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Book Review: Matt Dalton’s Presumed Guilty

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The first sentence of a book often sets the tone of the author’s work. In Matt Dalton’s exercise in futility, Presumed Guilty, his first sentence reveals (perhaps unintentionally) the reason his book fails as a treatise proclaiming Scott Peterson’s “factual innocence”:

The jury moved into the jury box.

Yes: the jury.

The jury at Peterson’s trial for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, 27, decided his guilt. Not obsessed television viewers, not the author, not the press, not the Modesto police that investigated and arrested the defendant, not the crowd that gathered in outrage outside the Stanislaus County jail when Peterson was arrested, and not the media. The jury in Redwood City, California, heard all the testimony, was privy to the voluminous exhibits and documentation, and given instructions on the law and its obligation to it.

Dalton, who worked for Peterson’s defense team for less than six months, should have read his first sentence and realized, as an officer of the court, what his role was in this case. He was merely an investigator hired by the defense team, and a temporary one at that. His duty to his former client, to the California Bar, and in the service of justice was to protect confidentiality and adhere to the judge’s orders. By releasing this book, he violated any number of rules of ethics and insulted readers’ intelligence in the process.

Peterson’s highly publicized but woefully misrepresented trial was the most important aspect of this case and closed or negated all the alleged holes that Dalton accounts in his book. For chief defense counsel Mark Geragos to overtly ignore exculpatory evidence that Dalton claims existed would have been the height of incompetence. While I may think Geragos is a pretty bad lawyer (and a fountain of comedy fodder), I don’t believe he would intentionally omit anything relevant that would have helped acquit his client; real proof of that would have meant disbarment.

As a former prosecutor, Dalton is keenly aware of the laws of evidence. He knows that none of his allusions to a third-party defense had any merit. Otherwise, there would have been a showing at the trial. His book is, at best, glorified tabloid fodder with no nexus established between the behavior of local thugs and dubious statistics on satanic cult activity in the Modesto area and Laci Peterson’s murder. Over a third of the repetitive and irrelevant material is devoted to discussing disparate criminal activities in the central valley area and anecdotes about cults; yet, with all the investigation techniques at his disposal, Dalton never finds a single probative issue that would have withstood the scrutiny of a court of law.

The book is filled with misinformation and inaccuracies, not least of which are Dalton’s statement that the baby’s body was cremated (it was not; he was buried with his mother) and that Amy Rocha had pizza and watched a movie with Laci and Scott the night of December 23. More disinformation, out-of-context exerpts from police reports, anonymous witnesses who are never directly quoted, and impotent defense spin render this book, for those with even a passing acquaintance with the case, a complete farce.

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About Loretta Dillon

Loretta Dillon began her writing career publishing a neighborhood newspaper and handwritten and illustrated books as a child in a Cleveland suburb. Her strongest literary influences were MAD magazine and Mark Twain. When introduced to the internet, Dillon created a blog to showcase her satire that evolved into a popular forum on relationships, recovery and true crime stories, specifically spousal murder. Selected entries were published as a book in 2005 that was honored as a finalist for a non-fiction "Blooker" award. Dillon's comedy play, "The Smoking Diary" was produced off-Broadway in 2009.
  • Mel M

    Yeah… I read just the inside cover of this book cover and it didn’t take more than a couple of paragraphs to realize that the author was attempting to support an alternate “theory” about Scott Peterson. All of the “evidence” that is briefly outlines there is highly dubious, at best. Didn’t read any further, as it was already clear that Mr, Dalton was pulling an “O.J. Simpson.” Uhhhh… somebody ELSE got her… yeah, that’s it!

