Sharon Rocha and her exhusband are pressing forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against Scott Peterson, and on Monday a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge said the case will go to trial next spring.
Their daughter's husband is on death row, Scott and Laci Peterson's Covena Avenue home in Modesto has been sold, and money from an insurance policy on Laci Peterson will go to Sharon Rocha.
But the grieving parents don't want to leave any stone unturned.
"We just want to make sure there's a very substantial judgment in there — that Mr. Peterson never sees any green from his efforts," said attorney Gary Davis, who represents Dennis Rocha, Laci Peterson's father.
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Sharon Rocha filed the lawsuit on Dec. 19, 2003, nearly a year after her daughter's disappearance prompted a massive search throughout Modesto, the surrounding area and the depths of San Francisco Bay.
Dennis Rocha joined the lawsuit in March, after Peterson was sentenced to death for killing his pregnant wife, whose remains washed ashore near Berkeley.
The Rochas are seeking $25 million — even though they know that Scott Peterson's assets are slim.
Attorney Adam Stewart, who represents Sharon Rocha, said a trial would revolve around damages, rather than guilt or innocence. He said a jury would consider the grief that Laci Peterson's death caused her family, and make a monetary award as they see fit.
"It's our position that we don't have to prove liability," he said outside the courtroom.
During a brief scheduling conference before Judge Roger Beauchesne, Nareg Gourjian, an attorney with Geragos & Geragos of Los Angeles, said his firm is ready to proceed on the question of damages.
All of the attorneys said they want a jury trial, rather than a bench trial where a judge would resolve the matter.
Davis and Stewart said they do not plan to seek depositions from Scott Peterson, because they feel he would decline to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Peterson's criminal conviction will be appealed to the California Supreme Court, an automatic move in death-penalty cases. His attorneys have repeatedly said that their client has no plan to sell his story.
So far, the Peterson case has prompted five books and two made-for-TV movies. Sharon Rocha is writing "For Laci," which has a December release date, according to Crown Publishing Group.
Taxpayers paid about $4.13 million for the investigation of Laci Peterson's murder and Scott Peterson's trial, according to final tallies by agencies involved in the case.
The wrongful death lawsuit is one of four Sharon Rocha has filed.
One of the lawsuits made her the executor of Laci Peterson's estate, while another froze $256,429 from a life insurance policy until a jury reached a verdict in Scott Peterson's doublemurder case.
A third lawsuit, which sought to impose an involuntary trust to keep Peterson from selling his story, was amended after a judge said Peterson has a right to free speech. Rocha is now seeking an accounting if her former son-in-law sells any assets he shared with his wife.
Stewart said the Peterson and Rocha families have not decided how to divide the profits from the Covena Avenue home, which recently sold for more than its $379,996 asking price.
The wrongful death lawsuit is to return to court on March 20 for a mandatory settlement conference and is set for trial on April 4.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.