Funding sought for probe

09/03/2003 9:40 AM

11/19/2007 1:42 PM

SACRAMENTO -- For nearly four months, police searched on foot and on horseback, in helicopters and in scuba gear, and with bloodhounds and sonar.

It started as a disappearance, with Laci Peterson's family reporting her missing on Christmas Eve, and turned into a homicide investigation that led to her husband's arrest on two murder charges -- one for his wife and one for their unborn son.

The Modesto Police Department is hoping to recoup some of its costs, and Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, on Tuesday revived a proposal for state aid.

"The state frequently picks up the tab" for high-profile murder cases, Cogdill told his fellow lawmakers in brief comments on the Assembly floor.

He asked to tack the measure onto Senate Bill 348, dealing with election workers, now under consideration in the Assembly. The Assembly, on a voice vote, allowed the amendment without debate and referred the bill to the Local Government Committee.

The bill eventually would have to return to the floor for another vote, and then go back to the Senate for concurrence -- all by the Sept. 12 deadline to get legislation out of both houses.

Cogdill's legislation would allow the city to apply to the state for reimbursement of up to 90 percent of the costs related to the Peterson case "except normal salaries and expenses."

"I don't know," Cogdill said outside the Assembly chamber about the potential price tag. "It's huge, certainly."

Cogdill aides referred the question to Police Chief Roy Wasden, who has been to the Capitol to lobby for reimbursement. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The police search went on for weeks, with officers scouring East La Loma Park, and Dry Creek and the Tuolumne River. The search moved to San Francisco Bay, and eventually the Peterson bodies washed ashore there in mid-April.

Two weeks into the investigation, Wasden estimated a cost exceeding $100,000.

Earlier in this legislative session, Sen. Jeff Denham, a Salinas Republican whose district includes Modesto, introduced legislation to secure state money for Modesto and Stanislaus County for the Peterson investigation and trial. Legislative analysts estimated a cost of at least $1.5 million.

Eventually, the Legislature approved a bill that would have covered only the county's extra court costs, but Gov. Davis used his line-item veto to cut the provision from the budget.

Davis said the measure was unnecessary because California has a program to partially subsidize expensive trials, and Stanislaus County could apply for such aid.

For years, though, counties have tried to sidestep that process by having legislators carve out pieces of the budget for pricey trials.

In 1999, Davis vetoed legislation to help offset Mariposa County's costs for the state's prosecution of Cary Stayner, who was eventually convicted in the slayings of three Yosemite sightseers. He was convicted in federal court in a fourth slaying.

Mariposa County later applied for and received $350,000 from the state, according to the Judicial Council, which administers state courts.

Analysts warned at the time that there would be a long line of counties seeking handouts if the Legislature started deciding on a case-by-case basis which counties should not have to pay for their own murder trials.

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

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