    Fact: Scott was having an affair and attempted to CONTINUE that affair even after Laci went missing. (Motive, anyone?) Fact: Scott did several things before Laci’s body was found that would indicate he already KNEW she was dead. (Trying to sell the house, trading in Laci’s car, giving Laci’s jewelry to Amber Fry.) Fact: Laci’s & Conner’s bodies were BOTH found within a couple of miles of the area where Scott claims he was fishing that day. (Incidentally, her body was found wearing the pants she’d been seen wearing the night before… and she was NOT wearing the ones Scott claimed she had on when she went missing.) Fact: Scott ran when the bodies were discovered and he was found in San Diego in a “disguised” manner with survival gear in his car, LOTS of cash and other people’s I.D and credit cards. I can’t explain why he DIDN’T go on the lam immediately, but it seems pretty clear that was his ultimate plan. (I’m VERY concerned that they found Viagra and a map of Amber Fry’s workplace in the vehicle, too. Seems that he may have intended to ambush her at work and who knows WHAT his plans may have been after that!) I don’t know anyone can look at all of these facts and NOT be able to put those pieces together. He had motive, he had opportunity, he was admittedly in the area where the bodies were found and he did ALL the things a guilty person does.

    Now, my personal belief is what it has been from the beginning – probably NOT pre-meditated. I believe he had a fight with Laci over Amber Fry. He told their friends that she knew about it and they were “trying too work it out.” Clear though that HE was not trying to work it out, since he was still pursuing Amber. I think he accidentally killed Laci during an argument. Occum’s Razor – the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

  • loretta dillon

    Those above who think Scott is innocent really should read the trial transcripts, especially the witnesses involving the computer downloads and searches Scott made prior to Laci’s murder as well as the phone transcripts between Scott and Amber Frey.

    If the jury committed misconduct, that is certainly grounds for an appeal. We’ll see if Scott’s appellant lawyer is able to convince a judge that there should be a retrial. I am certain Peterson would be convicted at a retrial as well.

    If the dog walking sightings were valid, Geragos was remiss to not include those witnesses. Do you think he’d risk disbarrment? I don’t think so.

    I did not base my book merely on media reports – in fact, I eschewed media reports and read the trial transcripts, the court documents (all the motions) and everything from first-hand transcripts as well as attending the trial. I think my two-trip theory is very likely, but it was not used at the trial for whatever reason. If you want the whole story, pick up my book, “Stone Cold Guilty” and then decide if you think Dalton had a case.

  • Well, it’s been over a year since I posted a comment here and since I first began reading about this case. Dalton’s book doesn’t even include the new evidence that should be grounds for a new trial: a corrections officer who witnessed a conversation between a Modesto inmate and his brother, also a Modesto resident. The inmate’s brother was telling him that Laci interrupted the burglary across the street and the burglar (ST) threatened her. Lt. Aponte is an important witness in the case. His existence was concealed from the defense and only came out toward the end of the trial. Modesto PD buried his info in the discovery, not using the Laci’s name in the tip. It was on a CD with ten thousand other tips. That Laci’s name was not included on this tip, when it had been spoken in the conversation, is what you call a coverup.
    Dalton’s six witnesses (one of whom knew Laci, because they went to the same doctor) were on Geragos’ list, and he said they would testify. Then they didn’t. Geragos has not spoken about why this happened. But he himself used the word “malpractice” during the trial to describe his own representation of Scott, the context being that he may be responsible for legal malpractice because he did not envision losing the case and thus was not prepared for the penalty phase.
    Anyone who believes Scott is guilty will have to overlook the Aponte tip _and_ the witnesses. One of the persons commenting here says Dalton’s book is full of lies. That person is herself lying. Dalton worked from police reports in his investigation. He personally investigated some of the leads the police were ignoring. He wrote what he did, what he witnessed, and what he found in Modesto. He does not pontificate in his book as to what he believes. Instead, he states it simply and clearly. The rest of the book consists of his step-by-step recounting of the facts he believes are important to the case.
    These are facts. The police reports are facts. And the facts point to innocence for Scott Peterson.
    Ms. Dillon, I have read some of your book and will disagree with the person who said it’s poorly written. Your work on the Ralston theory is worth a look, and it hasn’t been covered elsewhere except online. But your book comes from observing media reports, and relies on the media’s presentation of Scott for its conclusions. I wonder if you give Dalton a negative review because he contradicts what you believe? Or because he’s a competitor of sorts? His work at the beginning of this case is more than worthy of a book. Had he not published what he knew, that would be a moral violation, if he has a conscience, which it seems he does. He was right there right when it was happening. Investigators who came afterward did not have the benefit of being there on the ground. Dalton’s firsthand account is not available in any other book, from a defense perspective. That alone should make the book indispensable if one is building a library on this case.

