Guilty, until proven innocent
by Louis Kakoutis
Sean Hine was madly in love with his girlfriend. The couple spent the night together drinking wine and making love at her house on the night of August 17, 2005. Sean left at midnight because he had to work early the next morning. Alicia Ross walked Sean down the driveway to his car, and they embraced. The last time he saw her was in his rearview mirror as he drove off.
What happened next was a mystery of the sort that is never resolved in most cases.
Correction: Such cases are frequently resolved by falsely accusing somebody who is close to the missing victim. In other words, even though Sean Hine loved Alicia Ross, who he had begun dating about eight weeks earlier, everybody, except of course the people who knew Sean best, insisted that he had murdered Alicia Ross.
Sean Hine and Alicia Ross had only been together for a few months and he was clearly in love with her. The last thing he said to Alicia is, "I love you." Sean's parents had never met Alicia Ross, nor had they spoken to her family, but things were getting serious and Sean was supposed to take Alicia to the family cottage the weekend after her disappearance to be introduced to his parents. Instead, he became what the police call a "person of interest" and he was treated as if he had murdered the love of his life.
Like Sean Hine, who had no idea what happened to his girlfriend, Scott Peterson, 30, last saw his wife, Laci Peterson, about 9:30 a.m. on December 24, 2002 when he left to go fishing for the day at Berkeley Marina. He told police she was taking the family dog, McKenzie, for a walk at nearby La Loma Park and that was confirmed shortly after 10:15 am when a neighbor found the family dog, a golden retriever named McKenzie, running loose in the neighborhood, wearing a collar and a muddy leash.
Vivian Mitchell saw Scott's wife pass by her kitchen window, shortly after 10 a.m. the day Laci disappeared. According to Mrs. Mitchell, "That was the lady I saw. And she is so striking. Beautiful Lady and a Beautiful Dog." The police disputed that claim because they had concluded that Scott Peterson murdered Laci on December 23rd 2002 and consequently rejected anything that disputed their theory.
If Laci was murdered on December the 23rd, as the authorities claimed, Scott Peterson's dog would not have been abandoned on December 24, 2003, while he was fishing. When you make things up, nothing makes any sense.
Authorities did not bother to question Vivian Mitchell even though the substance of her story was repeatedly confirmed:
Neighbors have told police they saw Laci -- dressed in a white shirt and black pants -- walking her dog in the park around 10 a.m. Karen Servas, a neighbor, said she spotted the Petersons' golden retriever about 10:30 a.m. The dog was wearing its leash, which was muddy. Servas said she returned the dog to its yard, not realizing there might be something amiss.
On December 24th, 2002, at 2:17pm, Scott called Laci when he was leaving the Berkeley Marina and left the following message on her cell phone, "Hi, beautiful. I just left you a message at home. 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley. I won't be able to get to Vella Farms to get the basket for Poppa. I was hoping you would get this message and go on out there. I'll see you in a bit, sweety. I love you. Bye." According to the authorities, Laci Peterson never got that message because she was already dead, and that is certainly an outlandish statement without any evidence to support it.
On February 19, 2003, Modesto police continued a two-day search in the home of missing Laci Peterson, saying they were trying to "eliminate or connect" her husband and given the fact that they didn't find anything to support the claim that Laci had been murdered in her home on December 23, 2002, Scott Peterson should have been cleared.
The alleged crime scene did not produce any evidence of a crime and it looks like the defence attorney, Mark Geragos missed the significance of that point because he was more concerned with bragging about how he was going to identify the killers. He didn't have to do that. It was his job to defend Scott, not to solve a murder mystery.
FBI crime-scene investigators and the police combed the Peterson home in effort to find evidence to prove that Scott Peterson had murdered his wife. The FBI used a chemical spray that can be used with an alternative light source to find trace evidence such as blood, and since these elaborate forensic evidence efforts failed to produce any evidence to connect Scott Peterson the fact that the Peterson home was not a crime scene is rather obvious. Thee witnesses who claimed to have seen Laci peterson walking the dog the day after she was allegedly murdered, were not mistaken. Even if Scott Peterson had mopped up all the blood, as persistently rumored, high-tech forensic investigators would have been able to prove it. At some point, delusions of grandeur need to be dropped for the sake of accepting the simple truth.
As soon as Laci disappeared, the Police Focused on the Probable Role of Scott Peterson in his Wife's Disappearance and when the evidence indicated otherwise, they simply imagined the most unlikely scenario, to make it appear as if they were always right. It was a painful process to watch, and Scott Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos played into their hand when he boasted that he would identify the killer/s.
