State money still sought for Peterson trial

08/21/2003 8:45 AM

11/19/2007 1:40 PM

SACRAMENTO -- State Sen. Jeff Denham said Tuesday that he will continue pushing for the state to cover Stanislaus County's costs in the investigation and trial of accused murderer Scott Peterson.

"It'll come back up in January," said Denham, a Salinas Republican whose district includes part of Modesto.

His $1.5 million subsidy for the Peterson case survived the budget process but not the governor's line-item veto this month.

"This is going to be a huge cost," Denham said. "You can't expect a case of this size, for a county to bear that."

Peterson, 30, has pleaded innocent to two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son, Conner.

The state already reimburses smaller counties for extra costs related to expensive murder trials. Denham introduced a bill earlier this year that singled out the high-profile Peterson case and sought reimbursement for the county's estimated costs.

A version of that bill made it through budget wrangling this summer. However, before Gov. Davis signed the $99.1 billion state budget Aug. 2, he made last-minute trims -- including the money set aside for the Peterson case.

Davis called it "unnecessary" because county officials can apply for aid from a state reimbursement fund, which was $7.5 million last year.

It's been done before

Don Peterson, a longtime Capitol lobbyist for Stanislaus and other counties, said Denham's request was not unusual.

Peterson said he used the same method to recoup money for Mariposa County for Cary Stayner's murder trial and for Sonoma County for the trial of Richard Allen Davis, convicted in the killing of Polly Klaas.

"We weren't asking for something that's never been done before," said Peterson, who is not related to Scott Peterson.

The lobbyist blamed tighter economic times for the veto. Local law enforcement authorities who have spent an unknown amount on the case are supporting the bill.

"We were hoping it would go through," said John Goold, chief deputy district attorney.

Sheriff Les Weidman testified in favor of the bill in Sacramento.

Goold would not say how much his office has spent so far. Peterson has not even been bound over for trial, and a change of venue could send the final bill skyrocketing.

But other county officials have been counting on at least $300,000 in state aid this year to help pay for added costs, such as courthouse security and extra office staff.

"We don't have that money set aside," said Monica Nino-Reid, deputy executive officer for the county. "It just adds to our deficit."

Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Eric Stern can be reached at (916) 326-5544 or estern@modbee.com.

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