For more than a year now, Laci Peterson's loved ones have had to bear their grief mostly in silence, prohibited by a judicial gag order from talking about the case. But as Sharon Rocha took the stand during the penalty phase of the trial on Nov. 30, all that pent-up pain, anger and profound sense of loss at last came surging forth in a mother's primal cry for her lost child. At one point during her wrenching 37-minute testimony, Rocha was asked about having to bury the limbless remains of Laci and her unborn son Conner. She glared straight at Scott Peterson: "I knew she was in the casket, and I knew the baby was there, and I knew she didn't have arms to hold him. "Then Sharon wailed, "She should have had her arms!"
Some in the audience in the Redwood City courtroom gasped in anguish. Several times Rocha—who moved from calm to grief to rage and back again—directly addressed Scott, but she pointedly refused to say his name. Meanwhile, except for a moment when he appeared to be dabbing an eye, Peterson showed no emotion—not when Laci's siblings Brent and Amy or her stepfather, Ron Grantski, talked about the kindness and ebullience she had shown from an early age. Not even when Sharon, weeping uncontrollably, described how she had dropped to the floor when told that Laci's body had been found. On the other hand, the jurors, who must weigh the question of whether Peterson should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison, showed no such reserve: After Sharon was done, at least 8 of the 12 were crying. Said former prosecutor Jim Hammer of Sharon's appearance: "That was the most powerful testimony I've ever heard in a murder trial. "The family's remarks follow.
Laci's brother Brent, who is four years older, spoke first, telling the court about what it was like to grow up with Laci and how their ties deepened in adulthood.
The younger years were more antagonistic; as we got older [we] became much closer. In college years and adult lives we got closer and closer; our relationship was improving and getting better and better.
I'm the boring one, she's the lively one. It was really entertaining [to visit her]. As an example, one Easter, we went to a farmers' market, did some wine tasting, did things I wasn't accustomed to. She was always full of life, doing neat things, kind of teaching me a lot.
We talked about having kids the same age [so we] could stay close as a family, could send the kids over to each other's houses on summer breaks. My first child was born in 2001. I know at that time she was interested in starting her family as well.... I don't think I've ever heard her more excited than the day she called me up to tell me she was pregnant.
What was really neat was you could tell she was looking forward to motherhood. When she would hold [Brent's infant son Antonio], just so gentle and precious, the way she looked at him and held him.
I miss my sister, miss her very much. I try to remember good memories we have with each other. But it's overshadowed all the time by how she died, by who, maybe her knowing who did it. I miss her terribly.... You wake up in the middle of the night, think about it constantly. My kids won't have any cousins—Laci was my only full sibling—and a big part of the family is missing now.... Laci was the person that coordinated the holidays. She was the one that did Christmas, brought everyone together. We haven't done that since she's gone. She was kind of the life of the holidays.
Next on the stand was Amy Rocha, Laci's sister, who is six years younger.
She was a lot of fun to be with. Especially when she would have her friends over I would want to tag along with them.... I looked up to her a lot.
She loved to cook and she was very good at it. She always tried different recipes. I cooked with her a few times; I usually watched and helped clean up.... [For my 21st birthday] she had myself and all my girlfriends over for drinks and fancy appetizers. She made it really special.... I still can't imagine going on the rest of my life without her.
Laci was 2 years old when Ron Grantski first started seeing her mother, Sharon.
I first met Laci when I went to pick Sharon up for a date at her house. She was about a foot and a half tall and came running to the door. She never stopped running and she always had something to say. I used to call her J.J., for Jabber-Jaws. At times I regret doing that. I always wondered if it hurt her feelings.
She lit up any room and she was always the center of attention.... She was always with the smile, never afraid to voice her opinion about something she liked or didn't like, which I admire.
[When I found out Laci was going to have Conner] I started making plans for all the boys. I was going to teach them about fishing, the stars, ducks, everything outside—and that was taken away from me.
In those days she couldn't wait for Christmas. She would start about the 22nd, grabbing packages, feeling them, putting them in order as to how she was going to open them, from the time she was little.... Laci was murdered on Christmas Eve. The bodies were found [around] Easter, so it will never be the same—at least I can't see [those holidays] being the same.