On February 14, 2003, Police called Scott Peterson a "person of interest" in the disappearance of his pregnant wife. Detectives said they hadn't spoken to him since late December. Needless to say, that kind of lapse is difficult to understand because it proves that Scott Peterson was their only suspect, and that is not how a thorough investigation is conducted.
When Laci went missing and Scott saw her purse and keys left behind, Scott panicked because his wife hadn't written a note as she always did. He called Laci's parents at their home and asked his stepfather if Laci was there and when he said she wasn't, Laci's stepfather called the police. Nobody suspected Scott until his affair was exposed and it is still silly to blame Scott for murder on that basis alone. It has been determined that 30% to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity, the estimate vary widely for obvious reasons.
But murder was certainly not on Scott Peterson's mind. In particular, Laci was pregnant and Scott Peterson was looking forward to the birth of his son Connor. When Laci went missing on December 24, 2002, it was consequently not possible to find a family member or friend who thought Scott was involved in her disappearance. Laci's entire family, Scott's entire family and all Scott and Laci's friends told the police and media that Scott was excited about becoming a father.
Scott's friend, Greg Reed, described how excited Scott was to become a father, how the couple attended Lamaze classes together, and how Greg and Scott looked through the Cabela's catalog together and picked out baby clothes for their sons. Scott's friend, Guy Miligi told the media how Scott had spent many hours preparing the nursery.
Neighbor, Karen Servas told police that both Scott and Laci were excited about the pregnancy and upcoming baby. Another neighbor, Susan Medina, first met Scott in December 2002 when he gave her a ride to work because she had a flat tire. She and Scott discussed Laci's pregnancy and who her doctor was. Their maid, Margarita Nava, told the police that Scott and Laci were excited about the baby and had the nursery all prepared.
Scott had painted the nursery and Conner's dresser. He had assembled the crib and had taken Laci to her OB/GYN appointment on December 23, 2002. Scott and Laci had planned this pregnancy, they were excited to become parents, and Scott was an involved father-to-be.
The suggestion that Scott was fooling everybody because he had planned to get away with murder would have been plausible if it was supported by any evidence but it is not.
Everything about the claim that Scott Peterson murdered Laci is incomprehensible. Indeed, one would have to believe that Scott dumped Laci Peterson's body where he went fishing the day before Laci was spotted walking the dog and that is simply not possible. This tendency to accuse without evidence is troubling and disturbing.
Likewise, when his girlfriend disappeared, everybody, except for his friends and those who knew him best, insisted that Sean Hine had murdered his girlfriend, Alicia Ross. When Sean got home he called Alicia's cellphone and he got a really bad feeling when she did not respond. The police got a bad feeling too, they made him a "person of interest" or to be more precise, the exclusive suspect.
Ross' distraught mother, Sharon Fortis, blamed Sean Hine when her daughter disappeared. As far as she was concerned, Sean Hine was the only plausible suspect and the media agreed. On Thursday, September 29, 2005, Arthur Weinreb, Associate Editor of the Canada Free Press, wrote the following story regarding the tragic saga:
"On August 17, 25-year-old Alicia Ross disappeared from her family home north of Toronto. Her boyfriend, Sean Hine, had been the last person to see her when he left her house that evening and he called police after he could not reach Alicia at home or at work the next morning. Ross, who had no history of taking off and who appeared happy at her job where she had just received a promotion, became big news in the Toronto and area media. From the outset, police were convinced that foul play was involved. Although the York Regional Police refused to refer to Hine as a suspect, he was constantly referred to as a person of interest immediately after the young woman went missing."
The media and the public assumed that Alicia Ross was a victim of a crime and that Sean Hine, her boyfriend of two months, was responsible. Moreover, the high profile, Peterson case was being used like a template to cement the case against Sean. Every CNN news junkie had watched Peterson organize searches after his pregnant wife, Laci, disappeared. Peterson was later arrested, convicted and is currently on death row in California. Sean Hine, it was assumed, was another Scott Peterson. Ironically, Scott Peterrson was another Sean Hine. The only difference is, the murder of Alicia Ross was solved. The tuth about the murder of Laci peterson is still a mystery.
A little more than a month after Alicia Ross disappeared, it had become very clear that it was only a matter of time before Sean Hine joined Scott Peterson in a prison cell with his name on it. However, Daniel Sylvester, the 31-year-old next door neighbour of Ross and her family, went to a police station with his lawyer to confess to having murdered Sean's girlfriend. Sylvester confessed to killing Ross and that evening police recovered the remains of the 25-year-old woman in two locations northeast of her home.
The day after Sylvester's arrest, writing in The Toronto Sun, reporter Thane Burnett apologized to Hine for ignoring those who said he couldn't have done it and for believing that he was guilty of the murder of Alicia Ross.
