Judge maintains seal on Peterson warrants

April 10, 2003 

A judge ruled Thursday that he would not release any information from search warrants issued in the investigation of Laci Peterson, a missing Modesto woman police believe is a homicide victim.

"It is paramount that the investigation be thorough and unhampered, in part because of the potential penalty of death," Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne wrote.

In a separate ruling announced Thursday, Beauchesne ordered some of the documents from a search warrant in the investigation of Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino to be unsealed in 10 days.

Beauchesne ordered the remaining documents in both cases to remain sealed for 90 days.

In both rulings, Beauchesne invited the Court of Appeal to address the "important legals issues" raised by the cases.

The rulings came after The Bee asked the court to open search warrants in both investigations, contending they were improperly sealed. Beauchesne ruled last week that judges acted improperly when they secretly sealed the documents at the request of law enforcement officials.

The sealed documents include search warrants, affidavits explaining why investigators wanted the warrants and lists of items found.

Beauchesne agreed with Bee attorney Charity Kenyon that a judge was required to publicly announce and then conduct a hearing to determine what parts of the documents, if any, should be sealed.

Beauchesne conducted two closed hearings this week and determined that all documents related to eight search warrants in the Peterson investigation would remain sealed.

"Investigation techniques, clues and focus on future avenues of inquiry by law enforcement personnel would unduly alert any potential suspect," Beauchesne wrote.

He also noted any potential defendant could face the death penalty because Peterson was approximately eight months pregnant when she was reported missing Dec. 24.

California law allows for the death penalty for anyone convicted of more than one first- or second degree murder.

State law defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. The unborn child must have passed the embryonic stage, roughly between 6 and 8 weeks.

Police classified the investigation as a homicide in March.

In the Sabatino case, Beauchesne ordered the search warrant, all exhibits attached to it, and approximately 39 pages of a more than 130-page affidavit to be unsealed in 10 days.

Bee staff writer John Cote can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

For more on this story, please refer to Modbee.com's Laci Peterson section or tomorrow's Modesto Bee.

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