Rocha pressing civil lawsuit

Laci Peterson's mom wants to make sure killer doesn't profit, lawyer says

January 25, 2005 

Sharon Rocha is pressing forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against Scott Peterson to make sure her former son-in-law cannot profit from murdering his wife and unborn son, her attorney said Monday.

"We're after accountability," said attorney Adam Stewart of Modesto, who represents Rocha. "We're after preventing him from profiting in any way, shape or form."

But the civil lawsuit is on hold until a judge in Redwood City formally sentences Peterson, 32, who was convicted Nov. 12 of killing Laci Peterson and his unborn son Conner.

A jury recommended death; Peterson's attorneys hope to delay a formal sentencing set for Feb. 25.

During Monday's brief scheduling conference in Stanislaus County Superior Court, defense attorney Pat Harris said lead defense attorney Mark Geragos will seek to delay Peterson's sentencing until March 25.

Harris said Geragos has not been able to work on the case, due to the stroke suffered by his father.

As a result, Peterson's defense team will not meet a Feb. 4 deadline to file a motion to set aside the guilty verdict and death sentence with the San Mateo County Superior Court, Harris said.

The criminal case was transferred from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County to ensure a fair trial for Peterson.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne agreed to delay the wrongful death lawsuit and three related civil cases until April 18.

In the wrongful death lawsuit, Rocha seeks in excess of $5 million in damages, as well as reimbursement for funeral expenses, burial costs and legal fees.

Harris said Peterson does not have many assets to quibble over. Also, he said Peterson does not have a book in the works or a plan to sell the movie rights to his story.

Stewart contends that Rocha, who is executor of Laci Peterson's estate, should inherit Scott and Laci Peterson's La Loma neighborhood home in Modesto and $256,429 from a life insurance policy.

Under state law, Peterson forfeited his right to Laci Peterson's half of the house, as well as the insurance payout, once he was convicted.

Stewart and Harris met at the Covena Avenue home Monday afternoon to take an inventory. The activity prompted a call to the Modesto Police Department, and several patrol cars were in the neighborhood as the attorneys walked through the yard and home.

The estate might have to reimburse Lee and Jackie Peterson for a $100,000 loan to their son. Scott Peterson used his stake in the house as collateral for the loan, according to documents filed with the county clerk-recorder's office.

Stewart contends that the loan is a "sham," saying Peterson did not have enough equity in the home to qualify for the loan.

"I think we'll be able to settle some of our differences," Stewart said. "Not all of them."

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

Revised edition, update on Wednesday, January 26)

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