Peterson: Preliminary Trial

June 28, 2003

DA wants TV prohibited at crucial Peterson hearing

Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton, lining up with Laci Peterson's family, wants television cameras barred from Scott Peterson's Sept. 9 preliminary hearing on double murder charges.

"A criminal trial is not something which this court should allow to be used for ratings," Brazelton wrote in an 11-page brief filed Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Peterson's defense team has not taken a formal position on the issue, but attorney Mark Geragos said in court Thursday that he may request a closed preliminary hearing -- no cameras and no reporters.

In a preliminary hearing, prosecutors need to convince the judge that they have a case worth taking to trial. The hearing would reveal at least some of the evidence against Peterson, 30, who has pleaded not guilty to killing his wife and their unborn son.

Laci Peterson's family reported her missing on Christmas Eve. Nearly four months later, the bodies of mother and fetus washed up off San Francisco Bay near an area where Scott Peterson claimed to have gone fishing Dec. 24.

He has been jailed without bail since his arrest April 18; Brazelton has said he will seek the death penalty if Peterson is convicted.

Intense media coverage led to a gag order against lawyers and prospective witnesses. Brazelton is citing the coverage as one reason to keep cameras out of the preliminary hearing.

"This case has many civilian witnesses who did not ask to become involved in the criminal justice system, nor did they ask to be subjected to the media attention this case has generated," Brazelton wrote in his brief. " To thrust nervous and unwilling victims, witnesses and others into the glaring media spotlight, and to thereafter face the subsequent fallout from such exposure, does not promote confidence in the judicial system."

Will fuel nonstop coverage

He wrote that courtroom cameras will serve only to fuel 24-hour-a-day TV coverage -- especially "in this day and age where the media has blurred, if not erased, the lines between 'news' and 'entertainment.'"

Judge Al Girolami has scheduled an Aug. 14 hearing on possible media restrictions for the preliminary hearing. Several news agencies, including The Bee, want full access and cite their responsibilities to protect the public's right to know.

Attorneys for television networks CNN and Court TV, meanwhile, have filed court papers asking to make their own case -- apart from what the print media wants -- for TV coverage.

And Laci Peterson's mother and stepfather, Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski, have written Girolami to ask that all cameras be banned from the preliminary hearing and trial. They argued that Laci's relatives and friends should be spared TV coverage of gruesome details.

"After the trial is over, others will go on with their lives, but those of us closest to Laci will be left with only our memories of her," the parents' letter says. "Please, don't let those memories be destroyed by televising the ugliness of the trial."

Media can submit arguments

In another development Friday, the 5th District Court of Appeal temporarily overruled Judge Roger M. Beauchesne's recent decision to unseal applications for search warrants. Media organizations wanted them unsealed so they could report what investigators were looking for when they searched the Petersons' home and Scott Peterson's place of business.

Beauchesne ruled to let the media see the warrants, but not immediately. Instead, he gave Scott Peterson's attorneys time to appeal to the court in Fresno, which they did.

Friday's ruling supported the appeal, and gave news organizations seven days to submit new arguments.

"And that's what we intend to do," said Joe Demma, Bee managing editor.

Bee staff writer Ron DeLacy can be reached at 984-5150 or

Coming Sunday: An informal survey by The Bee shows that Californians aren't the only Americans showing an interest in the Peterson case.

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