A lot has been ripped away. I don't know if it will ever be the same again. I'll never be able to fix some things and I don't know if any of us will be the same again. A part of our hearts are gone and definitely a part of mine is gone.
Then Sharon Rocha, looking composed, took the stand. Prosecutor Dave Harris started by asking Sharon Rocha if she was Laci's mother. "Yes, I am," Sharon pointedly replied, as if she still could not accept her murder—or that of Conner.
Laci was just somebody that people gravitated to. She had a personality that made people feel comfortable, she was an upbeat person. She was more of a leader than a follower. She followed her heart. When she believed in something she would fight for her beliefs, and when she wanted something she went after it. She was a strong-willed person. She wasn't dependent on other people.
She didn't let things get her down. A lot of things that would have upset other people would upset her, but she didn't dwell on the negative.
Always, I can hear her giggling. She didn't just smile, she giggled. She would laugh at herself.
Sharon, who broke down repeatedly, began to describe the pain of her loss.
The first Mother's Day [after her murder] I laid on the floor and I cried most of the day, because she should have been there and she should have been a mother, and that was taken away from her. She wanted to be a mother. (Then, screaming at an impassive Peterson) Divorce is always an option, not murder!
She talked a lot about becoming a mother. We were talking about childbirth, she was asking me what it was like, she was really looking forward to it.... We shopped a lot, and she would call me every time she went to the doctor's and let me know the results. She gave me a copy of the sonogram—it's the only picture I have of the baby. You could see his little body. That was taken on Dec.14 and the next day, Dec. 15, was the last day I saw her. She wanted me to put my hand on the stomach and feel the baby kick. I didn't feel it, but I kept my hand on her stomach the rest of the evening and I put my face on her stomach and I talked to him. She was anxious. She was ready to have him.
The night that Laci was reported missing, Dec. 24,2002, became a whirl of terror.
I was scared to death because I knew she wouldn't just be missing. Laci just didn't disappear. I knew something had happened to her and it was cold that night and I had my friend Sandy take me back to my house and get blankets and coats for everyone and I got one for her because I knew she would be freezing when we found her.
I didn't sleep for weeks. I couldn't get comfortable and be warm and not know where she was...I felt I needed to be awake just in case she called so I could go to her. I was afraid to go to sleep, afraid I would have nightmares about what happened to her. I knew she wouldn't be sleeping because she would be afraid.
I [publicly] begged for whoever had her to bring her home, let her go, tell us where she was. And there was somebody who knew all along and he wouldn't tell us. Instead he just let us go through this every day.
The day they were found I wasn't feeling well. I was at home, and I heard footsteps coming up to my door and I didn't answer because I knew. I hadn't heard anything, but I just knew, and then, when they went to the back door, I knew I had to answer, and I knew in my soul. I knew they had been found. And then later, when I was told it would be several days before they were identified, I asked why, because they could use dental charts. I was told she didn't have a head, and I didn't believe it. I just dropped to the floor, and I laid on the floor. It never occurred to me what condition she might be in.
The fact that her daughter had been dumped in San Francisco Bay was especially horrifying to Sharon, who again began to shout at Peterson.
Laci always got motion sickness and you knew that and that's the place you took her and you put her in the bay and you knew that she would be sick for eternity and you did that to her anyway.
Every morning when I get up I cry. It takes me a long time just to be able to get out of the house. I keep thinking, Why did this happen? I wanted to know my grandson, I wanted Laci to be a mother, I wanted to hear her called Mom when I go to get Mother's Day cards. I don't sleep well, I think about her all the time. There have been several times.... I remember the first time it happened, I was outside, locked the door, heard the phone ring, thinking it was Laci. I hadn't heard from her a long time, it should be her and then I realized it wasn't, it would never be her. I remember walking into the house, walked into the entryway. I just stopped because she turned around and said, "Hi, Mom." It was as though she was right there. A lot of times when I have a question about something that's been going on I think, "Well, I'll just ask her and she'll tell me." But I can't. She'll always be here for me. Laci didn't deserve to die.
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