Peterson: Preliminary Trial

A Laci Peterson look-alike 'debunks' mistaken identity

Two people who insist they saw the pregnant Laci Peterson walking her dog after 9:30 a.m. Christmas Eve now have even stronger reason to believe they are right.

A woman from the same neighborhood resembles Peterson, was pregnant last year and could have been mistaken for her.

But that woman had her baby in October and said she did not walk her dog that day. Scott Peterson, his wife's accused killer, said he last saw Laci at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 24 when he set out from their Modesto home on a fishing trip.

Prosecutors allege that Peterson killed his wife "on or about and between" Dec. 23 and 24, and have discounted reports from people who say they saw Laci Peterson after her husband contends he went fishing.

Mark Geragos, Peterson's lead attorney, said the woman who resembles Laci Peterson, but was no longer pregnant in December, "debunks their whole theory."

The woman, who has since moved from the La Loma neighborhood, has a golden retriever named McKenzie -- the same breed and name as the Petersons' dog.

She said she is sure about not walking her dog on Christmas Eve, because her husband's two sons were at their home to go shopping that day.

"I'm 99.9 percent sure I was not walking that day," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. She is a prosecutor in another county.

Scott Peterson has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and their unborn son, Conner. Soon after taking Peterson's case, Geragos announced that he was launching an investigation to "find out who did this to Scott's wife and Scott's son."

The defense was searching for one woman in particular, but Geragos declined to say Friday if she had been found.

The woman who resembles Peterson said she has spoken to police and Modesto attorney Kirk McAllister, a member of the defense team.

Geragos said the woman's account supports the defense contention that police arrested the wrong person.

"It certainly would confirm my belief that Laci was abducted on the 24th and certainly debunks any leaks out there that this was someone else who was walking that morning."

Homer Maldonado, a 59-year-old commercial painter, said he saw Peterson between 9:45 and 10 a.m. Dec. 24, moments after he left the USA Gasoline station on Miller Avenue, about a half-mile south of the Peterson home at 523 Covena Ave.

"I slowed down and was taking a good look. What caught my eye was she was so pregnant," Maldonado said. "There's no question it was her."

Maldonado said he told police on Jan. 1 about the sighting as search teams fanned out from East La Loma Park. But an officer told him that search dogs indicated that Peterson went in another direction, Maldonado said. He said police never called him to follow up.

A bloodhound indicated that she left her home in a vehicle, not on foot, the dog's handler said Dec. 30.

Maldonado and his wife, Helen, said they left their Phoenix Avenue home at about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 24, dropped off a Christmas gift and then went for gas.

They said they saw a yellowish-tan van with dull paint at an adjacent pump. The van reeked of cigarette smoke, the Maldonados said.

"They weren't getting gas. They were just there," Homer Maldonado said.

According to Maldonado, a man came out of the gas station's store and a male voice from the van asked if the man had "got the cigs."

Maldonado said he saw Peterson about a block away from the gas station, walking in front of 211 Covena Ave.

Vivian Mitchell, who lives on Buena Vista Avenue roughly 10 blocks from the Peterson home and about three-quarters of a mile from the Maldonado sighting, has told police that she saw Peterson walk by between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Dec. 24.

"How can you duplicate a woman that looked like her?" Mitchell, 79, said. "She was so magnetic. She was so pretty."

She called police, and got no call back for several weeks.

Mitchell and her husband, Bill, said they were sure it was Dec. 24, partially because the sun had come out after several days of damp and foggy weather.

But data at the Western Regional Climate Center show fairly clear weather in Modesto on Dec. 22 and 23, with mist setting in about 6 p.m. Dec. 23 and lasting at least through Christmas.

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said he could not explain, without discussing other evidence, why authorities discounted the witnesses' statements.

"Police were very seriously looking at whatever seemed credible," he said. "Modesto's a big town. I imagine there was more than one pregnant woman in it."