A New Amber Alert: She's Become a Cable Fixture in the Peterson Case. but Will She Matter in the Courtroom?

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Breslau and Andrew Murr

On the tapes, Scott Peterson is cool and charming. He tells Amber Frey that he loves her and hopes to see her soon. Then he gets down to business. Could Amber please give him snapshots of the two taken at a recent Christmas party? During the first weeks of January, as the search for Laci Peterson became a national obsession, Scott called Amber three to four times a day, NEWSWEEK has learned, always asking for the pictures, always telling Amber that he loved her. But if Peterson thought he could get back in his girlfriend's good graces after neglecting to mention that he had a pregnant wife, he was mistaken. Acting on a tip from Amber, Modesto police had tapped her cell phone and were listening for evidence that Peterson murdered his wife and unborn son.

Amber seemed to blow in from tabloid Central Casting--complete with a tempestuous romantic past and the obligatory nude pictures--reviving cable interest in the story just when it seemed to be flagging. But is her time on the stage proportionate to her value as a witness? While prosecutors aren't talking much about their line of attack, Amber fits neatly into their scenario of a discontented husband panicked at his impending fatherhood. One police theory: that Amber's persistent phone calls to Scott during their four-week affair aroused Laci's suspicion and led to a marital confrontation on the evening of Dec. 23, when, police charge, she was killed. But the wiretaps, NEWSWEEK has learned, are inconclusive. According to people who have heard the intercepts, they reveal little more than Peterson's obsession with the potentially embarrassing photos. Scott never loses his composure with Amber, but does break down and sob later when police call his cell phone--also tapped--and dangle disturbing suggestions about what may have happened to Laci and the baby. (Last week, fed up with "rumors and gossip," the judge issued a gag order. NEWSWEEK obtained information contained on the tapes before the ruling was issued.)

Amber burst on the scene in January, when she appeared at a press conference with Modesto police, who at the time cleared her of any involvement in Laci's disappearance. …