DA wants death penalty

April 24, 2003 

Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton said Wednesday that he would "absolutely" pursue the death penalty against Scott Peterson.

The district attorney's comment came in response to a question from John Walsh during a videotaping of his national television show, addressing the slayings of Peterson's wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.

After the taping in downtown Modesto, Brazelton said his comment was not an official announcement that his office had decided to seek the death penalty.

"In my opinion, this is the type of case that cries out for death penalty consideration," Brazelton said. "If it was just my decision, I would no doubt seek the death penalty."

Brazelton said the decision would be made by a committee of trial attorneys in his office, and only after consulting Laci Peterson's family and seeking input from Scott Peterson's defense team.

Input from those parties, including the defense, is part of the regular procedure in determining whether to seek the death penalty, Brazelton said.

Scott Peterson, 30, pleaded not guilty Monday to two counts of murder in the slayings of his 27-year-old wife and unborn son.

State law allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a defendant charged with more than one murder.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing Christmas Eve from her Modesto home. Her body and that of her son were found last week along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

Scott Peterson said he launched his boat from the Berkeley Marina in the East Bay on Dec. 24, and went fishing at Brooks Island. The island is in the same vicinity as the discovery of the bodies.

Brazelton said "the facts of the case themselves cry out" for death pen- alty consideration.

"You know I feel very strongly when anybody loses their life, but the circumstances surrounding this particular situation are just egregious," he said. "My heart goes out to the family, to both families."

Brazelton said he had not decided who would serve as the county prosecutor. He also said no plea agreements are on the table.

Public Defender Tim Bazar has tapped his office's Kent Faulkner to be the lead attorney on the case. Faulkner joined the public defender's office in 2001 after working for more than 20 years as a private defense attorney.

Maureen Keller, also a deputy public defender, will be involved in "every aspect" of the case, Faulkner said. Bazar will oversee the team's work.

The DA vs. Faulkner

Brazelton and Faulkner squared off in the 1991 capital murder trial of five defendants accused of beating and knifing four people to death in what became known as the Salida Massacre.

In that case, Faulkner successfully argued to move the trial to Alameda County because of pretrial publicity. Brazelton, then a deputy district attorney, argued against it.

Three of the defendants, including Faulkner's client, received death sentences. The other two received life sentences.

Although Brazelton described Faulkner as an "excellent" attorney, he noted his record against him.

"I've tried death penalty cases with Kent Faulkner," Brazelton said after Wednesday's taping. "His client is on death row."

Faulkner said Brazelton's reference to the Salida trial was inappropriate.

"Were not talking about a sporting event here; we're talking about someone's life," Faulkner said.

Bazar said Wednesday that he had received multiple e-mails and phone calls from "a variety of people" offering to help in parts of the case. He added that he would not categorize any of the offers as coming from "high-profile" defense attorneys.

Faulkner said he and Keller were preparing to see the case through to its completion.

"When we take a case, it's with the understanding we're going to see the matter through. Period," he said. "We don't anticipate somebody coming in. If they do, they do."

Faulkner, who declined to discuss details of the defense strategy, said the public defender's office was preparing to mount a thorough defense that would require an independent investigation.

He declined to comment on the potential costs to the county.

However, Jim Larsen, assistant public defender for San Joaquin County, said defense costs could top $1 million.

"You're probably talking about six figures any way you look at it," Larsen said. "You would always have an expert review all of the reports, including all of the lab notes for anything done by the prosecution team. Based on that, the expert may recommend whether to completely redo the work."

Independent lab work to retest the DNA evidence alone could reach $100,000, he said. "That's a ballpark estimate. It's going to be very expensive."

'Voluminous' evidence

Investigators have largely been tight-lipped about evidence in the case.

Brazelton has called the evidence "voluminous," and said it is both direct and circumstantial.

The defense team expects to get copies of the prosecution's evidence today or Friday.

Officials have not released a cause of death in the case, but prosecutors said it is clearly a homicide

"I don't think she died of her own accord," Brazelton said. "Therefore it's a death at the hands of someone else, which would make it a homicide, a murder, if you will."

Tuesday, Peterson conveyed power of attorney to his parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson, records show. That designation gives them the authority to sell or lease property and exercise stock rights on their son's behalf, among other things.

Jackie and Lee Peterson did not return phone calls for comment on Wednesday. The couple checked out of the Red Lion Hotel in Modesto at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin contributed to this report.

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


SCOTT PETERSON'S ATTORNEYS

  • KENT MILLER FAULKNER -- Lead defense counsel

    Education -- Graduated from Southwestern University School of Law.

    Admitted to the California Bar -- Dec. 4, 1979

    Career -- 1979 to 2001: Worked as a criminal defense attorney in private practice in Modesto. 2001 to present: Worked as a deputy public defender at the Stanislaus County public defender's office.

    Trial record -- Has tried six capital murder cases, resulting in two acquittals, one life sentence and three death sentences.

  • MAUREEN A. KELLER -- Associate counsel

    Education -- Graduated from Santa Clara Law School in 1995.

    Admitted to the California Bar -- Nov. 20, 1995

    Career -- 1995 to 1996: Worked as a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco for the law firm of Markham and Read. 1996 to present: Worked as a deputy public defender at the Stanislaus County public defender's office.


    * THE PETERSON FILE

    Wednesday's developments

    DEATH PENALTY? -- Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton, in an interview taped Wednesday for "The John Walsh Show," said he favors seeking the death penalty for Scott Peterson. "In my opinion, this is the type of case that cries out for death penalty consideration," Brazelton said.

    "The John Walsh Show" with Brazelton is scheduled to air today at 1 p.m. on KMPH Channel 17 and 2 p.m. on KQCA Channel 58.

    POWER OF ATTORNEY -- Court records reveal that Peterson gave his parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson, his power of attorney.

    DEFENSE TEAM -- Modesto attorney Kent Faulkner will lead the defense of Scott Peterson, assisted by deputy public defender Maureen Keller.

    Upcoming

    SATURDAY -- Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, will speak at the fifth Vigil of Hope at Graceada Park.

    MAY 6, BAIL HEARING -- A judge will be asked to grant bail for Peterson. Judges must weigh public safety, the seriousness of the charges, the defendant's criminal record and probability of appearing at trial.

    MAY 19, PRELIMINARY HEARING PRETRIAL CONFERENCE -- Meeting conducted before preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold Peterson for trial.

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