Peterson: After the Trial

Peterson conviction cost at least $2.64M

Prosecutors spent $672,507 to get a death sentence for Scott Peterson, the Stanislaus County district attorney's office reported Friday.

That does not include an estimated $1 million Modesto police spent on the double-murder investigation, nor $742,000 in court costs. Taxpayers footed an additional $229,000 for Peterson's experts when he ran out of money for his defense.

Those combined costs exceed $2.64 million in public funds.

Marc Klaas, a victim rights advocate whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was murdered in 1993, noted that Peterson's prosecutors spent about what it costs to buy a couple of houses in Modesto.

"From that perspective," Klaas said, "it's money well-spent because they put a stone-cold killer behind bars for the rest of his life at worst, and at best, we'll see him get a lethal injection someday."

Peterson, 32, murdered his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner, just before Christmas 2002. A judge last week affirmed his death sentence, though appeals could delay an execution date for well more than a decade.

Officials continue to hope state lawmakers will reimburse some or all of the costs.

The prosecution's $672,500 total doesn't include salaries for three prosecutors and support staff.

It does include more than $265,000 on hotel rooms and meals for authorities, who relocated to Redwood City after a judge moved the trial in early 2004 because of heavy publicity around Modesto.

Prosecutors spent more than $90,000 on an unsuccessful bid to keep the trial here. Those payments were $61,600 to a firm specializing in public opinion research and $30,083 to a venue-change expert.

The firm, JD Franz Research of Sacramento, conducted polls on local bias against Peterson, company president Jennifer Franz said. The expert, Ebbe Ebbesen, relied on Franz's results when he argued in January 2004 against moving the trial from Modesto.

Ebbesen, a psychology professor at the University of California at San Diego, has testified dozens of times against venue-change motions. He wasn't able to convince retired Stanislaus County Judge Al Girolami that Peterson could get a fair trial here.

Those experts and others claimed more than one-third of the prosecution's costs.

For example, prosecutors paid $125,771 to trial consultant Howard Varinsky, whose main contribution was advising them on picking the jurors who eventually declared Peterson guilty and sentenced him to death.

Varinsky came highly recommended, having helped prosecutors in the San Francisco dog-mauling trial and in Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's death penalty case. He helped pick the Manhattan jury that convicted domestic diva Martha Stewart only days before he began assessing Peterson's jurors.

Phil Trompetter, a Modesto psychologist who specializes in criminal justice psychology, was paid $14,600.

Though many expense details were not available, documents revealed:

Authorities spent $235,890 to stay in Marriott hotels. They covered the cost of rooms for many of their 174 witnesses, as well.

Several witnesses received reimbursements. They include $580 to Amber Frey of Fresno, who was Peterson's girlfriend when he killed his wife.

Frey secretly taped several weeks of phone conversations with Peterson and testified for the prosecution.

$2,070 for rental cars, likely used by experts from other parts of the country and Canada.

Witnesses flew on eight airlines; American Airlines was the clear favorite.

Angelo Cuanang, an author and professional fisherman, was paid $529. He testified that Peterson, who claimed to be sturgeon fishing on the day his wife disappeared, had the wrong gear, wrong anchor and was in the wrong spot to catch sturgeon.

Micro-Chem Laboratories was paid $7,002; Forensic Medical Group received $8,350.

Alex Loya of the Stanislaus County Victim's Witness program spent $386 on gas.

A San Jose document shredding company received $127.

The highest single payment appears to be a $32,247 check to Varinsky for jury selection work in April.

The least costly covered a $2.26 charge at Kmart in April.

Jane Alexander, vice president of Bay Area-based Citizens Against Homicide, said the price to convict Peterson "is more than worth it."

"To remove this man from society is worth anything," Alexander said. "He deserves it. He's what law is written for."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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