#11) July 2003
Laci Peterson Case Information:
When: July 2003
July 1 The Modesto Bee runs an article stating that prosecution attorneys have joined Scott Peterson’s defense team in asking the Fifth District Court of Appeal to keep search warrants sealed and remove the judge, Roger Beauchesne, who ordered them opened. The Fresno Bee runs an article stating that Lt. Tom Monahan has called suggestions of a link between the Ladonna Milam and Laci Peterson murders an “absurd theory.” According to the article, Monahan told a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was so upset by the claim that he personally called the Modesto Police Department: “I wanted to explain to them there was nothing to suggest there was anything in common with these two cases.”
July 2 The Modesto Bee runs an article arguing that the Scott Peterson hearing should be open to the media and the public. The article states: “When agents of government seek to conceal a document or proceeding, the natural question is: ‘What do they want to hide?’ The case against Scott Peterson is being prosecuted in the public’s name, and the public should be able to see how it is handled.” Tim Rutten states that Amber Frey is shopping partially nude photographs of her to adult magazines for a “reported asking price” of $100,000. Gloria Allred sends a letter to the Los Angeles Times demanding “an immediate and prominent retraction” for Rutten’s comments.
July 3 Brad Saltzman is forced to resign his position as general manager of the Red Lion Hotel. The Washington Times runs an article detailing the efforts of Sharon Rocha to get the United States Senate to consider what is now being termed “Laci and Conner’s Law,” legislation that would criminalize the killing or injuring of a fetus while committing certain federal offenses against a pregnant woman. According to the article, Sharon Rocha wrote Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, urging him to support the legislation already vocally supported by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist: “If you, as Democratic leader, were also to announce your support, I believe that the bill would quickly become law. But without your support, the bill might be weighed down with controversial amendments on unrelated issues and other obstructionist tactics that could keep it from passing.” According to the article, Jay Carson stated that Daschle “believes that in crimes like this, there is more than one victim and the law should reflect that,” but could not say definitively whether Daschle supports the legislation. The article states that Democrats have previously pushed an alternative proposal that increases penalties for crimes against pregnant women but does not recognize the fetus as a second victim—a plan Sharon Rocha rejects on the grounds that such legislation “would be saying that Conner and other innocent victims like him are not really victims—indeed, that they never really existed at all.” The article quotes her as saying: “Our grandson did live. He had a name. He was loved, and his life was violently taken from him before he ever saw the sun.” Scott Peterson’s defense team files court documents claiming that, in January 2003, San Francisco Police Department investigators gave information to Modesto Police Department officers about the unsolved slaying of Evelyn Hernández, thereby making the information no longer privileged.
July 4 The Modesto Bee runs an article concerning the media coverage of the Laci Peterson case, asserting that it will only get worse. “What we have seen on our busiest court day, I think, will pale in comparison with what we will see on the preliminary hearing,” Kelly Huston says, predicting that 24 television stations and networks will descend on the courthouse for that hearing. An Associated Press report notes the differences in approach by the network news outlets.
July 6 The Modesto Bee runs a couple of stories concerning the Laci Peterson case. One article offers various legal experts providing their opinions about the gag order. The other article profiles playwright Larry Myers and his work-in-progress about the city of Modesto, tentatively titled Persons of Interest.
July 7 Mike Payton intervenes when a refueling truck stops to refill some of the media trucks outside the Stanislaus County Courthouse. Payton states that the refueling violates the California Fire Code. Media crew members argue that they routinely refuel the generators in their trucks from tankers in other cities, and also have done so in Modesto both during the Laci Peterson case and in 2001 when covering the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Lt. Tom Monahan again confirms that he contacted the Modesto Police Department after the arrest of Perry Monroe, but emphasizes there is “not a shred of evidence” linking the murder of Ladonna Milam with that of Laci Peterson.
July 8 The Modesto Bee runs an article outlining the decisions facing Al Girolami during the July 9, 2003, hearing. Lee, Jackie and Janey Peterson stay at Scott and Laci Peterson’s home.
