Last weekend, high-profile defense attorney Mark Geragos stood before a partisan crowd in Palm Springs and told them he became so frustrated during the Scott Peterson murder trial that he dropped an F-bomb on Judge Alfred Delucchi.
Geragos appeared on a panel supporting a documentary film titled “Trial by Fury: The People v. Scott Peterson.” The film depicts Peterson as the victim of a trial tainted by suffocating media coverage and bad judicial decisions when he was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Peterson is on death row at San Quentin. The filmmakers believe he deserves a new trial, and his appellate attorneys have filed for one.
Bee reporter Garth Stapley, who covered the trial from start to finish, attended the screening of the film and recorded the panel session on both audio and video, which are available at modbee.com.
“This wasn’t captured in the film,” Geragos told the crowd, “but when (Delucchi) took the foreperson off was the only time I told a judge to f--- (expletive) off. I literally told the judge to f--- off, I was so out of my mind.”
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Really? Geragos told the judge that? Hmmm. It certainly didn’t happen in open court. Otherwise, either Stapley or John Coté, who co-covered the trial from beginning to end, would have reported something so, well, vulgarly dramatic. I doubt Geragos and Delucchi had such a discussion over coffee, a meal or beers. A pleasant man and kind soul, Delucchi died in January 2008 and thus cannot confirm Geragos’ claim.
So it must have happened in chambers, with prosecutors also present, right? Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, a member of the prosecution team, would have been included in any such discussion. I asked her if she read Geragos’ statements in Stapley’s story, and if that event as described by Geragos happened in her presence.
“I did, and it did not,” she replied.
In fact, the F-word most fitting in this capital case is fail. Geragos motioned to have the trial moved from Modesto early in 2004 and succeeded. But when it went to Redwood City, he requested another change of venue – this time to his home city of Los Angeles. Delucchi denied the request. Fail, with a capital F.
During his opening statement in June 2004, Geragos promised jurors: “The evidence is going to show clearly, beyond any doubt, that not only was Scott not guilty, but stone-cold innocent.” He didn’t do that. Fail, with a capital F.
During more than five months of testimony, Geragos called 10 witnesses for the defense and recalled four prosecution witnesses to the stand. He made some headway with a couple of witnesses. But one of his expert witnesses, Dr. Charles March, crumbled so badly under cross-examination by prosecutor Dave Harris that March pleaded with jurors to “cut me … slack.” A great big Fail, with a capital F.
When Delucchi dismissed one juror early in the trial for being too talkative, that juror later claimed Geragos was winning the case. But Geragos set upon ridiculing the prosecutors – mocking Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso by comparing him to a “bobblehead doll” – in an attempt to discredit their case. It backfired. Fail, with a capital F.
He went light on Peterson’s girlfriend, Amber Frey, when he cross-examined her, but tried to bully Laci Peterson’s mom, Sharon Rocha, during her testimony. Fail, with a capital F.
And when the verdict came in after just eight hours of deliberations, Geragos missed it. He’d returned to Southern California, expecting a longer debate among the jurors. Co-counsel Pat Harris sat alongside Peterson when the conviction was announced. A month later, Harris – not Geragos – pleaded to the jury to spare Peterson from death row. Again, Fail with a capital F.
Geragos blames Delucchi for everything that didn’t go the defense’s way. Lawrence Gibbs, an attorney working on one of two Peterson appeals, heaped blame on Geragos in a November briefing.
In fact, Geragos suggests he, too, was a victim in this case.
“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had to sit and watch,” he said, adding that it was the worst defeat of his career.
Whether Peterson is granted a new trial remains to be seen. The appellate court will review the filings and make that determination.
But where Geragos is concerned, the most important F-word wasn’t the expletive he claims he spewed at a now-deceased judge.
No, that F-word is Fail, with a capital F.