Peterson's Martha Defense

  • Martha Stewart was back in the legal spotlight last week — at another high-profile trial that has obsessed the media. As Scott Peterson went on trial for the murder of his pregnant wife Laci, the defense scored a surreal but key point by playing a videotape of the TV homemaker. Peterson had said that on the morning the prosecution says he killed Laci, she was watching Stewart talk about meringue. The Modesto, Calif., police department claimed no meringue was mentioned on Stewart's show that morning. But Peterson attorney Mark Geragos, in his opening statement, played the tape and showed otherwise.

    That was just the first of many early embarrassments for the authorities. Geragos has displayed a talent for getting prosecution witnesses to point out inaccuracies in police reports. While prosecutors were trying to show that Laci was too tired to walk the family dog, as Peterson claims she was going to do the last time he saw her, they also inexplicably pointed out that she was able to go to a salon and a spa and buy about $100 worth of groceries that day. "It's a bit confusing what the prosecution is doing at this point," says former San Francisco district attorney Jim Hammer.

    The trial, which is expected to last six months, has attracted plenty of press attention but surprisingly little O.J.-style circus atmosphere. Not only has Judge Alfred Delucchi placed a strict gag order on all participants, but the trial is taking place in Redwood City, Calif.--a town of Silicon Valley commuters with little interest in a murder case from almost 100 miles away. One edition of the local paper last week gave the Peterson trial less play than a story about a stray cat that had tied up traffic on Route 101.

    The defense still has challenges ahead, such as explaining why Peterson was caught driving to Mexico with a change of hair color. (He says he was fleeing the media.) But if his legal team continues its hot start, Martha Stewart will be jealous.