A judge Friday delayed Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing on double murder charges until Oct. 28 because his lead attorney is still in trial in Los Angeles.
At the hearing, which had been scheduled for Monday, prosecutors are expected to lay out evidence that has been under wraps for 10 months.
The move marked the third time Peterson's preliminary hearing has been postponed at the request of his attorneys.
When it's held, the hearing likely will last five days, Stanislaus County Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso said in court Friday.
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After it's completed, Superior Court Judge Al Girolami will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to try the 30-year-old fertilizer salesman on charges he murdered his wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's son, Conner.
Laci Peterson was almost eight months pregnant when family members reported her missing Christmas Eve. Her husband said he returned home from a solo fishing trip to San Francisco Bay to find her missing.
Her body and that of her son were found in April along the bay's eastern shoreline, within four miles of where Peterson said he launched his boat.
Peterson smiled briefly and said "Hi" to his parents Friday as he was led into the courtroom.
Wearing a dark suit, he spoke briefly during the hearing, agreeing to the eight-day delay. "Yeah, the 28th is appropriate," Peterson told Judge Al Girolami.
Girolami said he will hear a series of defense motions to exclude evidence at the preliminary hearing.
The defense is seeking to bar from trial evidence ranging from scent-tracking dogs to wiretaps to global positioning system tracking devices placed on Peterson's vehicles.
Family may be barred
The judge also scheduled a hearing for next Friday to check the status of both sides and determine what witnesses would be excluded from the courtroom during the preliminary hearing.
That could mean family members on both sides may be kept out of the courtroom except to testify.
In criminal cases, it is standard practice for an attorney from either side to ask a judge to exclude witnesses from hearings and trials, legal observers said. Those motions are routinely granted, but exemptions are sometimes made for particular witnesses.
Excluding witnesses from the courtroom prevents them from changing their testimony after hearing what other witnesses say.
Prosecutors subpoenaed Scott Peterson's parents in August, advising them that they might be called as witnesses for the preliminary hearing.
His parents haven't heard whether they will be called to testify, Jackie Peterson said Friday outside the courthouse. Lee Peterson declined to comment, noting that potential witnesses are barred from speaking about the case by Girolami's gag order.
Lee Peterson said in August the subpoena was an attempt to silence his criticism of law enforcement.
Laci Peterson's stepfather, Ron Grantski, has also indicated he and other family members could not comment about the case because they were covered by the gag order.
Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, is the last person besides Scott Peterson known to have contact with her before she was reported missing.
Sharon Rocha told police she spoke with her daughter by phone Dec. 23 and the call ended about 8:30 p.m.
She was seated in the front row in court Friday, and was escorted from the courtroom before bailiffs allowed the public and reporters to stand up.
After Friday's brief hearing, Peterson had a chance encounter with his parents as bailiffs led him across a courthouse hallway.
"Hey Scott," said Lee Peterson, who had emerged from the courtroom moments before with his wife.
"Hi, sweetie," Jackie Peterson said.
Scott Peterson turned his head, smiled slightly and acknowledged the greetings as deputies led him past.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos did not appear Friday in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Pat Harris, a member of Geragos' Los Angeles law firm, took his place at the defense table.
Geragos is defending Karen Terteryan, 21, one of two defendants charged in Los Angeles with murdering a high school senior who intervened in a fight.
Los Angeles prosecutors contend the 2000 fight started between rival teen gang members.
The trial is behind schedule and was delayed two days after Los Angeles sheriff's deputies staged a sickout in a dispute over health benefits, leaving the court without bailiffs.
Though Girolami referred to Pat Harris as the "new face" on Peterson's defense team, outside the courtroom Harris said, "I'm the old guy. I've been with Mark (Geragos) for seven or eight years, and I'm going to be with him (many) more."
He has previously attended court dates in Modesto, but Friday marked the first time Harris sat at the defense table with Peterson and co-counsel Kirk McAllister of Modesto.
Matthew Dalton, an attorney who left Geragos' law firm in September for undisclosed reasons, had previously made a court appearance in the case when Geragos was out of town.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.