July 9 As the day’s hearing starts, Scott Peterson arrives in the courtroom, wearing a navy blue suit. Among the attendees are Sharon Rocha, Ron Grantski and Lee and Jackie Peterson. Al Girolami orders 175 of the 176 newly discovered wiretap recordings turned over to prosecutors, noting the one exception: a conversation between Scott Peterson and Kirk McAllister. Girolami notes that most of the conversations are between Scott Peterson and reporters. Girolami rules that those recorded can listen to their respective conversations starting on July 28, 2003. Rick Distaso, noting Girolami’s broad gag order, asks if he plans to bar journalists from reporting their conversations. “I don’t think I can,” Girolami replies, but nevertheless refuses to provide copies of the recordings to reporters, who he says must make arrangements with the Office of the District Attorney to hear the tapes. Mark Geragos dismisses any value in the newly discovered recordings: “I listened to as many of the media calls as I could stomach.” Geragos asks that an expert be allowed to examine the wiretap system in case even more calls are unknowingly captured on the servers. Girolami agrees, saying he will probably appoint Anthony Paradiso to oversee the inspection. Girolami denies the defense team’s request for access to the San Francisco Police Department file on Evelyn Hernández, saying it is “highly speculative” that the file holds any information relevant to the Scott Peterson case. Girolami provides copies of the Hernández autopsy reports—no longer sealed—to the defense and the prosecution. He also orders 30 autopsy photos to be turned over, but delays that action for 10 days to allow the family of Hernández to be consulted. In a Fresno courtroom, the extradition of Perry Monroe to Nevada is approved. Larry King Live welcomes panel members Ted Rowlands, Nancy Grace, Chris Pixley, Jayne Weintraub and Jeanine Pirro, and special guest Dennis Herrera, to discuss the Laci Peterson case—specifically the defense team’s inability to access the file on Evelyn Hernández, and the ruling that prosecutors can have all but one of the 176 recordings previously “lost” in the audio buffers of the wiretap system. Herrera states concerning the decision to keep the Hernández file under wraps: “Our job was to ensure that the integrity of that investigation was not compromised, so we’re very happy with the results.”
July 10 The Modesto Bee reports that Sharon Rocha has asked Linquist and Craig Hotels and Resorts to reinstate Brad Saltzman. Michael Baden states that there does not seem to be any striking similarity in the autopsy reports of Laci Peterson and Evelyn Hernández. “There’s no evidence of disarticulation in the Hernández case,” he says. “There was intentional removal from the parts of her body, Laci’s body—the extremities and head—by a human.” Lee Peterson tells reporters that he keeps a shotgun at his bedside when staying in Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. “I’m not going to stay in that house without some kind of protection,” he says, “and I’m going to continue to take it up there.” He also reveals that Modesto Police Department officers confiscated shotguns and a handgun from his son. “He had some bird guns and a handgun. It’s not against the law. This is the United States.” Lee Peterson says that he and his wife are making mortgage payments on their son’s house and paying a swimming pool service to keep the pool in working order. He adds that Peterson family members sometimes stay at the home to perform landscaping and maintenance tasks, and to save on hotel bills.
July 16 Anne Bird states that Scott Peterson spent time with her in the month before his arrest—gardening, playing with her kids and even filing a police report about graffiti vandals in the neighborhood. Sources reveal to the Modesto Bee that Kim McGregor is the person responsible for the January 19, 2003, burglary of Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. She declines to comment on the incident or her involvement in the search for Laci Peterson: “I don’t have anything to say. I’m just a single mom. There’s a reason that stuff has not come out.”
July 17 The Modesto Bee reports that Kim McGregor was the person responsible for the January 19, 2003, burglary of Scott and Laci Peterson’s home. According to the story, she had access to the home because she was walking McKenzie. The article states that, shortly after midnight, she drank some alcohol and removed several items, including Laci Peterson’s wedding dress, but that all the items were returned and she was not formally charged. Ron Grantski confirms to the media that McGregor was among those who gathered at the Scott and Laci Peterson’s home on December 24, 2002, and that she was in the house during the first couple days of the search. The article quotes John Goold as saying, “If it is shown that there is intense interest in the house by people in the community, that’s potential evidence.” The article also reveals McGregor’s previous run-ins with law enforcement.
July 18 KTVU offers a glimpse of Scott Peterson’s life behind bars, largely through the words of fellow inmate James Soares as told to Ted Rowlands. Soares states that many of the inmates are openly hostile toward Scott Peterson, but that he feels sorry for him: “I know a lot of people will probably hate me for saying that but I feel that he’s caught up in something that’s way out of his control and that has taken on a life of its own.” Soares’ comments directly contradict statements he makes in the Globe.
July 19 The Washington Post runs an article about “Laci and Conner’s Law,” saying that support for the legislation is gaining momentum.
July 21 KRON reports that Carmen Sabatino is recommending that each media vehicle pay $250.00 per day for occupying city streets. The story states that, with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department anticipating as many as 70 media trucks, the plan could mean $17,500.00 a day for the city. The Modesto Bee runs an article outlining the pros and cons of cameras in the courtroom for the upcoming preliminary hearing. A special episode of Primetime features the Evelyn Hernández case and compares it to Laci Peterson’s.
