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Motive still a question in Peterson case

By Associated Press - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. —Of all the questions surrounding the Laci Peterson murder case, the one that seemed to be running through practically everyone's mind was this: If Scott Peterson was so unhappy in his marriage, why didn't he just get a divorce?

Experts on the criminal mind say the answer may lie in what lurked beneath Scott Peterson's charming veneer —a psychopathic personality.

"When you say you're going to get a divorce, everyone knows that it's a long, tedious process. The psychopath wants the short-term solution," said San Diego forensic psychologist Reid Meloy.

Peterson, 32, was convicted earlier this month of murdering his eight-months-pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying, and the jury decided he deserves the death penalty.

Criminal psychologists say Peterson appeared to be a master manipulator who lacked the capacity to feel remorse or consider consequences —some of the same psychopathic characteristics exhibited by serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.

Pyschopaths "tend to con people very well and they wear false faces," said former FBI profiler Robert Ressler. "They tend to be able to fool everyone from their families to their friends to society, schools, their community."

At Peterson's trial, prosecutors portrayed him as a callous liar who continued to carry on an extramarital affair even as police searched for his wife. They said he killed her to escape marriage and impending fatherhood for the freewheeling single life.

Whether Laci's pregnancy was the catalyst for Peterson's plan may never be known. But experts said pregnancy can lead to seismic changes within a relationship.

Pregnancy "represents commitment, fatherhood, another dependent, a lifelong bond ... and all of those things are strongly despised by the psychopath," Meloy said.

Phyllis Sharps, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University nursing school, said homicide is one of the leading causes of death among pregnant women.

"That's kind of the American myth, that pregnancy is a wonderful, growing time," she said. "In the vast majority of cases, that's true. But pregnancy represents a life transition, and there are stresses around that transition."

Peterson's case was made all the more perplexing by the lack of signs that the couple's marriage was in trouble. Although Peterson had cheated on Laci at least three times, according to defense attorney Mark Geragos, he appeared to family and friends to be a doting husband and father-to-be after Laci became pregnant.

Those closest to the couple said they never suspected there was a monster inside.

Heather Richardson, the maid of honor at the Petersons' wedding, is still hoping for a plausible explanation to emerge. Perhaps, she said, Peterson suffers from a disorder that has yet to be revealed.

"It would be at least comforting. Then I would realize that the person I knew and loved dearly was there. He was that person and the other person, too," Richardson said. "So at least part of him was not a lie."


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