonna trade that car and get her a better car. Because the car would quit running.... As for the home, one of the ladies who ran our volunteer center in Modesto is in the real estate business. And she was one of favorites. ... And Scott was talking to her as a side remark and said "What do you think I could get for it."

Jackie Peterson: That's not what he said. He said, he didn't want to live there anymore. He said he didn't want to bring Laci home to that and what would they get out of it. He did not sign a listing. He did not go to a realtor.

Lee Peterson: Did you folks know that there's another pregnant lady that was floating in that bay in January? Another torso and two other pregnant women missing in that area. And that place is polluted with parolees.

TIME: What about the fear that police had that he would run to Mexico?

Jackie Peterson: I will tell you exactly what happened. He sold his car because his job has changed. He doesn't have to haul stuff anymore. And he couldn't afford it. He was making a payment, and we loaned him a car to drive instead. Apparently from what we now hear, the police had a device attached to it. His attorney knew where he was at all times. We talked to him every day. And the police asked us if we'd talk to him and we'd say, "Yes, we talk to him at least once a day." Sometimes, when they called, we hadn't talked to him that day yet. But he called us every night because we feared for his life because of how they've polluted this story. How the press and police have jumped on every little thing and made it what it's not. That's the story on that. They lost him.

Lee Peterson: He went to Mexico as you'll recall, maybe six weeks ago, on a business trip, came back and the police knew where he was.

Jackie Peterson: He's not going to leave his family and his life, and besides he's innocent.

Lee Peterson: It's another smear on him that he was going to run into Mexico. And how ridiculous. The kid lives here. They ran him out of Modesto. He can't use his home. They've got his car. Where's he supposed to go? He came to us and he was not running.

After the interview, the parents, who live in the upper middle class San Diego suburb of Solana Beach, packed up a few bags and drove off in their Ford F150 truck to go up to Modesto to see their son. (Their other car is a Jaguar.) They both looked drained and exhausted. Halfway through the interview, Jackie Peterson had to put on her oxygen mask when she started gasping for breath. "This is going to kill me," she said.