July 22 Mark Geragos files a motion to have Scott Peterson’s preliminary hearing closed to the public, citing new evidence that may be presented that would tip off the “true killers” of Laci Peterson. “Specifically, within the case week, the defense is in receipt of discovery that is not only exculpatory, but which the defense contends totally exonerates Mr. Peterson,” Geragos writes. He states that the evidence could reveal “the true killer’s or killers’ modus operandi and provides clues as to the method of and circumstances surrounding the killings.” In the paperwork outlining the defense team’s reasons for wanting a closed hearing, Geragos contends that an open preliminary hearing would compromise his client’s right to a fair trial because of “unprecedented” media coverage of the case. John Goold tells the Associated Press that, although he has not seen the defense motion, “In my experience it’s very difficult to close a preliminary hearing.”
July 23 KTVU reports that makers of the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines changed a character’s name from “Scott Peterson” to “Scott Mason.”Due to the name’s similarity to Scott Peterson and the plot of his fiancée’s kidnapping, the character’s name was changed,” according to the Internet Movie Database. The story states that the character in the film is engaged to a woman who is kidnapped.
July 25 Al Girolami gives the defense team the right to have its experts examine the remains of Laci and Conner Peterson. Jimmy Lee says, “The only statement we’re making is that we have received the court order and we intend on complying with it.” KTVU states that the defense believes that Conner Peterson’s body holds the key to Scott Peterson’s defense, noting that they have previously claimed that there was evidence that the baby’s body “had been handled” outside the womb. Girolami also grants a request by the prosecution and the defense to postpone the preliminary from August 15 to September 9, 2003.
July 26 Gray Davis signs a bill requiring spousal notification of life insurance policies of more than $50,000.
July 28 The Modesto Bee runs an article discussing the rarity of a closed preliminary hearing. Journalists, after having made appointments with the Office of the District Attorney, begin reviewing their recorded phone conversations with Scott Peterson. The reporters sit in a small office to listen to the calls—in digital format—played on a computer.
July 29 Prosecutors report that, so far, about 30 journalists have listened to their recorded phone conversations with Scott Peterson. John Goold states that approximately 60 reporters have appointments between July 28 and July 31, 2003, to listen to their calls. Patrick Giblin and three other Bee reporters listen to calls. Giblin listens to a recording that indicates Scott Peterson listened to an entire message on February 3, 2003, when Giblin was seeking comment before the newspaper ran an article about the trade-in of the Laci Peterson’s primary vehicle. According to Giblin, the message was apparently picked up about two minutes after it was left: “You could hear background noise. It was noisy, and you could hear glasses clinking.” Mark Geragos writes Rick Distaso, suggesting that the prosecutor had previously indicated that they intend “to call witnesses at the preliminary hearing who will testify as to human scent-tracking dogs.”
July 30 The Fifth District Court of Appeal overturns Roger Beauchesne’s decision to unseal eight search warrants issued during the early investigation—a defeat for media attorneys who had argued that the documents should be made public. “How a fair trial for both parties—and particularly how an untainted jury could be found anywhere—in the aftermath of such a frenzy escapes us,” writes a unanimous three-judge panel in a 10-page ruling. The tone is sarcastic at times: “So far as we are aware, the presumption of innocence is still a fundamental constitutional right.” The court turns down a request by Mark Geragos, and endorsed by prosecutors, to have Beauchesne removed from the case. “We’re disappointed, that’s no surprise,” Charity Kenyon says. “Obviously, the Superior Court judge and the court of appeals are seeing things differently.” Kenyon files papers with Stanislaus County Superior Court arguing that the preliminary hearing should remain open to the public. “Now is the time to protect the public’s right of access to these proceedings,” she writes. She argues that, with no jury present at a preliminary hearing, “public scrutiny is a primary safeguard of the defendant’s rights.” The U.S. Postal Service receives an expiration notice concerning a 6-month contract for a private mail box. A postal employee looks at the application and sees that the box had been rented by Scott Peterson on December 23, 2002. The postal service relays news of the discovery to a postal inspector, who instructs employees to contact prosecutors.
July 31 A coalition of newspapers files to keep the preliminary hearing open to the media. “The value of openness lies in the fact that people not actually attending trials can have confidence that standards of fairness are being observed,” Charity Kenyon writes. “Public scrutiny is a primary safeguard of the defendant’s rights.”