Storing Scott Peterson's fishing boat pending his death sentence appeal is the focus of a legal skirmish.
Authorities say the Modesto man dumped his pregnant wife's body into San Francisco Bay from the boat just before Christmas 2002, and it figured prominently in Peterson's 2004 trial.
Holding onto a 14-foot Gamefisher and its trailer for many years pending Peterson's automatic appeals does "pose a storage problem," Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira acknowledged in a recent ruling.
The boat has been in the custody of the San Mateo County sheriff's office; the trial was moved to Redwood City because of pervasive publicity in and around Modesto.
San Mateo County authorities want Stanislaus County prosecutors or Modesto police to take back the boat, and Silveira agreed.
Prosecutors aren't necessarily opposed, even if it takes decades to execute their most notorious condemned killer.
But they're worried that Silveira granted San Mateo County's request without holding a hearing. Peterson's defense team might try to argue in his appeal that his rights were violated, prosecutors say.
State law demands that Silveira go back a step and let attorneys argue in open court, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris wrote in a court document. Harris was one of three Peterson prosecutors and is known for his attention to dotting i's and crossing t's.
"I am sure that you do not wish to jeopardize all of the hard work, time and costs of this trial because of this minor storage issue," Harris wrote.
The law sometimes allows photographs of evidence for use in appeals. But Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos previously objected to that method.
Boat's role in court case
The boat surfaced repeatedly in Peterson's blockbuster trial:
He bought the boat in mid-December 2002 — one day after telling his girlfriend that he had lost his wife, and two weeks before he did lose his wife. About the same time, Peterson researched bay currents and conditions.
Peterson told no one about the purchase, even when talk turned to fishing as he dined soon after with his wife, her mother and her mother's longtime companion, who is an avid fisherman.
A hair that could have been Laci Peterson's was recovered in pliers in her husband's boat.
Peterson's defense camp filmed a video experiment using a replica of the boat, suggesting it would have capsized if a man had thrown overboard the body of a weighted, pregnant woman.
Judge Alfred Delucchi refused to let jurors see the video, snapping at Geragos: "I don't have to explain my damn rulings. I made my rulings. I made this ruling and that's the ruling, period."
Delucchi offered to let Geragos take the real boat and conduct another simulation, but Geragos didn't take him up on it.
Geragos told jurors in his closing argument that prosecutors didn't do their own experiment because they suspected the Gamefisher would flip.
During jury deliberations, some jurors climbed in and rocked the boat on its trailer, triggering objections from Geragos. He equated the action with conducting an illegal experiment.
The replica — with a weighted, headless dummy inside — appeared in a parking lot on land owned by Geragos a short distance from the courthouse as jurors deliberated.
Analysts called it a misguided stunt because the replica boat quickly became a shrine to Laci and Conner Peterson. Hundreds of visitors placed candles, flowers and signs denouncing Peterson in and around the boat.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.