Courthouse media frenzy lures crowd of the curious

04/22/2003 8:05 AM

11/20/2007 6:21 AM

Attorney Kirk McAllister nearly made it unscathed to the corner of 11th and I streets Monday afternoon.

But the enemy waited a block away, in front of the Stanislaus County Courthouse. Scores of reporters and camera people stood and watched in all directions, looking for players making entrances in the Scott Peterson murder arraignment.

At 1:08 p.m., someone spotted McAllister, who had represented Scott Peterson until the arraignment, approaching from across the street. The man tucked his camera beneath his arm and quietly sprinted away from the throng in a mad dash.

Another reporter saw what was happening and took off behind him. Then another. And another.

"Where are you going?" one reporter asked a fleeing colleague.

"There he is," the colleague replied, talking and running in full stride.

"Who?"

"It's McAllister."

The reporter caught up, and they took off together. The rumble grew. Within seconds, the entire pack had crossed 11th Street and formed a mob around McAllister.

Enter Elizabeth and William Schwarz of Ceres. They had just finished eating lunch at Dewz Restaurant, which exits onto 11th and I. The media swarm nearly swallowed the couple.

"All of a sudden, everybody was running toward us," Elizabeth Schwarz said. "We had to back up to get out of the way. We stood under the awning until it all went by."

The mob moved as one mass south on 11th with McAllister as the nucleus. Numerous reporters shouted questions at McAllister, who answered a few but mostly was concerned with moving toward the courthouse.

Elizabeth Schwarz followed a good distance behind. She found a couple of friends and stood with them. At times when it wasn't raining, the crowd outside the courthouse numbered in the hundreds.

Some came for glimpses of those involved in the case. Others came hoping for answers. And some came to see -- with their own eyes -- what it's like when the media circus comes to town.

"I'm probably like everyone else here," Schwarz said. "One way or another, I just want to know what happened. I want to know why. It's sad that it takes something like this to bring attention to our city."

Across 11th Street and away from the crowd, three people stood and took turns mocking the proceedings. Jeff Phillips, Shelly Pinkston and Liz Longden had walked over from their jobs at a downtown mortgage company.

At one point, a reporter took off in a sprint across the courthouse lawn. Then another gave chase. And another.

"Yeah!" Phillips shouted from across the street. "Mob him."

Longden and Pinkston laughed. After a few minutes, the three had seen enough, and they headed back to work.

"It's amazing and interesting that this case is getting this much coverage," said Longden, who commutes to Modesto from Brentwood, in Contra Costa County. "Even in the Bay Area, this is all anybody wants to talk about. I went to a family get-together for Easter, and that's all we talked about for at least an hour."

Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at tphillips@modbee.com or 578-2331.

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