Defense, prosecution seek delay in start of Peterson trial until Feb. 17

January 29, 2004 

REDWOOD CITY -- Scott Peterson's trial on double-murder charges would essentially be delayed two weeks under a proposal attorneys on both sides put forward Wednesday.

The defense and prosecution also are asking to have cameras banned from the courtroom and to have juror names and witness lists kept confidential, according to joint documents filed Wednesday in San Mateo County Superior Court.

The delay proposal, which requires a judge's approval, calls for evidentiary hearings to begin Feb. 17. Peterson's trial is set to begin Monday, with its second new judge in two weeks after the case was moved to San Mateo County amid intense media coverage.

Both sides also are requesting that family members be allowed to stay in court, despite the typical practice of excluding witnesses during testimony. Family members on both sides were subpoenaed to testify during Peterson's preliminary hearing and are expected to take the stand at trial.

In the documents, the defense asked for jurors to be sequestered for the trial, a move prosecutors oppose. Both sides have estimated that testimony will last four months. Another month is slated for jury selection.

Jurors will not be present for the initial trial stage, when the judge hears arguments on evidence to be allowed in court. Those hearings, estimated to take two weeks, will deal with wiretaps on Peterson's phones, satellite tracking devices used on his vehicles, dog tracking evidence and testimony from hypnotized witnesses.

Likely to be added to that list are two new expected defense motions. Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, wrote that he plans to file a motion to exclude Peterson's statements to the media, according to the documents.

Peterson gave interviews after reports about an affair surfaced and after his then-girlfriend, Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey, acknowledged the affair during a press conference at Modesto police headquarters.

Peterson said in a nationally televised interview in late January that he told police about the secret romance "immediately," contradicting a Modesto police detective's later testimony at his preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors also said they intend to introduce as evidence photos of blood found on the visor and a door jamb or map pocket in Peterson's truck.

During the same TV interview, Peterson said there would be "plenty of blood in there (his truck) from me" because he routinely cut his hands during work on farms.

The second expected defense motion would request that a separate jury decide whether Peterson should receive the death penalty if found guilty, documents say.

The 31-year-old Modesto man, who oversaw fertilizer sales, is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and unborn son, Conner, around Christmas Eve 2002.

Retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi, who was assigned to the case Tuesday, could take up the issues Monday. But first on his plate is a ruling on his own tenure.

On Jan. 21, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George tapped another retired judge, Contra Costa County's Richard Arnason, for the trial. The original judge, Al Girolami of Stanislaus County Superior Court, said he did not want to follow the case to San Mateo County.

Prosecutors disqualified Arnason the day after his appointment, saying he is prejudiced against their interests. The defense contends that prosecutors failed to challenge Arnason in a timely fashion.

Geragos also wants to start the trial with the distribution of juror questionnaires to determine potential bias. Prosecutors oppose distributing the questionnaires before motions about evidence are heard.

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

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