Peterson profit rights upheld

February 26, 2004 

Sharon Rocha can't stop Scott Peterson from selling his story and profiting from the death of his wife and unborn child, according to a tentative ruling issued Wednesday by a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge.

But that ruling could change, because Judge Roger Beauchesne gave Rocha's lawyer 20 days to return with new arguments.

Attorney Adam Stewart of Modesto, who also represents Rocha in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Peterson, said he will go back to the drawing board.

"It's a minor setback to victims' rights," Stewart said. "But it's certainly not the final word on the issue."

Rocha, who is Laci Peterson's mother, asked the court to keep any payments from book or movie deals in a trust account until a verdict can be reached in Peterson's double-murder trial.

Attorney Matt Geragos of Los Angeles, who is handling the civil lawsuit while his brother Mark Geragos oversees Scott Peterson's criminal defense, said the ruling is exactly what he expected.

He said the court must dismiss the case because it was filed under California's "Son of Sam" law, which was struck down two years ago by the state Supreme Court. He also said Rocha should wait to see what happens in the criminal trial.

"There's not even a conviction," Geragos said.

The law in question, named after serial killer David Berkowitz, who called himself "Son of Sam," said profits from the sale of a convicted felon's story must go to the victims.

In February 2002, the state's highest court said the law violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech because it was written too broadly.

Nine months later, the Legislature approved a new law that says victims may sue for damages for up to 10 years after a felon has completed parole.

Matt Geragos said Rocha cannot stop Peterson from selling his story even if he is convicted. He would not say if his client is negotiating the sale of his story, or plans to do so.

Stewart said Peterson can still be prohibited from selling any property and possessions, and that those items could rise in value due to the notoriety of his case.

He said he is relying on a part of the law that was not struck down, and promised to take his case to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno if he loses in Superior Court.

The tentative ruling will become final if he does not appeal.

"It's not a complete victory," Stewart said. "And it's not a complete loss."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or sherendeen@modbee.com.

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