Taped Peterson calls heard

July 30, 2003 

About 30 journalists had listened as of Tuesday to their tapped phone calls to Scott Peterson, according to prosecutors who are making the recordings available under a court order.

The Stanislaus County district attorney's office set up appointments with journalists starting Monday, and four members of The Bee staff went in on the second day to listen to their calls, all made to Peterson's cellular phone.

According to documents on file in Superior Court, law enforcement captured hundreds of calls during two wiretapping operations amid the investigation into the disappearance and death of Peterson's pregnant wife, Laci.

Peterson told police that his wife was missing when he returned to their Modesto home on Christmas Eve after a daylong fishing trip to San Francisco Bay.

Her body and that of the couple's unborn son, Conner, were found in mid-April along the bay's eastern shore, within four miles of where Peterson said he launched his 14-foot aluminum boat.

Peterson is being held without bail in county jail, charged with two counts of murder in the slayings, and could receive the death penalty if convicted.

The district attorney's office, as required by law, notified journalists and others whose calls had been intercepted. According to the notices, one wiretap ran from Jan. 10 to Feb. 4, and the other from April 15 to April 18.

Peterson was arrested April 18, within a week after the bodies were recovered.

Many of the journalists caught in the wiretap operations sought to keep the calls from being shared with the prosecution and defense, arguing that they were privileged communications protected by state and federal law.

Superior Court Judge Al Giro-lami disagreed, but allowed the wiretapped parties to listen to their individual calls.

Neither prosecution nor defense attorneys objected to reporters listening to their own calls.

Lead defense counsel Mark Geragos characterized the calls as "embarrassing" to journalists. "I listened to as many of the media calls as I could stomach," he said during a July 9 court hearing.

Roughly 60 journalists had arranged as of Tuesday to listen to their calls, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said. Time slots run through Thursday afternoon.

He declined to say how many notices had been sent out in connection with the wiretaps, which captured calls between Peterson and a woman whom he had an affair with, his attorney, family members and others.

Tuesday, reporters sat in a small office at the district attorney's office to listen to the calls, in digital format, played on a computer.

Some reporters heard themselves leave voice mail messages, and then heard those messages again as someone -- apparently Peterson -- played them, sometimes all the way through, other times deleting them before hearing the call-back numbers, some Bee reporters said.

Peterson appeared to listen to an entire message on Feb. 3 seeking comment before The Bee ran an article about Peterson's having traded in his wife's Land Rover as part of his purchase of a 2002 Dodge pickup.

He apparently picked up the message about two minutes after reporter Patrick Giblin left it.

"You could hear background noise," Giblin said. "It was noisy, and you could hear glasses clinking."

Peterson did not return the call.

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

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