Court proceedings in the Scott Peterson murder case produced emotion and some action on Friday.
The victim's mother broke down and her son-in-law, the accused, wiped one eye and dabbed the other with a handkerchief during discussion of the Laci and Conner Peterson autopsy reports.
Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, started crying as attorneys sparred over leaked information from the autopsy report on Conner, the son with whom Laci was pregnant when she disappeared from her Modesto home at Christmastime.
Rocha's husband, Ron Grantski, helped her from her front-row seat and walked her out of the Stanislaus County courtroom.
Judge Al Girolami denied prosecutors' request to unseal the reports.
Also, he delayed a decision on implementing a gag order in the case that has fueled intense media coverage. Peterson has pleaded not guilty in the slayings of his wife and their unborn son, and could get the death penalty if convicted.
The district attorney's office did an about-face May 29 and asked Girolami to release the autopsy reports. The motion came after cable news network MSNBC reported some of the findings of the fetal autopsy.
Prosecutors said they want the reports out in the open because the leaked information was "skewed" for the defense.
Charity Kenyon, an attorney representing a group of newspapers, including The Bee, argued that autopsy reports are normally open to the public and should be released in this case to help counter misinformation.
"It's better for everybody for these accurate reports to be released to the public," Kenyon said.
In denying the request, Girolami noted his earlier decision to seal the reports to counter media attention that could impede a fair trial.
"The fact that somebody leaked out part of that report does not justify releasing the whole report," Girolami said.
The judge gave permission to the Contra Costa County coroner's office to issue death certificates -- and the documents came out Friday afternoon.
The certificate for Laci Peterson lists the manner of death as "homicide" and notes that the cause of death was undetermined. The fetal certificate does not list a cause of death.
Girolami instructed coroner's officials to provide all documents from the autopsies to the prosecution and defense.
The court put off until June 26 a hearing on a defense motion for sanctions against the district attorney's office for a wiretap operation. The defense sought the delay pending receipt of additional documents and recordings.
Wiretap data released
Girolami ordered the lead wiretap investigator to give to the defense all recordings and documentation, except data on calls between Peterson and journalists.
The prosecution is to get everything but the data from the journalists calls, and those between Peterson and his defense team.
Attorneys representing 22 journalists want to review their calls, asserting that the recordings are protected under state and federal law from being released to the prosecution or defense.
"The state simply cannot rely on journalists to further its case," said Rochelle Wilcox, an attorney representing 17 journalists, including four from The Bee. "These communications deserve protection."
Girolami disagreed, but delayed the release of those recordings until June 17 to allow the media time to take the issue to the state's 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno.
"We have asked our attorneys to appeal the decision," Bee Managing Editor Joe Demma said after the hearing.
A potential complication for the prosecution emerged when lead defense attorney Mark Geragos asked for the transcripts from all conferences surrounding the wiretaps.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso revealed that no court reporter was present during regular meetings between investigators, prosecutors and Judge Wray Ladine over the wiretaps.
In capital cases, state law requires all court proceedings and conferences "whether in open court, in conference in the courtroom, or in chambers" to be conducted with court reporters present.
Girolami heard arguments on a gag order under which attorneys and others connected with the case could be prohibited from talking with the media.
The judge did not betray which way he might be leaning on such an order, but he probed whether it would be feasible to allow Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey, who had a romantic relationship with Scott Peterson, to defend herself from possible character attacks.
Prosecutors argued for a partial gag, or an order that would restrict what attorneys, investigators and other principals could talk about in public.
Geragos and Kenyon said the judge should remind all attorneys of their professional obligations and leave it at that.
"I don't think a gag order is going to solve anything," Geragos said. He said such an order would prevent him or anyone else from calling journalists to set them straight on possible inaccurate reports.
Without good information, journalists would "fill the vacuum with disinformation," Geragos predicted.
Later Friday at the courthouse, another judge presumably reviewed evidence regarding what a defense attorney characterized as the "real killers."
The characterization came Tuesday as defense attorney Matthew Dalton argued against releasing pre-arrest search warrants, saying that their release could jeopardize their own investigation.
The documents are believed to outline at least part of the prosecution's case.
Prosecutors were seen entering a meeting with Geragos and another defense lawyer, Kirk McAllister, in a room near Judge Roger M. Beauchesne's chamber. The judge had agreed to review the defense claims.
Both sides refused to comment after the one-hour, closed-door meeting. Outside the courthouse, Geragos said only: "I'm just hopeful that sooner rather than later we can show that this prosecution of Scott is a great injustice."
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.
On Friday, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami:
Declined public release of autopsy reports on Laci and Conner Peterson.
Authorized the Contra Costa County coroner's office to issue death certificates.
Ordered the lead wiretap investigator to turn over most recordings and other data to the prosecution and defense, except for calls involving journalists. Also, prosecutors are not allowed to hear the calls between Scott Peterson and his defense team.
Delayed a decision on a gag order, which could prohibit attorneys and other principals from talking with the media, or restrict public comment.