The media thought that Hine had been guilty of killing his girlfriend simply because he had been the last known person to see her alive and that is clearly not an acceptable standard for defaming an innocent man. Even after Daniel Sylvester confessed, Sean Hine, who had been repeatedly demonized, was persona non grata, and the Canada Free Press grappled with that peculiar circumstance in the following terms:
Fortis' anger at Hine, to the point of refusing to allow him to attend her daughter's funeral seems to be irrational. Sean Hine was not only forced to deal with the grief that resulted when his girlfriend disappeared without a trace but also had to face the reality that, whether the police used the word or not, he was the prime suspect in a criminal act. Hine told the media that he feared not just being arrested but being wrongly convicted of a crime that he did not commit, a feeling that could hardly be described as exaggerated. Who knows what would have happened had the neighbour not confessed and the police were pressured to solve Alicia's disappearance. Hine can be excused for not acting in a way that Sharon Fortis and her family thought to be appropriate.
The media cannot be excused for convicting both Sean Hine and Scott Peterson in the press despite the total lack of evidence to implicate either party. The only difference between Sean Hine and Scott Peterson is that the mystery surrounding the murder of Alicia Ross disappeared when Daniel Sylvestor confessed. It is consequently clear that Scott Peterson is still in prison because the person or people who are responsible for the disappearance of Laci Peterson have not confessed or because the real culprits have not been exposed.
Mr. Sylvestor turned himself in to York Regional Police on September 20, 2005 and his lawyer, Mr. David Hobson said, "My client voluntarily surrendered himself to police yesterday. At that time, there was no evidence whatsoever in which the police could arrest him, let alone support a conviction." Alicia Ross disappeared on August 17, 2005, police searches and investigations had turned up no clues, but that did not stop everybody from pointing the finger at Sean Hine. Clearly, if Daniel Sylvester's conscience had not got the better of him, Sean Hine would be in jail today, that would not have been acceptable and nether is the current incarceration of Scott Peterson.
Sean Hine was merely lucky and he made that quite clear when he said, "I'm just happy I'm not wrongly convicted, the cops kept bugging me and bugging me." His father, Ken Hine said, "All that was written about him wasn't kind. I'm surprised at how one-sided the situation was."
Like Scott Peterson, Sean Hine had tried to cooperate with the police to no avail. For example, he told them that he saw evidence of a struggle in the backyard, and if they took that seriously, they might have focused on Daniel Sylvestor before he confessed. Similarily, the police in the Peterson case dismissed evidence that Laci Peterson had been kidnapped, and under the circumstances, it is rather clear and obvious that Laci was not murdered in her own home, making the claim that she was in fact kidnapped, more plausible than ever. Needless to say, as long as the actual crime scene is not known and as long as the evidence does not implicate Scott Peterson it is not possible to be any more definitive about the disappearance of Laci Peterson.
Aside from the demonization and the adultery, Scott Peterson was a model citizen. "He was a tremendous kid and a tremendous golfer," recalled Dave Thoennes, who coached Peterson all four years in high school. "He was both popular and a leader." Thoennes had nothing but good things to say about him: "He was dedicated to his game. He was dedicated to his team." Peterson was always on time to practice and never caused a problem, Thoennes said. Quite simply, the way Thoennes remembers him, Peterson was a Beaver Cleaver kind of kid. "He had a great personality. He was dependable. He was well disciplined." His leadership blossomed his sophomore year, after playing his freshman year alongside Phil Mickelson, now one of the top players on the PGA Tour.
"I feel badly for him," said Brian Argain, a friend of Scott and Laci Peterson's. "I can't even imagine being in Scott's shoes. Everybody has a theory on what happened to Laci, but nobody really knows. It's all very sad." "We're all looking for the truth," Argain said. "I'm going to support Scott no matter what the rumors are. It doesn't affect my friendship with him. Just because he may have had an affair doesn't mean he has anything to do with her disappearance."
Indeed, as far as the evidence goes, Scott Peterson had as much to do with the disappearance of Laci as Sean Hine had to do with the disappearance of Alicia Ross. "When he was about 6 or 7 years old, we'd all go golfing together," his mother, Jacqueline Peterson said. "He would put his fishing pole in his bag because the course we often went to was on the San Diego River. By the second hole, he'd stop golfing and start fishing. We'd pass by him every so often, and he usually fished until we were done golfing."
Scott had no living grandparents so, while he was in high school, he befriended an elderly woman who had no grandchildren and visited her on Sundays after church. Scott graduated from high school in 1990, briefly attended Arizona State University on a partial golf scholarship, but he moved back with his parents, who had bought a house in Morro Bay. He moved out about six months later, telling them that he was too old to be living at home and began working three jobs to put himself through Cuesta College and California Polytechnic State University.