    As far as the jury goes, the Defense Motion For A New Trial (available online)describes behavior among the jurors that should be absolutely unacceptable in a court of law. The motion includes transcripts of private conversations in the judge’s chambers in regards to jury misconduct. I won’t give details here because this is getting long (I can type as fast as I can think which gets me in trouble sometimes). But finally, this jury did NOT follow instructions. They were asked to start from the beginning and deliberate the evidence that was presented over five full months at trial. The idea that this could be done in the six hours they spent deliberating is one a thinking person has to reject. But besides that, there was too much this jury did not get to hear. What they did will haunt them, because there is too much doubt about this case. They are victims too, in a way. They were not given all the facts.
    And without all the relevant facts, the truth will not show its face. That’s just how it is.

  • Candy

    I have always been for the death penalty. I figure that it is best to get the scumbags, not only off the streets, but to make sure it remains that way. One never knows about our legal system as to whom they will let out of jail and for what reasons. I always figured if they are dead then we are all better off and safe from any more of what they can cause in any future events. After reading this book, I am no longer sure of that assumption. Our legal system and the police officers and detectives that go after the criminals that cause great havoc in our communities are sometimes so focused on solving a case quickly that they do not take the time to investigate every detail, no matter how apparent that it is that it needs to be investigated. Once they have locked onto someone that they feel is guilty, they discard any possible evidence that could bring them to a different conclusion. I feel this could have happened in the Scott Peterson case after reading about witnesses that were thought unimportant and the possibilty that another group of people could have been the cause of Laci’s death. Yes, Scott Peterson is a lying, cheating scumbag, but that does not mean that he is also a murderer. If I had been sitting on the jury and had heard some of what was stated in this book, I would have had at least the “doubt” that is required to have probably set him free. I of course still have questions and those may have been answered by the other side of the story (the prosecution)….like why didn’t he allow himself to be given a lie detector test? If he was innocent that could have been all he needed to do to have given himself a chance to be free. Unfortunately, too much time has passed and key witnesses have now expired or disappeared to have any of this be able to help him now. I do not think that he should be put to death though and am wondering how many others have been on death row with similar situations. Again, Scott was and is a disgusting human being with very few values…but this does not mean that he murdered his wife. So now what?

  • Pauline

    Comment More He Rocks

  • Pauline

    Matt Dalton Is My Teacher Yay Yay he played usc football in 1999 coolio

  • This book is explosive.

    The jury kicked off three people who were not convinced of Peterson’s guilt. If you read the facts of this case, as reported in this book, it is painfully clear that justice has not been done. There is a killer/murderer walking free. There is far too much circumstantial evidence, along with the eyewitnesses to the van and to Laci walking in the neighborhood, including the reports to police–all documented in police records, but which did not make it to trial—of numerous disturbances, burglaries, and suspicious vehicles in the neighborhood where Laci disappeared. Add in the fact of all those other pregnant women missing within an 80 mile radius of Laci’s home, including one other who washed up within sight of where Laci’s body washed up, who also had her hands and head and feet missing—and you have overwhelming evidence of a trial hijacked by Television and local hysteria.

    This is a huge story. I hope it comes out. There are too many facts that get in the way of Peterson’s supposed guilt, including that there was absolutely no hint of domestic violence. I can tell you something about domestic violence, because I lived it: there are always clues to it; there are always people who want to believe the victim is guilty; there are always people who don’t know who to believe; there are always people who believe the abuser; but no matter what, there is always evidence of violence.

    there was absolutely no evidence of violence in the Peterson’s marriage, which Laci’s own mother states herself in her book.

    This trial was a mockery. Someone should do something.

  • mike

    In at least 1 out of every six marriages a person is being unfaithful. So according to the jury 1 out of every 6 people in this world is a killer? Get out of here. Scott peterson is innocent.



