The prospect of a visibly pregnant Amber Frey taking the stand in the double-murder trial of her former lover, Scott Peterson, could introduce yet another intriguing dynamic, some legal observers say.
"She will remind you that the victim was pregnant, too," said prominent Los Angeles defense attorney Harland Braun.
The victim was Peterson's wife, Laci, who was about eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve last year.
Frey, 28, is about five months along and the pregnancy is beginning to show, a source said. The father is a Fresno man and former business associate of Frey who helped console the massage therapist after she learned that Peterson was the prime suspect in a high-profile murder case, the source said.
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Scott Peterson's trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 26 in Stanislaus County Superior Court, although the date could be pushed back. Also, his attorneys have asked to have the trial moved, because of an avalanche of publicity in and around Stanislaus County; such requests can take several months.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the 31-year-old fertilizer salesman from Modesto.
"There is no question it would play to (prosecutors') advantage if the trial occurred when she is obviously great with child," said Modesto defense attorney Ernie Spokes, a former prosecutor.
Aside from Frey possibly evoking sympathy, Spokes said, prosecutors may need every shred of evidence in what so far has shaped up to be a case relying heavily on circumstantial evidence. Many observers speculate that Frey could provide key testimony.
She had been dating Peterson for a little more than a month when his pregnant wife went missing. Six days later, as news reports multiplied, Frey contacted police and began taping her telephone conversations with Peterson, a detective testified at his preliminary hearing.
One transcript released at the hearing showed Peterson dodging Frey's questions about his missing wife and the unborn child he had never mentioned. He said he was "longing to hold onto" Frey, according to the transcript.
Geragos' strategy uncertain
Braun, also a former prosecutor, said he would not hesitate to call Frey if he were the district attorney.
But, "It's all witchcraft to even speculate" on how Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos of Los Angeles, would approach cross-examination if Frey's pregnancy is obvious, Braun said.
"You probably can't judge (strategy for questions) until you hear Amber Frey's testimony," said Braun, a friend of Geragos.
"That's why a trial is so dynamic. It's one of those decisions you make while running on the field, when you see what the obstacles are."
Bernard Grimm, a Washington, D.C., defense attorney, agreed that Geragos probably will not decide how to handle Frey until the moment arrives.
But Spokes said aggressive questioning can backfire if jurors think an attorney treats a witness unfairly -- especially a vulnerable witness.
"That sets a negative tone that's hard to get around," Spokes said. "You have be very careful."
An intimidating task
Jeanette Sereno, an attorney and criminal justice professor at California State University, Stanislaus, said taking the stand is "intimidating regardless of your (physical) state. You don't want to be there."
Many mothers-to-be easily focus on other matters, Sereno said, noting that some hold down jobs until just before delivering. But others are emotional wrecks, Sereno noted.
As for legal strategy, Frey's state at Peterson's trial should have little to do with her testimony, Sereno said.
"It's likely to have little or no impact," she said, "because it has nothing to do with what she's testifying about."
Stephen Lubet of Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago said, "Lawyers have a saying: You take your witnesses as you find them."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.