While he was a waiter at Pacific Cafe, Scott met Laci Rocha, an upbeat young woman with a beautiful smile. Laci's neighbor worked at the cafe, and Laci ended up there from time to time, where she engaged brief conversations with Scott as she ordered coffee. One day, Laci wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to her neighbor to give to Scott. Thinking his friend was playing a mean trick on him, Scott crumpled the paper and threw it in the garbage, and had to be convinced that it was no joke, to retrieve the number from the trash.
After graduation, Scott and Laci opened a popular eatery called The Shack, a place near the Cal Poly campus where students came for hamburgers and sandwiches. The business quickly became a success and the young couple sold it two years later after deciding to move to Modesto to start a family and be closer to Laci's parents. After years of trying, Laci became pregnant, and that's how she disappeared. She was so excited when she found out that she began calling family and friends at 7 a.m. after taking a pregnancy test. As the holiday season progressed, the Petersons held several parties at their home, and guests could not help noticing that the house no longer resembled the place that the Petersons had purchased.
"Scott remodeled the entire house, doing woodwork, tile, plumbing, a little bit of everything," said Guy Miligi, a friend of the Petersons'. "I know he put a lot of hours into making that baby room just right. He was real excited about having his first child. He talked about that all the time."
On Dec. 23, Laci and her mother spoke by telephone at about 8:30 p.m., Scott told police he last saw his wife the next morning as he left for a fishing trip out of the Berkeley Marina, and was unable to find her when he returned home that evening. Paranoia and extreme suspicion lead to the development of the theory that an affair with a massage therapist had turned Scott Peterson into a vicious, cold blooded murderer, but that is the theory that derailed a proper murder investigation.
Like Sean Hine, who last saw his girlfriend, Alicia Ross moments before Daniel Sylvester, Ross' next-door neighbour, beat her to death, Scott Peterson last saw Laci before she was evidently kidnapped while walking her dog, and she was evidently murdered by an unidentified psychopath and that is not that unusual, given all the unsolved homicides.
On November 19, 1990, Robert Baltovich was arrested and charged with the murder of 22 year old University of Toronto student, Elizabeth Bain. Baltovich was arrested simply because Elizabeth Bain was his former girlfriend. The fact is, Between 1986 and 1990, it was not Robert Baltovich, but serial killer, Paul Bernardo, who committed 21 sexual assaults in the Scarborough area with a pattern of escalating violence.
On June 19, 1990, when the police asked Paul Bernardo whether he had killed Elizabeth Bain, he said, "Well that's a loaded question. I mean, are we going to go back and go through the time sequence of what happened in my life?"
In the final analysis, Robert Baltovich was cleared of murdering his former girlfriend because Paul Bernardo killed Elizabeth Bain in 1990. Consequently, since serial killers like Paul Bernardo routinely baffle authorities, it is safe to declare that the person who murdered Laci Peterson is a psychopath like Paul Bernardo, and that is all that needs to be said about that until the real murderer/s is/are apprehended.
James Lockyer, Robert Baltovich's lawyer said, "I think he [Bernardo] probably did it, and I think the evidence shows he probably did it," and he deserves the last word regarding the wrongful conviction of his client.
When Bernardo was interviewd by the police in June of 2007 in Kingston Penitentiary, he said, "I've given you directions to go find the truth and no one has done that."
Reasonable people ultimately understand the difference between the common rush to judge and the tendency to treat people the way that Sean Hine and Scott Peterson were treated. For example, speaking to CNN about the disappearance of Laci Peterson, Defense Attorney, Christopher Pixley said, "But at this point, what's more logical, that Scott Peterson murdered his wife without leaving a trace of evidence, no blood or DNA anywhere, removed her head and her limbs from her body, potentially excised the baby from the womb, or that some deranged psychopath snatched her in a park and did it? I think there comes a point in time where it is more likely that someone else committed this crime, whether it's a satanic cult or just some crazed transient, than Scott Peterson himself."
Moreover, Berkley Marina, the spot from where Scott Peterson allegedly dumped his wife's body is well lighted at night and UNDER WATCH BY PRIVATE SECURITY OF THE SAILING CLUB, DAY AND NIGHT, (notwithstanding the claim he allegedly dumped the body when Laci was repeatedly spotted alive. Nothing, about the "evidence" which allegedly implicates Scott Peterson makes any sense at all and it is consequently ludicrous to blame Scott Peterson for the murder of his pregnant wife.
Next: Remembering the best and the brightest.