Peterson due in court

April 21, 2003 

Security will be tight and access to the courtroom where Scott Peterson is expected to be arraigned will be strictly controlled, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department announced Sunday.

The Modesto man, accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner, could appear at 1:30 p.m. today in Judge Nancy Ashley's courtroom, said sheriff's spokesman Kelly Huston. But, he warned, that could change at a moment's notice.

"We want to make sure that everyone has access to see what's going on, but the final decisions will be made by the judge," he said. "We will meet with courthouse employees (this morning) to go over security and access and see what their preferences are."

Police blocked off 11th Street between H and I streets in front of the courthouse at 10 p.m. Sunday. It is expected to remain closed today; only news trucks will be allowed in front and, as a precaution, they will be required to park across the street, Huston said.

There are 56 seats in Ashley's courtroom, Huston said. If the judge approves, 10 to 15 of those will be reserved for the general public on a lottery or on a first-come, first-serve basis, Huston said.

Some of the courtroom seats will be reserved for the families of Scott and Laci Peterson. The rest will be assigned to the media.

It's not known if Ashley will allow newspaper photographers or TV cameras in the courtroom during the arraignment. If she does, only one of each -- plus a radio reporter -- will be allowed in and they will be required to share their footage and photos with the rest of the press, Huston said.

Cameras will not be allowed in the hallway outside of the courtroom because of fire and safety concerns, he said.

"Security will be very tight in the courthouse, more so than usual," Huston said. "Obviously, there are a lot of emotions over this case, and a lot of people have been expressing their opinions."

If there are any disruptions during the arraignment, Huston said, the procedure will be stopped and rescheduled.

During an arraignment, the charges will be read and Peterson will have an opportunity to enter a plea. District Attorney James Brazelton said Friday that Peterson will be charged with two counts of murder -- for his wife and their unborn son, Conner.

Huston said Peterson met with his attorney, Kirk McAllister, Saturday night.

Peterson was arrested in La Jolla, north of San Diego, on Friday morning, just hours before the state Department of Justice announced that two bodies found along the San Francisco Bay shoreline were Laci and Conner Peterson.

Laci Peterson was reported missing Christmas Eve. Scott Peterson told authorities he was fishing in the bay that day, just a few miles from where the bodies were found.

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

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