  • hayley

    I totally agreed with this book. I think if all this info was presented to the jury, Scott would not be where he is now. I have read all the books about this case, and this one was my favorite by far. The main thig tha was said in all the book was about the “affair” just because he had an affair does not make him a killer. I think that everyone assumed he was guilty from the begining. I think if they jury heard only half of this stuff, things would have turned out differently.

  • alicea

    I always wonder why scott did not take the dog for his walk that morning so cold and dampy and instead took his boat 90 miles away from home just to get in into the water he could have done that when he first brought the boat. why spend that kind of money with a new baby on the way and lacie planning to stay home for sometime before re-turning back to worke. I am wondering if his boss wanted him not to re-new the lease on the ware-house amd move over to the town of fresno where his new girl- friend amber and her friends lived was he afraid to be busted, if he and lacie were to have to move there and leave modesto. I cannot see a man just killing his wife and soon to be born son for a new girl-friend all base on lies that started so soon on the first date. this would mean he had a plan/ premeditated all long on killing his wife and unborn son. He and lacie lived in modesto from December, 1999 upto her death in December,2002. almost two years, Purchase there home in Oct,01 re-fianced on June of 02 , lacie finds out she is pregnant in the month of June ,02 and by December 02, she is gone forever. I wonder when Amber told Scott on December 20th that she ran into a suppose dead wife of her one time friend dave or something of her friend who lied about his wife dying if this was a plant or just a way of letting scott know she found out he was still married and had a wife in modesto. I guess we will never know just wondering.

  • alicea

    what about the womaen at the store being watch by two men in a small white car and give police the tag numbers to the car and the woman smoking near a hospital break stood in view of the park watching two men walking and swaring at a young woman with a dog same bennie hat as the woman from the store saw one of the men had on. or the white van with the crude wooden rack on top of the car see by other witness in the same area of the park and by lacie house. there must be a connection with the men and people who where robbing that house across the stree from scott and lacie home. in my gut i belive lacie was taken near the woman park bathroom and force in to a car or van and let loose of her dog who made it back to the hood by himself standing in front of the home he lived at.

  • Thinker

    “… you’ll discover that the pretty, pregnant lady with the golden retriever was found healthy and happy …”

    Where in the transcript is that?

    However it doesn’t matter. The prosecution had no evidence whatsoever of guilt and knew it – all of the real evidence went to Peterson’s innocence. Why else were they so desperate to include a mountain of negative information about him – information with no relationship to the crime he was accused of? I’m sure if he had ever slept with a black woman they would have tried to get that in too at any cost. They certainly tried him for everything except the crime he was accused of.

  • TC

    If it makes any difference to anyone–if you go through ALL the evidence, beginning to the bitter end then you’ll discover that the pretty, pregnant lady with the golden retriever was found healthy and happy. She was upset to have been the cause of such confusion but due to being at the same gestation as lacy, having the same hair style and maternity clothes as Lacy and the mist that day (check it out for yourselves–try weather services in the Modesto area) it’s hardly her fault.

  • Lynda

    I live in Modesto and I can guarantee you that the woman that Dalton alleges saw the dog in the park well enough to identify the white on the dog’s chest could NOT have seen that from her location ABOVE them. Also, the other “credible” witnesses either saw her walking the dog when Scott was still home or AFTER the dog was placed back in the yard. The famous credible witness, Vivian Mitchell said it was a sunny day an all the dog walkers were out. IT was 41 degrees and gray all morning so I seriously doubt if she saw Laci at all.

    This book is a travesty. It is so packed with lies and made up factual information (like the Church of Satan started in Berkeley. It started in 5h3 60s in San Francisco by Anton LeVey. Dalton should not be allowed to spew such lies under the guise of truth. Dan Abrams tore him apart on television on the things he states in the book.

    Dalton should be disbarred.

  • fortheprosecution

    The author stated that at least 6 women in the area had gone missing of which were pregnant. Dena Raley McClusky could not have been pregnant because in her missing info listed on the missing people network it states that an indentify mark is her hysterectomy scar…another inaccuracy for the defence!!!

