Peterson: Moving Toward Trial

January 24, 2004

Peterson fights for right to book, movie deals

An attorney for Scott Peterson on Friday said the Stanislaus County Superior Court should throw out a lawsuit that seeks to bar his client from profiting from the death of his wife and unborn child.

The lawsuit, brought by Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, asks the court to keep any payments from book or movie deals in a trust account until a verdict is reached in Scott Peterson's double-murder trial.

Peterson's lawyer said the court should dismiss the case, because the complaint is filed under California's "Son of Sam" law, which was struck down nearly two years ago.

Attorney Eugene P. Harris of Los Angeles could not be reached for further comment.

Adam Stewart of Modesto, Rocha's attorney, said the lawsuit seeks to protect the family's rights.

"Those profits should be accounted for to the court and after the trial, made available to the victims," he said.

Stewart noted that the Principal Life Insurance Co. has deposited $256,429 with the court.

The policy, purchased in June 2001, designates Scott Peterson as the beneficiary, but Rocha was appointed special administrator of her daughter's estate in November.

"The money would go to Scott if he is acquitted," Stewart said. "It would go to Mrs. Rocha if he is convicted."

The California Supreme Court struck down the Son of Sam law in February 2002, saying it violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.

The law, named after serial killer David Berkowitz, said profits from the sale of a convicted felon's story must go to the victims. The court said the law was written too broadly.

Nine months later, the Legislature approved a law that says victims may sue for damages for up to 10 years after a felon has completed parole.

During a brief conference Friday, Judge William Mayhew said both sides will have 120 days to build their cases. They return to court on May 27.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California, said the high court's intention is clear.

He said Rocha can file an unlawful death lawsuit against Scott Peterson, whether he is acquitted or convicted, and go after any assets he has.

But she cannot do anything if Scott Peterson sells his story.

"They're trying to say that they're entitled to limit him before he's been found guilty or liable for anything," Chemerinsky said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or

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