Scott Peterson appears to have abandoned his claim to more than $250,000 from an insurance policy on his dead wife.
A tentative ruling issued Thursday afternoon by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne said the money should go to Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother and executor of her estate.
The ruling will become final today, a court official said, because Scott Peterson's attorneys did not ask for a hearing to argue against it.
Rocha's attorney applauded the ruling.
"It's the right decision," said Adam Stewart of Modesto. "It's the only correct decision."
Principal Life Insurance of Des Moines, Iowa, deposited $256,429 — the value of the policy plus interest — with the court more than a year ago.
Attorneys from the Geragos & Geragos law firm of Los Angeles had argued that the money should not be distributed to Rocha while their client's case is on appeal.
All death penalty cases automatically are appealed to the California Supreme Court and can proceed to the federal court system if they're upheld in state court. The process can take decades.
Stewart said Rocha should not have to wait.
The judge said Peterson has no claim to the money because he has been convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son. State law says murderers forfeit their rights as beneficiaries.
On Nov. 12, 2004, a jury in Redwood City found Peterson guilty of murder. A month later, the same jurors decided he should die by lethal injection. He was sentenced March 16.
The Petersons took out the life insurance policy June 25, 2001, a year and a half before Laci Peterson's disappearance prompted amassive search throughout Modesto and San Francisco Bay, where her body and that of her unborn son were found.
Peterson can appeal Beauchesne's ruling, but his decision not to argue against it suggests he might not.
Calls to Geragos & Geragos were not returned.
The latest ruling does not end the litigation stemming from the headline-grabbing murder case. Rocha also is pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit against Peterson. A trial is scheduled for April.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.