  • As far as credibility, Mr. Dalton certainly has the credentials to make an informed commentary on this criminal case. Ms. Dillon, to the best of my knowledge, does not seem to possess the education, training, or experience to offer anything more than lay opinion. Put simply, I would tend to put more stock in Bill Parcells’ assessment of how the Cowboys played on a given Sunday as opposed to an outspoken fan. JMHO

    As to the case itself, I’m in no position to offer anything more than opinion based on media reports. But, as Al Swearengen would say, “I smell cat piss” when Scott speaks about the case…justice was likely served.

  • The Truth

    I guess some people will believe anything. Are we to except Mr. Dalton’s accounts when he has many inaccuracies in his book? In the beginning of the book he claims it was Scott who notified the police Laci was missing when in fact it was the Rocha’s. He talks about how broken up Scott was after hearing about the autopsies, yet has nothing to say about when hearing that his wife and son were found dead he showed no emotion at all. To the point of eating a cheeseburger and joking with the cops as they took him back to Modesto.

    The book is a joke, filled with half truths and inaccuracies.

  • Thinker

    “… yet, with all the investigation techniques at his disposal, Dalton never finds a single probative issue that would have withstood the scrutiny of a court of law …”

    But equally, despite an extraordinary expenditure of both time and money, the prosecution was unable to provide any direct or circumstantial evidence that went to guilt and was incapable of innocent explanation. To the converse, their own witnesses and evidence provided overwhelming evidence of the innocence of the accused – and did that repeatedly.

  • Chris

    I am still in the process of this book but so far I am still convinced that Scott Peterson did NOT do what he’s accused of doing. I am no stranger to Forensics as I am a Forensic, Pre-Law and Criminal Justice student currently. Just because a man doesn’t mourn such a tragedy in public does not make him guilty. Many men don’t want to be viewed as weak so they don’t show their emotions outwardly. There are many things that should have raised suspicion to anyone…client/attorney conversations being recorded and listened to, the fact that all discovery is to be given to the defense BEFORE trial begins, the negative media coverage that no matter what anyone says, had some influence in the decision of this case, very relevant information (the witnesses, etc.) being tossed aside as irrelevant, the Evelyn Fernandez woman who was mutilated in the same way as Laci Peterson, the van, the pawn ticket for the watch, different possibly important videos/surveillance videos being conveniently recorded over, etc. I have always thought that Scott Peterson was not guilty and I think that a better investigation should have been conducted and NOT by the Modesto P.D. There is a difference between a Forensic Investigator and a Police Officer doing an investigation. The police officer will do anything he can to make sure the evidence obtained proves that the person they suspect is guilty. A Forensic Investigator on the other hand will take the evidence and try to prove that the person suspected did not commit the crime. If they can’t prove that the person didn’t do it, then they are guilty. It just seems that the police in this case only collected things that they could use against Scott instead of looking at everything that had been presented to him. I sure hope that justice prevails and that his conviction is overturned in appeals.

  • Pamela

    I just finished reading, “Presumed Guilty,” by Matt Dalton and Bonnie Hearn Hill. All I can say is that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read this book and discover that important and relevant information, if not “key evidence,” was eliminated from the trial of Scott Peterson. WHY? Is all I can ask.

    I can not quit thinking about the witnesses who, within a simular time frame and within the same vicinity, all claimed to have seen a young pregnant woman walking a golden retriever on Christmas Eve morning. Come on, how many pregant women, especially as strikingly pretty as Laci, would be seen walking their golden retrievers AND not to mention on the morning of one of the busiest holiday seasons of the year? Not too many if you ask me. Most “very pregnant” women would be at home doing last minute holiday planning, if not saving their energy for both holiday celebration AS WELL AS for the impending birth of a child!!!

    Nor can I get out of my mind the sightings of this mysterious white van, AND the sightings of two men who where seen in the same area of this pregnant woman with the golden retriever. Is that not suspicious? How many white vans with such notibally and overwhelmingly simular descriptions be seen by several different witnesses near the “Laci” sightings as well as across the street from the Peterson home?

