Peterson: Disappearance & Arrest

May 1, 2003

Accused killer not exactly like other prisoners

In some ways, Scott Peterson is like any other inmate at the Stanislaus County Jail. He gets three meals a day, a shower every other day and can make collect telephone calls.

Like almost all murder defendants, he is being held in maximum security, which means he is isolated from other prisoners.

And, like all other maximum-security inmates, he has an escort of two deputies when going to and from court, and two deputies watching him when he gets exercise time -- alone -- on the roof of the downtown Modesto jail.

The usual cost for such upkeep is about $34,000 a year, and Peterson is expected to be in county custody for about two years.

But as much as he is like other prisoners, Peterson is different. He is charged with two counts of murder in the killings of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing Christmas Eve. Her husband helped in the search. And the whole nation watched.

The bodies washed ashore in San Francisco Bay just before mid-April, and Peterson's arrest in San Diego came a few days

later. A crowd of hundreds watched his midnight arrival at jail, and interest remains high among the public and media.

All of that makes it a high-profile case, and Peterson's court appearances more costly than usual.

For example, for his April 21 arraignment in Superior Court, the county brought in five extra sheriff's deputies to help with security screening at the courthouse entry and to control the crowd outside.

The cost: $2,800 in overtime.

Peterson started out on what authorities called a safety watch, with deputies checking on him every 15 minutes -- twice the normal rate.

Tuesday, jailers started checking on Peterson every 30 minutes, just like other maximum- security inmates.

The biggest concern has been other inmates, which is why Peterson is in a cell by himself. The culture of people in jail and prison typically is hostile toward men accused or convicted of killing women.

"What is even worse to them is a charge of killing a child," said Myron Larson, assistant sheriff in charge of detention facilities.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Kelly Huston said, "We don't want to be put in a position where another inmate, a three-striker with nothing to lose, will want to try to harm Scott."

He is in a 6-by-9-foot cell. He can pull fiction or nonfiction selections from a book cart wheeled through the hall once a day. The jail has a phone cart that can be wheeled from cell to cell, for making collect calls; authorities can legally monitor the conversations.

Peterson is in a six-cell tier, and all the inmates can see a single television mounted in the hall.

Peterson has two 90-minute exercise periods a week on the rooftop, where he can walk, stretch or shoot a basketball.

He is entitled to two personal visits every seven days; his family used both last week and returned Tuesday.

Officials said he has declined more than 50 requests for interviews from the press.

The visitation limit does not apply to meetings with his attorneys. Once the prosecution shares evidence with the defense, Peterson could spend hours in a private room with attorneys going over documents, officials said.

The only hint of complaints from Peterson have come from his family.

Lee Peterson, after visiting his son last week, told reporters his son was having trouble breathing. Authorities were not sure what he meant.

Sheriff's spokesman Tom Letras said the ventilation in the almost-50-year-old downtown jail meets standards.

"It's the same as any other building down here," Letras said. "It gets kind of warm in the summer and kind of cold in the winter, but you can breathe fine."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or

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