Peterson seizes on previous accusations against detective

By Harriet Ryan
Court TV

REDWOOD CITY, California (Court TV) -- A detective accused of embellishing his testimony at Scott Peterson's murder trial was previously accused of making inflammatory statements on the witness stand to force a mistrial in a case where the prosecution's evidence was crumbling.

To bolster motions for a mistrial and dismissal of all charges, Peterson's defense cited Modesto police detective Allen Brocchini's conduct in a 1998 robbery trial.

The defense motions are based on testimony Brocchini offered last month about a sensational, and ultimately uncorroborated, tip.

A hearing on the motions was to be held behind closed doors Wednesday morning, but Judge Alfred Delucchi postponed the hearing to July 29 and lawyers for the media convinced the judge to conduct most of the proceeding in public. Certain areas of the argument the judge has already sealed will take place privately.

Although Delucchi has kept court filings about the motions sealed too, comments the judge made in court Wednesday indicate the thrust of the defense motions concern details of a tip phoned into Brocchini after the body of Peterson's pregnant wife, Laci, washed up on the San Francisco Bay shore.

Brocchini said the man, Miguel Espidia, told him Peterson had talked about the best way to dispose of a body during a 1995 conversation. The detective testified the plan included using duct tape, like the tape found on Laci Peterson's remains.

"He said he would tie a bag around the neck with duct tape and put weights on the hands, throw it in the sea. Fish activity would eat away the neck and the hands and the body would float up. No fingers, no teeth so there could be no identification," Brocchini quoted Espidia.

According to an Associated Press report, Espidia never mentioned the tape in his recorded interview and the detective added it to the account on his own.

Ultimately, police found Espidia's story unbelievable and prosecutors have not called him as a witness.

Delucchi did not say in discussions Wednesday outside the jury's presence whether the portions of the arguments that are secret include the 1998 case. Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos mentioned the case only obliquely Wednesday, referring to it by its title in an unpublished 2001 appellate decision, Richardson.

A judge declared a mistrial in that Stanislaus County case because Brocchini, the lead detective, made two prejudicial comments while testifying against three alleged gang members, including Richard Richardson, accused of storming into a neighbor's home and stealing money, food stamps and other items.

The prosecution's case was faltering because the victims, who initially identified the defendants as the robbers, backpedaled on their identifications during testimony.

Brocchini apparently believed the victims were threatened into changing their accounts and when a prosecutor asked him about the role of a defense private investigator, he said, "His job is to interview my witnesses and twist things they say."

A judge quickly struck the comment from the record. But a few days later, Brocchini ran afoul of the judge again when he told jurors that he talked to one of the defendants about another robbery in which "he may or may not have been involved."

The mention of an unrelated crime on the heels of the comment about the private investigator prompted the defense to ask for a mistrial.

The judge granted a mistrial, and the defendants asked him to go a step further and bar the prosecution from retrying them because, they said, the detective had purposefully sandbagged his case because he knew he was losing.

"They asserted that this was done because the prosecution felt the case was slipping away and a retrial would afford them the opportunity to fix whatever problems arose in the first trial with the victims and to seek a more favorable judicial forum," according to the appellate decision.

The judge disagreed, saying Brocchini might have testified out of frustration with his witnesses, but there was no proof he sabotaged his own case. The appellate court in 2001 agreed with the judge's assessment.

After discussions with lawyers about the July 29 hearing, Delucchi screened videotapes of an ABC television interview with Peterson. The judge is considering whether to allow prosecutors to show the jury edited versions of the interviews.

As the tape played on a large projection screen in the darkened courtroom, Peterson stared up at his image from his seat at the defense table. When he began sobbing on the tape as he recalled his "glorious" marriage, his father, Lee, in the front row covered his eyes with his hand.

In the afternoon, jurors returned to court and heard testimony from Detective Dodge Hendee concerning fruitless searches of the bay floor for evidence. Hendee's testimony will resume Thursday morning.

Peterson, 31, faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering his wife and the child she was carrying.