Girolami facing a busy day

July 8, 2003 

With prosecutors under fire over wiretaps, a judge Wednesday is scheduled to consider what to do with up to 176 recently discovered wiretap recordings made while authorities intercepted Scott Peterson's calls.

A technical expert stumbled upon the recordings June 13 while examining the computerized system used during two wiretaps on Peterson's phone, according to court documents. He said the problem stemmed from a "peculiarity" in wireless technology.

Authorities secured the first wiretap for the fertilizer salesman's phone 17 days after his pregnant wife, Laci, was reported missing on Christmas Eve.

Peterson has been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and the couple's unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The new calls could contain "off-hook dead air" or "pertinent, nonpertinent and privileged information," according to documents filed by the prosecution.

Prior to the discovery, defense attorneys indicated they would seek sanctions against prosecutors because investigators intercepted 71 other calls between Peterson and his defense team and listened to parts of three of them.

During Wednesday's hearing, Judge Al Girolami also is slated to consider requests from 22 journalists -- including four from The Bee -- to review their calls intercepted during the wiretaps.

Girolami earlier had ruled against journalists who had sought to keep the recordings from either the defense or prosecution.

In addition, Girolami is scheduled to hear arguments about turning over a San Francisco police file on the unsolved death of a pregnant woman whose body was found in July along the waterfront in San Francisco.

Defense attorneys subpoenaed the file May 30, saying it contains information that "directly relates to identifying the actual perpetrators in the abduction and killing of Laci Peterson and her unborn son."

San Francisco police so far have refused to provide it to the defense, citing the ongoing investigation into the death of Evelyn Hernandez, a 24-year-old single mother who disappeared in May 2002.

Like Hernandez, Laci Peterson was about eight months pregnant when she was reported missing.

Peterson's body and that of her unborn son were found in April along the eastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay. The bodies were found one day apart.

According to defense documents, prosecutors also have requested the file, and San Francisco police provided information about the case to Modesto investigators in January.

San Francisco police maintain there is no connection between the cases, according to documents filed urging Girolami to toss out the subpoena.

"I do not believe that there is any information in the file that could link the death of Ms. Hernandez with the death of Laci Peterson," San Francisco police investigator Holly Pera wrote in an affidavit.

Girolami also is slated to discuss on Wednesday the status of eight sealed search warrants served in the case. A separate superior court judge, Roger M. Beauchesne, ruled last month in a civil case brought by newspapers, including The Bee, that the warrants should be made public today.

But the defense appealed the matter to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno.

In papers filed in Fresno on Monday, both defense and prosecution attorneys urged that court to throw out Beauchesne's ruling and have the case transferred to Girolami, who has sealed numerous documents in the criminal case and handed down a gag order.

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


MORE ON THE PETERSON CASE

TV CREWS WARNED -- Television trucks parked in front of the Stanislaus County Courthouse in Modesto will likely have to find a new way to get fuel. Modesto Fire Marshall Mike Payton intervened Monday when a refueling truck stopped to refill some of the trucks, which use the fuel to power their generators. Payton did not issue a citation, but he said the practice violated the California Fire Code. TV crew members said they have routinely refueled their trucks from tankers in other cities. They also said they had done so in Modesto for the past three months while covering the Laci Peterson case, and previously while covering the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Payton said the practice was unsafe. "Somebody could be walking by with a cigarette," he said. Network representatives and fire officials are working to arrange a meeting on the issue.

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