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He pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder and hired high-powered defense attorney Mark Geragos, famous for representing clients such as Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder. Geragos publicly called for witnesses who could help prove his client’s innocence to come forward. Later the attorney floated the possibility that Laci had been abducted by a satanic cult and he talked about a female witness who supposedly had important information about the case. Cult or not, “it’s clear she was abducted—that’s the only thing that makes sense,” Geragos told Vanity Fair that August. “It’s only a matter of time forensically and we’ll find out who did it.”

The trial wouldn’t start until 2004, leaving plenty of time for the twisted story of Laci’s death to grow ever more upsetting, with the resurgent tabloids and cable news networks—knowing exactly what readers and viewers wanted thanks to the days of wall-to-wall coverage of the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson‘s murder trial, as well as the disappearances of JonBenét Ramsey and Chandra Levy (who was also from Modesto)—moving in for the overkill.

Once he was arrested, Scott was pretty much immediately cast as the cold-blooded killer—a picture at odds with what most friends and family had thought of him.

He and Laci “both seemed extremely excited, as we were,” Greg Reed, a friend of the couple who had just welcomed his first child with wife Kristen Reed, told ABC News after Scott’s arrest. “We were both having our first babies at the same time or quite close to the same time. We were both planning on basically raising them together since we both lived here in Modesto and in the same neighborhood.”

“I just think, what a waste,” prosecution witness Karen Servas, a neighbor of the Petersons who spent an awkward Christmas dinner with Scott and his parents after Laci went missing, told the Modesto Bee in 2007. “Why would you do that? Why kill your wife and your child? If you’re that unhappy, I mean, I got divorced, it wasn’t that difficult.”

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