Peterson: Preliminary Trial

September 2, 2003

Sides angle for Peterson data

Attorneys in Scott Peterson's double-murder case are set to appear in Stanislaus County Superior Court this morning to discuss evidence that likely will be introduced at Peterson's preliminary hearing, scheduled for next week.

Today's hearing before Judge Al Girolami is in response to a defense request for discovery, or evidence gathered by the prosecution. The Stanislaus County district attorney's office responded that much of the material had been turned over and countered with a similar request for information from the defense.

Prosecutors, specifically, want the names and addresses of witnesses the defense plans to call during the hearing, set for Sept. 9, as well as the results of "physical or mental examinations, scientific tests, experiments, or comparisons," according to documents filed with the court last month.

Peterson, 30, is accused of murdering his wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son, Conner. Laci Peterson's family reported her missing from her Modesto home Christmas Eve.

The two bodies were found in April along the east shore of San Francisco Bay, near where Scott Peterson told authorities he had gone on a fishing trip Dec. 24. Police arrested Peterson on April 18; he faces the death penalty if convicted.

The defense submitted a wide-ranging request last month that asked for information about two wiretaps placed on Peterson's phone and hypnotized witnesses.

According to a source and court documents, a prosecution witness who resembled Laci Peterson was interviewed using "hypnosis techniques" in a likely attempt to undercut Scott Peterson's defense.

The woman, who owns a dog and lives near the Peterson home, was roughly in the same stage of pregnancy as Laci Peterson last winter.

Two witnesses have said they saw Laci Peterson, 27, walking her dog after 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 -- the time her husband told police he left for a solo fishing trip.

Defense attorney Kirk McAllister also sought intensive information about dogs used in the case, including their veterinary records, training reports, reliability tests and trainers' backgrounds.

In a July letter to Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso, one of the prosecutors on the case, lead defense attorney Mark Geragos wrote that Distaso had "previously indicated to me that the prosecution intends to call witnesses at the preliminary hearing who will testify as to human scent-tracking dogs."

Peterson told investigators his wife was getting ready to walk their dog when he last saw her. In the ensuing days, teams of searchers and dogs looked for her in the area around the Petersons' Covena Avenue house and East La Loma Park.

On Dec. 26, a specially trained bloodhound from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department indicated to its handler that Laci Peterson left her home in a vehicle, not on foot.

The dog, Merlin, headed to Yosemite Boulevard, away from the park. Later, the dog led its handler, Cindee Valentin, from the Peterson house all the way to Maze Boulevard, nearly three miles away.

The defense specifically wants information about Merlin and Valentin, a deputy with the Contra Costa County Emergency Services Search and Rescue Unit, a division of the Sheriff's Department. Reserve Capt. Christopher Boyer of the search and rescue unit also was named.

Contra Costa County Sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said Valentin had been subpoenaed and was covered by a gag order Girolami imposed in the case.

Prosecutors said in court documents filed last week that they have turned over more than 23,700 pages of documents, as well as 18 videotapes, 100 audio tapes, five DVDs and three compact discs from a wiretap on Peterson's phone.

And they expect more.

"The people anticipate significant additional discovery will be generated," the document reads. "Said discovery will be provided to the defense as soon as it is received."

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