If Scott Peterson has in his corner one of Los Angeles' highest-powered defense attorneys, he also has one of Modesto's best-known in Kirk McAllister.
"I would use two words: highly regarded," said Stanislaus County Court Executive Officer Mike Tozzi about McAllister's reputation. "He's one of the top defense attorneys in the county."
He also has the ear of one of the country's most notorious murder defendants. Sources say McAllister visits Peterson in the Stanislaus County Jail more than anyone else.
When celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos of Los Angeles joined Peterson's team with a flourish and a news conference in May, Geragos cited two reasons: He was impressed with Peterson's mother, and he had reviewed a file that McAllister carefully had been assembling over the previous four months.
McAllister, 59, with his trademark untamed, snow-white mane, is distinguished in a courtroom full of dark suits. He is known for his intelligence, his no-nonsense style and his ability to work every angle to his clients' advantage.
Born in San Francisco, McAllister did undergraduate work at Stanford University before studying law at the University of Southern California. He served two years as a law officer in the Army, then was a prosecutor in Stanislaus County from 1972 until 1983, when he became a defense attorney.
McAllister's history reads like a walk down memory lane for followers of local high-profile legal cases. His clients have included a man whose daughter died when he left her in a car for eight hours; a Catholic priest who embezzled; a teen who abandoned her newborn baby on a canal bank; a judge who drove while drunk; an assistant principal who molested eight girls; a nurse who poisoned another at work; and a teen who killed a trucker by lobbing a rock through his windshield.
Observers have been amazed at McAllister's ability to turn around seemingly air-tight prosecutions. For example, many people thought that a trucker who ran down a motorcyclist, dragging him and severing his leg, had little chance in court. When McAllister was done, a jury acquitted his client of attempted murder and aggravated mayhem.
A biographic sheet McAllister filled out for The Bee in 1982 revealed his passion for trapshooting, art and acting.
"I understand he dabbles in theater; you could tell by his courtroom demeanor," said Ernie Spokes, a defense attorney who worked as a prosecutor alongside McAllister for four years. "He's got very, very good delivery. He is a brilliant trial lawyer."