Life or death? Peterson will wait for answer

February 26, 2005 

REDWOOD CITY — Scott Peterson will have to wait until March 16 to learn if he will die by injection as jurors recommended.

Judge Alfred Delucchi, granting a five-day delay Friday, also sealed a 122-page request for a new trial Peterson's attorneys have filed. It will be under wraps until prosecutors submit their response March9.

"In the interest of fairness," Delucchi said, "I'm not going to make the defense motion public yet till the prosecution has also filed."

The 32-year-old Modesto fertilizer salesman killed his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son just before Christmas 2002 and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay. Jurors in San Mateo County, where the six-month trial was moved to escape crushing publicity, decided Dec. 13 that he should be executed.

None of Laci Peterson's family members attended Friday's brief hearing.

Outside the courthouse, the defendant's mother, Jackie Peterson, said she prays for her son. She said her family is receiving letters of support. His sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, referred those with interest to a Web site maintaining that Scott Peterson is innocent.

Peterson, dressed in a dark suit, smiled briefly at family members upon entering the courtroom.

Three jurors who sat in judgment of Modesto's most notorious killer attended the hearing and observed from a reserved portion of the courtroom, just in front of reporters.

Gag order still being enforced

John Guinasso, a Teamster formerly known as Juror 8, said "curiosity" brought him to the courthouse. He wanted to watch "from a different perspective, from the gallery," he said before the hearing.

Peterson's Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos told reporters that his motion for a new trial is 122 pages, but he refused to discuss details. He and other trial participants remain under an order preventing them from discussing details of the case.

Paula Canny, a defense attorney in San Mateo County who observed much of the trial, said the motion argues that authorities never shared with the defense team a recording of inmate banter when Peterson was jailed in Modesto. Canny did not disclose her source.

"It's guys in jail saying, 'I heard blah, blah, blah,'" Canny said. The significance: Authorities must turn over everything related to the case, Canny said, and apparently they didn't.

Also Friday, prosecutors broke their long-held silence with a short appearance on Court TV filmed in front of the courthouse steps. They refused to discuss most aspects of the case or Geragos' new motion, except for prosecutor Rick Dis-taso's praise of witness Amber Frey.

"Amber's testimony was very important," Distaso said of the Fresno massage therapist being romanced by Peterson when his wife went missing.

"It was obviously a big part of the case," he added, " I thank her for coming forward and I think she did a good job."

Prosecutor Dave Harris said the media furor surrounding the case did not affect his team's approach, which proved successful in the end.

"We had a plan, and we followed that plan," Harris said.

While Geragos once referred to Distaso as a "bobblehead doll," the prosecutor on Friday complimented his legal opponent.

"I think Mr. Geragos did a fine job in this case," Distaso said. "He defended his client well, and justice was served in the end."

Judge could reduce sentence

Delucchi can reduce the jury's sentence to life in prison without parole, though judges seldom exercise that option. He initially scheduled formal sentencing for Friday, before pushing that date to March 11 and then to March 16 because Peterson's attorneys "were unprepared and had other problems," the judge said Friday.

"Let me make it clear to counsel that the 16th is in cement," Delucchi warned. "I'm not going to grant any further continuances. There has been plenty of opportunity to prepare your moving papers."

The judge also took the unus-ual step of sealing more than 150 letters he has received since the trial began early last year. They will become public only if an appellate court releases them, Delucchi said.

"It could inflame the public against the defendant and his counsel" and possibly against prosecutors, Delucchi said. "For now, I'm not going to poison the atmosphere."

Delucchi noted that one in the batch came from Peterson's father, Lee, who was not in the courtroom Friday.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or

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