Peterson: Preliminary Trial

July 25, 2003

Defense can examine Peterson bodies

The Contra Costa County coroner's office must allow Scott Peterson's defense team to have its own experts examine the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami ruled Thursday.

Also on Thursday, both sides in the case asked the judge to postpone a scheduled hearing from Aug. 15 to Sept. 9.

Scott Peterson faces charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and unborn son, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty.

Peterson's lawyers, Mark Geragos and Kirk McAllister, contend he is innocent and that the true killers are still at large.

Girolami has issued a gag order that prohibits prosecutors and the defense team from discussing the case.

An expert with no ties to the case said the reason for defense experts to examine a body generally is to gather evidence about the cause of death.

"On this (case), I think the cause of death would be the only thing that's germane," said Ken Sewell, a forensic scientist with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Laci Peterson's body, and that of her unborn child, washed up separately in April on the shore of the San Francisco Bay near Richmond and Port Isabel. Both bodies were reportedly badly decomposed.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office performed autopsies on the bodies. In April, officials with the coroner's office said neither revealed an obvious cause of death.

Coroner's office will comply

Autopsy reports were completed in May, but have not been publicly released. Girolami ordered the Contra Costa County coroner's office to withhold the results from the public, claiming it could make a fair trial more difficult.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office has received a copy of Girolami's order and will comply with it, an official there said.

The prosecution's evidence against Scott Peterson is due to be presented Sept. 9 at a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold him for trial.

Ordinarily, a preliminary hearing is a public proceeding, but in this case, Peterson's defense lawyers have asked that it be closed. Girolami has not made a decision on that request.

Defense lawyers also are seeking an order to suppress some of the prosecution's evidence.

A hearing on that request is scheduled for Aug. 15, but could be delayed. On Thursday, Peterson's defense lawyers and Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso both signed a paper asking

Girolami to change the date of that hearing to Sept. 9.

Bee staff writer Blair Craddock can be reached at 578-2385 or

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