Defense team set

April 23, 2003 

Stanislaus County Public Defender Tim Bazar said Tuesday that he and two assistants are handling Scott Peterson's case.

Veteran attorneys Kent Faulkner and Maureen Keller are joining the defense team, Bazar said.

Bazar visited Peterson, 30, Tuesday morning in the downtown Modesto jail, where he is being held without bail.

Bazar said later that he expected prosecutors to begin turning evidence over to the defense by the end of the week.

District Attorney James Brazelton has not announced who will prosecute the case.

Scott Peterson is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors allege that both killings were premeditated.

Peterson also faces a special circumstance because the case involves more than one murder. A finding of guilt in one or more special circumstances is necessary for the death penalty to apply.

The district attorney's office had not decided Tuesday whether to seek the death penalty, a spokeswoman said.

"It's still being discussed," Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said.

Peterson is next scheduled to appear in court May 6 for a bail hearing.

Under California law, defendants accused of capital murder are not eligible for bail if the presumption of guilt is "great."

When considering bail, judges are required to weigh public safety, the seriousness of the charge, the defendant's criminal record, and his or her probabil-ity of appearing at trial.

To secure bail for Peterson, the defense would have to success-fully counter prosecution arguments on those issues, Shipley said.

Stanislaus County's guideline of suggested bail amounts recommends no bail for accused murderers.

Shipley said during the past 12 years she did not know of any Stanislaus County judge setting bail for a defendant accused of capital murder.

Scott Peterson's parents, sister and sister-in-law visited him Tuesday, his fourth day in jail, Sheriff's Department spokesman Kelly Huston said.

Deputies cleared the visiting room for the family's 30-minute visit at 5:30 p.m.

"There's a lot of opportunists who want to go in and listen in on their conversation," Huston said. "Somebody could walk in off the street and listen."

A clutch of reporters has remained in front of the jail much of the time since Peterson was booked early Saturday.

The national media attention to the case prompted speculation that the defense would seek to have the trial moved to another county.

Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino said Monday that he did not think Peterson would be able to get a fair trial in Modesto.

Bazar declined to comment on Sabatino's assessment but said he was considering asking for a move.

"It's something we'll be looking into at the appropriate time," Bazar said. "There's been a tremendous amount of public-ity."

Brazelton has said he would oppose a motion to move the trial.

"I don't believe there are any fairer jurors anywhere," Brazelton said during a news conference Monday, noting the widespread media coverage.

Brazelton could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In previous high-profile trials, jurors from neighboring counties have been bused into this county.

Jeanette Sereno, an attorney and assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University, Stanislaus, said getting jurors would be challenging anywhere in the state.

"You're looking at jurors who have not come to a conclusion," Sereno said. "You're looking at jurors who will say, 'I'll look at the evidence before me. Nothing outside the courtroom will affect my thinking.'

"It's kind of hard to do," Sereno said. "The mind is not capable of shutting off sometimes. How do I shut off things I saw on TV? It's human nature to form an opinion on some things."

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


THE PETERSON FILE

Tuesday's developments

VISITORS -- Scott Peterson was visited by his parents, Jackie and Lee Peterson, Monday and Tuesday. Jail rules limit personal visits to two per week, meaning only his lawyers will be able to visit him for the rest of the week.

DAYS IN JAIL: Four

DEFENSE TEAM -- His team of lawyers was announced. Public Defender Tim Bazar and assistants Kent Faulkner and Maureen Keller will represent Peterson.

SCHOLARSHIP FUND -- Downey High School, Laci Peterson's alma mater, announced that contributions are being made to a scholarship fund created in her name. "As soon as I saw that the bodies were identified as Laci and her baby, I called the principal and a counselor and we agreed that a third unnamed scholarship we have should be named after Laci," said Leo Aguilera, a Downey English teacher.

"Word about the scholarship is spreading and people are interested in donating," Aguilera said. "The student body president said that the student body might also plant a tree in her name on campus in the next few weeks."

Send donations to: Laci Peterson Memorial Scholarship Fund, Thomas Downey High School, 1000 Coffee Road, Modesto 95355.

Upcoming

May 6, bail hearing -- A judge will be asked to grant bail for Peterson. Experts say bail rarely is granted in capital murder cases.

May 19, preliminary hearing -- Judge will determine if there is enough evidence to bind Peterson over for trial.

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