Scott Peterson's defense team charged $229,000 to Stanislaus County taxpayers for experts during his double-murder trial last year.
A judge secretly ordered county officials to pay the bill, county supervisors learned Tuesday. They covered the hit with money they had set aside last year in anticipation of extraordinary costs linked to the lengthy, high-interest trial.
Supervisors also moved $123,350 Tuesday from the same contingency fund to the district attorney's office to cover extra costs. The amount spent by prosecutors on the case was not immediately available.
Officials continue to hope that state lawmakers will reimburse some or all costs to Modesto police, prosecutors and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
Also Tuesday, county leaders learned that the National District Attorneys Association will honor Peterson's prosecutors next month with its "home-run hitter's award."
"It's a high achievement and a real honor to be presented with this award," District Attorney James Brazelton said.
Prosecutors Rick Distaso, Dave Harris and Birgit Fladager spent the better part of last year in Redwood City, where the trial was moved because of crushing publicity around Modesto. They and Brazelton are scheduled to fly to North Carolina to accept the award, at a cost of about $3,550. This amount was included in the funds transferred to the district attorney's office Tuesday.
Past award winners include teams that prosecuted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Brazelton told supervisors.
Jurors in December decreed a death sentence for Peterson, 32, who killed his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner, in December 2002. A judge last week affirmed the sentence, and Scott Peterson was transferred to death row Thursday.
The fertilizer salesman ran out of money for his defense last summer, prompting celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos to request money from Stanislaus County to pay bills for people such as trial consultants, medical experts and private investigators. The money, however, can't go to Geragos or his firm.
Sealed from public view
Such "indigent defense" payments by law are approved by a judge and kept sealed from public view.
Supervisors learned of the payments while taking stock of the county's financial health at a midyear review Tuesday. Public Defender Tim Bazar said he recently checked the balance for his indigent defense fund and found it had been raided.
Larry Haugh, county auditor-controller, confirmed that a judge had ordered him to move the money to Peterson's camp. A report from the county executive office cites "expert costs" for "People v. Peterson" as the reason.
Last year, county leaders set aside $500,000 for extra costs associated with the trial. Tuesday's transfers took a big bite out of that amount.
"We're over a barrel here," Supervisor Jeff Grover said after the meeting. "Every other county that has had a trial like this, they've been reimbursed for it. The board (of supervisors) has no say; we don't even know what the costs are."
Budget overruns by jail administration and prosecutors as of Dec. 31 came to $408,000, according to a report from the county executive office. San Mateo County officials say Stanislaus owes them $117,040 for trial costs.
Modesto police estimated having spent $1 million to investigate the Peterson case.
Bee staff writer Joel Hood contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.