Authorities intercepted Scott Peterson's phone calls with reporters and his attorney early this year even while police were refusing to identify him as a suspect in the disappearance of his pregnant wife, Laci, sources said Monday.
A source close to the defense said that Peterson was a suspect "the minute police walked in the door."
Officials have been tight-lipped about the investigation, but state Attorney General Bill Lockyer indicated that wiretaps had been used.
Information on the overheard conversations was not revealed in letters sent to journalists Monday notifying them of wiretaps on unnamed targets.
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More than a dozen similar notices were sent to journalists and a member of the "defense camp," sources said.
Modesto attorney Kirk McAllister, who represented Peterson during much of the four-month investigation into Laci Peterson's disappearance, could not be reached for comment Monday.
McAllister is now part of a defense team headed by Los Angeles-based attorney Mark Geragos.
Communication between attorneys and clients is protected by law, and investigators are required to interrupt a wiretap during such conversations.
A judge can order a wiretap after investigators demonstrate there is probable cause to believe an individual is involved in specific offenses that include murder, drug trafficking or using a weapon of mass destruction.
State law requires authorities to notify people that their conversations were monitored within 90 days of a court order for wiretaps. "Communications were intercepted," reads part of the four identical notices from Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton's office to Bee reporters.
When reached Monday, Brazelton agreed that it would make sense for investigators to monitor Peterson's conversations with reporters, "in case he might want to confess."
However, he would not confirm that the notices sent to journalists involved wiretaps for the Peterson investigation.
Bee reporters Michael G. Mooney, Ty Phillips and Patrick Giblin and columnist Judy Sly received the notices Monday. All had called and talked to or left messages with Scott Peterson.
"We have to send a letter out whether we listen or not," Brazelton said. "Typically, (investigators) listen and if (the conversation) has nothing to do with what they're investigating, they're supposed to get off the line right away."
Brazelton said they would not monitor any conversations between Peterson and an attorney.
An unidentified Stanislaus County Superior Court judge authorized the wiretap Jan. 10.
The order ended Feb. 4, according to the notices. It is not known if other taps were authorized.
Peterson was not named as a suspect before he was arrested April 18. Peterson told police he went fishing on Christmas Eve morning off Brooks Island, not far from where the bodies of his wife and son were found.
Investigators have revealed little of their evidence publicly. But one source said Monday that police found a pair of pliers in Peterson's boat. Hair that could have been Laci's was found in the pliers, the source said.
Peterson told police he last saw his wife as she prepared to walk their dog.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press based in Virginia, said more journalists' conversations are being monitored as government agencies increasingly rely on wiretaps of people involved in investigations.
"We're warning journalists they're likely to get sucked into taps," Dalglish said.
Terry Franke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition, said he had not seen any other cases of authorities monitoring conversations of journalists.
"That's part of the risk one assumes if you're calling somebody at large," Franke said.
Said Dalglish, "I bet (authorities) were sweating it out, worrying. Think about it; if they hadn't found the body and had to send (The Bee) the notice."
Brazelton said his office only recently began conducting wiretaps and has used them mostly in drug cases.
In other developments, LA attorney Gloria Allred has been asked to represent Amber Frey -- the Fresno woman romantically linked to Scott Peterson.
Allred could not be reached for comment.
Frey's father, Ron Frey, confirmed that his family has talked to Allred, but she has yet to agree to represent Amber Frey, who could be a key prosecution witness.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin contributed to this report.