Peterson trial site favorite emerges

January 17, 2004 

Prosecutors prefer Scott Peterson's double-murder trial be moved to Santa Clara County if the judge "does not reconsider Sacramento," according to court documents filed Friday.

The state court administrative body produced a list of four potential trial sites this week after Judge Al Girolami ruled it necessary to move the case out of Stanislaus County, citing massive publicity.

Peterson, 31, is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and unborn son. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Counties that would not be unduly burdened if they took the case are Alameda, Orange, San Mateo and Santa Clara, according to the list provided by the Administrative Offices of the Courts.

Prosecutors ranked Santa Clara first, followed by San Mateo and Alameda counties. They contend Orange County is "cost prohibitive" and should be eliminated from the running.

Girolami excluded Sacramento, along with other Central Valley counties, in his Jan. 8 ruling. The defense has argued that Sacramento and Modesto are in the same media market and subject to similar doses of publicity about the case.

In making his ruling, Girolami considered a survey about juror bias, the results of which were questioned after nine students who helped conduct the survey said they fabricated data.

That survey was one of three Girolami considered, and part of six broad factors he weighed, ranging from the nature of the crime to the size of the community.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed the professor who oversaw the survey and documents related to the poll.

California State University, Stanislaus, Professor Stephen Schoenthaler has been ordered to appear in court Tuesday.

That move, along with the Sacramento reference in the newly filed documents, could indicate prosecutors will ask the judge to reconsider the capital as a trial destination.

Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold refused to comment Friday, citing the gag order Girolami issued in the case.

Though Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, has said he planned to file venue preferences, he had not done so by the end of business Friday. He has said repeatedly that he wants the case moved to Los Angeles, where his office is.

In the documents filed Friday with Stanislaus County Superior Court, prosecutors argued the cost of moving to Orange County, which borders Los Angeles, is prohibitive.

Prosecutors said they have "several hundred witnesses" in the case. The cost of flying half of those -- "roughly 175 witnesses" -- to Southern California would range between $33,950 and $96,250, according to the prosecution documents.

Geragos contends prosecutors submitted a 400-person witness list to inflate cost estimates and keep the trial near Stanislaus County. Girolami has a reputation for frugality and in rulings has lamented the cost taxpayers will shoulder in moving the trial.

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


Coming Sunday: Can there be a speedy trial and a change of venue?

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