    Did law enforcement, with the help of the media, ever publically attempt to put out a plea to locate the pregnant woman with the golden retriever who was seen walking in the vicinity of the Laci sightings the morning of December 24th in order to determine whether these sightings were either bogus or authentic? If not, why not?

    It’s heart-breaking really. Because it is apparent that both Laci and Conner suffered un-imaginable horror. And due to such, they deserved the VERY BEST and in-depth criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to their deaths and from what I read in this book, this did NOT happen by the Modesto Police…ON MORE THAN ONE ACCOUNT surrounding this case!!!

    I have no experience with the law or the judicial system other than being an employee of a small town police department as an on-call clerk. HOWEVER, after reading this book, even a lay person can plainly see that too many things just didn’t add up and things that should have sparked suspicion, were obviously ignored! Or overlooked? Too many unanswered questions remain.

    Is it possible that in the hot pursuit of “swift” justice, “rightly served” justice has not been served in this case due to the lack of certian true facts (as presented in this book) being left out of the trial?

    What has become of, “…with liberty and justice FOR ALL?” I am not so sure “justice” was served to “all” in this case because the “all” would have to include Scott Peterson as well. Albeit, I am not fond of his extra-marital affairs, BUT un-faithfulness doesn’t automatically make Scott Peterson a pregnant-wife killer! It just doesn’t! The infidelity rate in this country is extremely high and it would be illogical to assume that infidelity is an automatic pre-requisite to murder!!! So, despite his lust issues, it only seems right that ALL the documented evidence (as strange as it may have seemed) should have been admissible in Scott’s trial…ALL, EVERY BIT!!! Not one witness who claimed to have seen Laci Peterson on the morning of December 24th, should have been left out as witnesses at that trial! Not one detail or credible citizen report should have gone without thourough follow-up by the Modesto Police! Anything less would not have been FAIR to Laci or Conner. If, Laci was abducted and terrorized by anyone other than Scott, doesn’t Laci deserve the true account of her demise to be made known? Doesn’t Conner, if he suffered an even more violent death than what the prosecution has proposed? Doesn’t Scott deserve the truth to be known if he is innocent afterall? Doesn’t the families of this tragedy deserve truth AND justice? Wouldn’t you if YOU were in their places? Think about it…this nightmare could happen to ANYONE!

    TRUTH and JUSTICE go hand in hand…without truth, true justice can NOT be served! Without justice, the truth is of NO value!!!

    If there is the possibility (and I strongly feel there IS such a possibility) that the real murderer/s of Laci and Conner Peterson is/are roaming free on the streets of America, then absoutely nothing has been done to vindicate Laci and Conner!!!

    I would challenge anyone to read this book…but most of of all, I would challenge the Govenor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to read this book and see if the facts presented in it do not lead to reasonable doubt.

  • Garizmo

    I forgot what a URL is, much less what mine is so I don’t know if this will get to you.

    I liked your review, even though I am 60/40 that Scot is innocent. I can’t afford hardbound books, so I read much of it standing at the bookrack in the bookstore. I thought it was poorly written. It seemed stilted; I think maybe because he had to tiptoe so carefully through the legal restrictions he is under as part of the defense team.

    He brought up one blockbuster point though, IMO, unless it is a total error of fact. That in studying the police investigation reports; two seperate witnesses, not knowing of the others report, said they saw a older white van with damaged paint on the roof and a wood homemade rack on top. One saw it directly in front of the Peterson home that day. The other saw it speed away with a womans coat hanging out the closed passenger door. These interviews were conducted by two different officers and Dalton is not sure if anyone at LE even connected the two.
    The details about the truck would be impossible to concoct by coinsidence, unless the paint and rack had been mentioned in the news media. Do you know that it was?

    I feel that many excaulpatory witnesses were no longer willing to testify because of the hateful mood in Modesto. They would be branded as a traitor and Scot lover. Besides, if LE is so sure he is guilty and they were convinced by the one sided news media that he must be guilty, than they would no longer want to testify in his defense. It is hard to get convincing testimony from an unwilling witness.

    There were some other good points in the book (some taken from trial transcripts) along with some poor points.

  • So, um, you didn’t like it?