Scott Peterson proclaims innocence to two counts of first-degree murder

04/22/2003 8:05 AM

11/20/2007 6:22 AM

Scott Peterson pleaded innocent Monday to two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife Laci and their unborn son, Conner.

"I am not guilty," Peterson said during his arraignment in a packed Stanislaus County courtroom.

Deputies led Peterson, clean-shaven and with his recently dyed hair cut, into court. His wrists and ankles were shackled, and he wore a red jail jumpsuit.

Peterson showed little emotion through most of the proceedings. He remained stoic as the charges in the death of his wife were read.

However, he closed his eyes tightly and he began to lose his composure as Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley read the charges involving the murder of his unborn son.

Peterson is charged with three special allegations, one of which would make him eligible for the death pen- alty.

That allegation involves committing more than one murder. The other two allegations involve premeditated murder.

Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton said at a news conference Monday that he has not decided whether to seek the death pen- alty.

That decision likely will be made before a pre-trial hearing scheduled for May 19, Brazelton said.

Ashley ordered Peterson held without bail pending a May 6 bail hearing.

During the arraignment, Peterson told Ashley that he had not retained an attorney. Ashley appointed Public Defender Tim Bazar to represent him.

Bazar had visited Peterson in jail about 10 a.m. Monday, even before he was officially appointed to handle the case.

"We plan to look at the police reports and their evidence and proceed from there," Bazar said before the arraignment. He could not be reached for comment afterward.

Veteran defense attorney Kirk McAllister had represented Peterson during much of the four-month investigation that began when Laci Peterson was reported missing Christmas Eve. Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant at the time.

Agents arrested Scott Peterson on Friday near Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla. Officials said they were concerned that Peterson would flee the country.

At the time of the arrest, he was sporting a full goatee and lightened hair and had more than $10,000 cash with him at the time of his arrest, a law enforcement source said Monday.

McAllister attended Monday's arraignment, but Bazar represented Peterson.

Before the hearing, McAllister cited attorney- client privilege in declining to say why he was no longer representing Peterson.

To do so, he said, might be construed as a voluntary waiving of the attorney-client privilege. And that could make all of McAllister's private conversations with Peterson and his family available for scrutiny by the district attorney.

Some speculated that cost was a reason why Peterson had turned to the public defender's office for legal representation.

Brazelton said that was not unusual.

"For an individual to hire an attorney of the caliber of Mr. McAllister, for example, it would take a fairly substantial amount of money," he said. "I don't know what his finances are."

It remained unclear Monday who would prosecute the case. Brazelton said he was considering several attorneys in his office to represent the county.

There had been speculation that Brazelton would argue the case in court himself.

"I'd love to try it, but I don't have the time," Brazelton said after the news conference.

'Voluminous' evidence under wraps

The district attorney refused to discuss the evidence, but noted it was "quite voluminous" and was both direct and circumstantial.

He downplayed state Attorney General Bill Lockyer's Friday characterization of the case as a "slam-dunk," but said the evidence was solid.

"I wouldn't have issued a complaint if I wasn't confident that we could proceed with the case," Brazelton said.

Investigators have disclosed little about their findings.

Modesto police detectives obtained a probable-cause arrest warrant for Peterson on April 17. That type of warrant can be obtained before criminal charges -- and the reasons for them -- are filed with the court.

The affidavit explaining why the arrest warrant was issued was not on file Monday in county Superior Court.

Judges have sealed eight search warrants, which were issued for Peterson's home, vehicles, warehouse and other locations to which he had access. One covered DNA evidence obtained from Peterson.

A judge ruled earlier this month that those warrants initially were improperly sealed.

They were later properly sealed for 90 days. That period expires July 9.

The district attorney's office has asked the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno to overturn the judge's ruling on the procedures, and keep the warrants sealed indefinitely.

The case has garnered national media attention and prompted extraordinary measures during Monday's arraignment. Seven bailiffs moved in and out of the courtroom, sometimes escorting family members and journalists to assigned seats. Emotions were palpable.

Jackie Peterson, Scott Peterson's mother, hugged Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother, as both waited for the hearing to begin.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," Jackie Peterson said.

Sharon Rocha remained calm until deputies led Scott Peterson into the courtroom. When he entered the courtroom she began crying. Her husband, Ron Grantski, comforted her.

Jackie Peterson and her husband, Lee, sat behind their son.

The rest of the audience was composed mainly of reporters, with a few members of the public, who were admitted tickets on a first-come, first-served basis.

Teen-agers Brittony Rafatti,15, of Turlock and Emily Herrera, 15, of Ceres, were first in line.

"We just want to see what happens," Emily said.

Deputies led ticketholders into the courtroom at 1 p.m.

"I was hoping to find some truth," said Bill Johnson, an X-ray film processor serviceman who works in Turlock. "I've seen him on TV, but I'm hoping to see something that maybe the cameras haven't shown me."

After court, the families were kept in their seats while the media was ushered out of the courtroom. Deputies then separately escorted both families out of the courthouse.

"The escorts were at the request of the families," said Kelly Huston, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. "We wanted to treat both families equally."

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

Bee staff writer Michael Mooney contributed to this report.

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