Scott Peterson's new attorney said Friday that Peterson "looks forward to proving his innocence" in the murders of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.
Mark Geragos of Los Angeles took the reins from Public Defender Tim Bazar and officially became Peterson's attorney Friday during a hearing before Judge Al Girolami in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bazar was appointed April 21 by the Superior Court after Peterson said he could not afford a lawyer.
Geragos, who has represented the likes of actress Winona Ryder in her shoplifting trial and Susan McDougal in the Whitewater case during the Clinton presidency, told Girolami that Peterson's family had retained him.
As has become the norm for court proceedings in the case, media and members of the public crowded into the courtroom, and reporters and videocamera operators waited outside the courthouse.
Eight bailiffs positioned themselves around the Department 8 courtroom; typical hearings are staffed by one or two.
Girolami granted Geragos' request to let Peterson wear civilian clothes to court in future proceedings, and to be free of the handcuffs, leg shackles and waist chain that are typical for maximum-security prisoners.
Geragos cited the massive publicity surrounding the case, noting that people carried poster-sized pictures of Peterson labeling him a "monster" when police delivered him to the county jail.
The judge noted that most defendants wear jail jumpsuits to court early on, well before trial, but he acknowledged that photographs of Peterson in jail garb may be prejudicial to a potential jury.
"Scott looks forward to proving his innocence in this matter," Geragos said outside court. "In addition to that, Scott looks forward to finding out who did this to his wife and to his child, Conner."
Thousands of pages to review
Geragos would not discuss specifics of the case, including whether he thinks Peterson could receive a fair trial in Stanislaus County. He said he has not had time to review thousands of pages of police reports in the case.
Geragos, who has appeared regularly on television as a commentator on the case, downplayed any impact from his earlier statement that there was enough evidence to convict Peterson.
"I didn't read my name on the witness list," he said.
Two days before Peterson's April 18 arrest, Geragos talked about the case on Fox News' "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren."
"You'd be hard-pressed to find a prosecutor who couldn't put together an indictment, let alone a conviction," he said then.
Laci Peterson was 27 and eight months pregnant when her family reported her missing Christmas Eve. Her body and that of her child were found last month along the eastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay.
Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, brother Brent Rocha and sister Amy Rocha sat in the front row Friday as deputies brought in Peterson.
His sister Susan Caudillo sat behind him and across the aisle from the Rochas.
Bailiffs led each family out of the courtroom through a side door at the end of the approximately 15-minute hearing.
"We're happy that Mark is in place as Scott's attorney," Cau-dillo said outside the courthouse. "We do look forward to proving his innocence.
"I'm sorry he has to remain in jail until that is done."
The Rochas could not be reached for comment.
A hearing is set for Monday to sift through legal issues about whether Girolami can hear the case.
He had been assigned to hear a civil case in which The Bee asked the court to unseal search warrants in the investigation. That case was reassigned to Judge Roger M. Beauchesne.
Beauchesne ordered the documents sealed until there was an arrest in the investigation, but the state's 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno has ordered the seals to stay put pending a decision. The order refers to "any information regarding search warrants, affidavits, returns or any other documents in that investigatory process."
Geragos said the search warrant issue could hurt his client's right to a fair trial, and that both cases should be before the same judge.
"There is a legitimate issue as to whether or not this judge can hear this case," Geragos said outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors contend that the cases are separate matters involving different parties.
A second hearing is set for Monday to address a motion by The San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Newspapers to unseal the search warrants and documents detailing the Police Department's justification for Peterson's arrest warrant.
At Geragos' request, Girolami canceled a bail review hearing that had been set for Friday. Geragos said he needs time to review roughly 5,000 pages of documents that he received from prosecutors Friday.
Geragos also has received about 1,000 pages of police reports from the public defender's office. Attorneys said there are about 30,000 pages of reports in the case.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or email@example.com.