A judge Wednesday ordered 175 wiretap recordings turned over to prosecutors after hearing that the bulk of the phone calls were from reporters to double-murder suspect Scott Peterson.
The recently discovered recordings, made before Peterson's arrest in April, contain no information shedding light on the high-profile case, his lawyer said.
During Wednesday's wide-ranging hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Judge Al Girolami also denied Peterson's request to see the police file from an unsolved San Francisco killing. Girolami said it was "highly speculative" the file holds information relevant to the Peterson case.
Peterson's defense attorneys had argued that the file "directly relates to identifying the actual perpetrators in the abduction and killing of Laci Peterson and her unborn son."
Scott Peterson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to charges he murdered his 27-year-old wife and their unborn child, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Peterson appeared in court in a navy blue suit. Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, and stepfather, Ron Grantski, attended the hearing, as did Scott Peterson's parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson. The Petersons apparently stayed at the Covena Avenue home where Scott and Laci Peterson lived; they were seen leaving the house early Wednesday.
During the hearing, Girolami added the 175 newfound wiretap recordings to weeks of others that involved 22 reporters, among others, and ruled that those recorded can listen to their respective conversations starting July 28. Prosecutors, who already have access to the earlier recordings, except calls between Peterson and his defense team, can listen to all but one of the new batch, Girolami ruled.
The exception is a 29-second call on Jan. 26 involving Peterson and his Modesto attorney, Kirk McAllister.
Prosecutor Rick Distaso, noting Girolami's broad gag order, asked if the judge planned to bar journalists from reporting their conversations. "I don't think I can," the judge said, but he refused to provide copies of the recordings to journalists. They will make arrangements with district attorney's office investigator Mark Jacobsen to hear the recordings.
Lead defense attorney Mark Geragos of Los Angeles downplayed the value of the newly discovered recordings, which had been trapped in a server buffer.
"I listened to as many of the media calls as I could stomach," Geragos said, referring to them as "embarrassing" to reporters.
Some of the recently discovered wiretap recordings involved journalists who weren't among those in the other batch. Under state law, the district attorney's office must notify anyone whose calls were intercepted.
"This is quite an invasion of someone's privacy to have a wiretap on someone's phone," Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said outside the courthouse as he addressed legal requirements surrounding wiretaps.
Geragos, thinking there could be even more telephone calls unknowingly captured on the wiretap servers, had asked to have his expert examine them. Girolami on Wednesday agreed and said he would likely appoint court information technician Anthony Paradiso to oversee the inspection because the servers no doubt contain unrelated recordings dealing with other criminal cases.
Defense loses bid for SF info
Defense attorneys were dealt a blow when Girolami said he would not order San Francisco authorities to hand over their file on the unsolved death of a pregnant woman whose body was found last July in San Francisco Bay.
Evelyn Hernandez, a 24-year-old single mother, disappeared in May 2002 with her 5-year-old son, Alex. Hernandez was eight months pregnant at the time.
The bodies of Laci Peterson and her son were found in April along the bay's eastern shore.
Peterson was almost eight months pregnant when she was reported missing Christmas Eve.
The defense had sought the Hernandez file, writing in court documents that there were "obvious similarities" between the cases and information in the file "may very well exonerate" Peterson.
San Francisco police, represented by the San Francisco city attorney's office, opposed turning the documents over, saying to do so would jeopardize their investigation.
Girolami provided copies of autopsy reports to both sides, noting they were no longer sealed. He also ordered 30 autopsy photos to be turned over, but delayed that ruling for 10 days to allow Hernandez's family to be consulted.
Defense attorneys were not given the remaining contents of the five binders and a manila envelope San Francisco police investigators brought. They contain information on suspects, witness statements and search warrants, San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner said.
"It's highly speculative that it could be used to assist the investigation in this case," Girolami said.
Baumgartner said outside court: "There is no showing that (the Hernandez and Peterson cases) have anything to do with each other."
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.
TV SUSPECT EXTRADITED -- A Fresno judge on Wednesday approved the extradition of a suspected murderer to Las Vegas. Perry Carl Monroe, 29, is charged in the dismemberment slaying of a hotel maid whose torso was recovered from a fishing pond near Las Vegas. He was arrested a day later in Fresno. Monroe is a resident of Alameda, an island city in San Francisco Bay. That body of water yielded the torso of Laci Peterson in April, as well as that of Evelyn Hernandez a year ago, who was eight months pregnant when she went missing in May 2002.
MANAGER DEFENDED -- Sharon Rocha, mother of Laci Peterson, reportedly asked a hotel management company to take back a Modesto hotel executive whose show of support to Rocha's family cost him his job. Brad Saltzman, former general manager of the Red Lion Hotel, turned away Scott Peterson's parents after hearing his father criticize Rocha on national television. Linquist & Craig Hotels & Resorts Inc., Saltzman's employer, forced him to resign last week, Saltzman said.
WEDNESDAY RULINGS -- Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami ordered 175 wiretap recordings turned over to prosecutors. Girolami also denied Peterson's request to see the police file from the Evelyn Hernandez killing.