REDWOOD CITY -- For 16-year-old Amie Barnes, part of the allure is seeing Scott Peterson in person.
"It seems like a big fictional story," the Cupertino teen said after sitting through three days of the double-murder trial.
"But then you realize that he's a real person, just 40 feet away. It's kind of creepy," she said.
Valerie Harris, 51, traveled from her Mountain View home, near San Jose, to Modesto to see parts of Peterson's preliminary hearing in October and November. Since the trial moved only 12 miles from her doorstep, she's been in the courtroom every day.
"I'm hooked," Harris said.
Kathleen McLoughlin, a 46-year-old Colorado housewife, insists she journeyed to California to visit her mother -- not just to see the Peterson trial. But why not take care of two things with one trip?
"Instead of shopping, we came to check it out," quipped McLoughlin's mother, Margaret Kelly of Saratoga.
The swarms of gadflies San Mateo County court officials predicted have not materialized, perhaps partly because of the trial's relatively slow start. Attorneys still are working through evidentiary motions, with Judge Alfred Delucchi laying ground rules for the upcoming legal battle.
But nonmedia, nonlegal, regular people have provided a small, steady stream of onlookers.
Though dozens of seats remain empty every day, court officials still require the public to go through a lottery selection for one-day passes, including forcing people to show up 2 1/2 hours before each session.
Amie, a home-schooled 10th-grader with aspirations in the legal field, catches a ride from Cupertino in the morning with her mother, who works in Redwood City. The teen rides home on nearby Caltrain.
"I've been following the case since Laci (Peterson) disappeared," Amie said. "When the trial moved here, I thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like."
It didn't take much for Amie to talk Robin Hellyer, a friend since kindergarten, into going along. Robin was a witness in a mock trial at Cupertino High School, which was on a break between semesters last week; she wants to play a lawyer next year.
Both said they are most impressed by Peterson's attorney Mark Geragos.
The Los Angeles lawyer, whose clients include Michael Jackson and who has represented Gary Condit and Winona Ryder, has been stopped in Redwood City courthouse halls by autograph seekers.
"I don't think he's that good of a guy," Amie said, "but he is an amazing lawyer. He is an impressive person to be around."
Kelly, though, said Geragos appears smaller in real life, as compared to television
Her daughter, McLoughlin, said: "I love Laci's mom. She's got guts; she's got class."
Though she lives in Colorado, McLoughlin is not nearly as interested in the
nearby Kobe Bryant rape trial. She identifies more closely, she said, with Laci Peterson -- a mother-to-be with a seemingly ideal life, before it was snuffed out.
Harris, a semi-retired Web designer and software consultant, wasn't captivated until she stumbled into the case.
A mutual interest in an "American Idol" musician led to an e-mail friendship with Bee sketch artist Laurie McAdam, whose colorful chalk portraits graced the newspaper's pages throughout Peterson's preliminary hearing.
Harris decided to trek to Modesto to watch her new friend in action and quickly became absorbed in the courtroom drama.
"I was crying so hard in court, I thought they would throw me out," Harris said, recalling graphic testimony from a pathologist who examined the bodies. "I went to watch Laurie; now, I'm coming for a different reason."
Amie tried to bring another young friend, but the friend's mother forbade her, saying that paying too much attention seems "unsympathetic."
"People think this is voyeurism," Amie said. "I think it's more humane to be interested in a double-murder trial than to obsess about Janet Jackson's breasts."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.
Bee artist Laurie McAdam's sketches of the Peterson preliminary hearing can be viewed online at www.modbee.com.