Peterson remains returned

08/23/2003 7:30 AM

11/19/2007 1:40 PM

The remains of Laci and Conner Peterson are now in Stanislaus County, roughly four months after they were found washed up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

The coroner's office received the bodies Thursday night, Sheriff Les Weidman said late Friday.

"We are holding them as a courtesy to the family," the sheriff said.

The district attorney's office, which is prosecuting Scott Peterson in the slayings of his wife and unborn son, issued a brief statement earlier in the day:

"No comments will be made regarding any release of the remains of Laci and Conner Peterson from the Contra Costa County coroner's facility," District Attorney James Brazelton said. "The district attorney requests that all parties respect the privacy of the Rocha family in this time of mourning."

Brazelton also asked other law enforcement agencies to refrain from "further public statements" on the matter.

A judge had ordered the remains held in Contra Costa County until no later than Friday for a defense expert to X-ray Conner's body. That procedure took place Thursday at the Contra Costa County coroner's facility in Martinez, a source said.

Peterson, 30, is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife and son. He could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Laci Peterson was 27 and almost eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve. Her husband told police that he last saw his wife the morning of Christmas Eve before leaving Modesto for a solo fishing trip to the bay.

Adam Stewart, an attorney representing Laci Peterson's family, including her mother, Sharon Rocha, could not be reached for comment Friday. In a written statement released last week, family members pleaded with the media to be sensitive.

"Please treat her in death respectfully so that we as her family will be allowed to lay her and Conner to rest in dignity and peace when the time comes," the statement read. "We ask that you respect our privacy and understand our pain as we grieve for our beautiful Laci and baby Conner."

Weidman said the coroner's office was waiting for Laci Peterson's family to make arrangements, and he would not comment on what those might be.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office conducted autopsies on the bodies in April, shortly after they were found about a mile apart south of Richmond.

Amid pervasive media attention, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami ordered the autopsy reports sealed and issued a sweeping gag order in the case.

Prior to the gag order, officials said the causes of death had not been determined.

A defense team that included renowned forensic experts Drs. Henry Lee and Cyril Wecht conducted an examination of the remains earlier this month.

After that exam, prosecutors and the defense agreed to allow defense experts to X-ray Conner, whom officials described as a "full-term baby" when his remains were found.

The agreement, authorized by Girolami, called for members of the district attorney's office to be present during the exam. It was unclear what defense experts were seeking.

"There's no reason to do X-rays at this stage," said Dr. Gregory Schmunk, Santa Clara County coroner and chief medical examiner. "It scientifically makes no sense."

Bodies routinely are X-rayed before an autopsy is performed, and those results are provided to both sides, Schmunk said.

After an autopsy is performed, the subject's body is in a different condition, making it impossible to directly compare X-ray results, he said.

More accurate methods exist to determine elements such as how old Conner was when he died and whether he was in his mother's womb at the time, Schmunk said.

"I have no idea why the defense would want to do this," he said. "It's difficult to say what is going through their heads. Maybe they're looking for something specific."

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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