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#17) January 2004

Laci Peterson Case Information:

When: January 2004

 

January 2 Jim Brazelton and David Harris submit a written motion with the Stanislaus County Superior Court, asking that a judge reject Scott Peterson’s defense team’s change-of-venue motion. The 20-page filing argues that any adverse publicity in the case is the fault of the Scott Peterson and his own attorneys. “The defense has fueled the interest of the media with accusations of Satanist involvement and a ‘mystery woman’ witness,” the motion contends. “It would be absurd to reward the defense by granting a change of venue for their conduct that has caused much of the publicity of which they complain,” Dave Harris writes. He notes that Mark Geragos spoke about the case before and after he became Scott Peterson’s attorney, and that daily “media grandstanding” on “the courthouse steps promising to prove the defendant’s innocence and produce the real killers” fueled the media coverage that Geragos now is protesting. Brazelton charges that it was the defendant who in large measure “caused and perpetuated” the media firestorm.”During the investigation the defendant went before the national media with his family to make pleas for the safe return of his wife and unborn child,” Brazelton writes. “Early in the interviews the defendant stirred the media’s interest by dodging questions and speaking fondly of his mistress.” Although agreeing with the contention made by Geragos that pretrial publicity has been “widespread and pervasive,” the prosecution’s filing states that the defense “has failed to prove that jurors in any other county would view this case differently.” He compares the case to the trial of Charles Manson, “where a change of venue was denied because there was no place to go” and states, “The defendant has proven that ‘pretrial publicity has been geographically widespread and pervasive’ and has failed to prove that jurors in any other county would view this case differently.” As an alternative, the prosecution asks the court to proceed with jury selection and eliminate biased potential jurors through the process of voir dire even though they may be aware of the case. “The extent of coverage in any given case, even if extensive and widespread, does not give rise to a presumption of prejudice to the defendant,” the motion says. “To require jurors to be ignorant of the case is not the law.” Asked to respond, Geragos states to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The prosecution has held many more press conferences on the courthouse steps than I. I’m sure they’d prefer me not to defend my client, but I’m going to continue to vigorously defend him.” The Modesto Bee runs an article entitled “Will Frey Pregnancy Affect Trial?” that gathers the opinions of experts on whether Amber Frey’s pregnancy will hurt or help Scott Peterson’s case. Frequent commentators Harland Braun, Ernie Spokes, Bernie Grimm, Jeanette Sereno and Stephen Lubet all weigh in on the delicate condition of the potential witness and how it could affect strategy.

January 4 The Modesto Bee reports on another survey conducted by Stephen Schoenthaler that contradicts the prosecution’s argument that moving Scott Peterson’s trial is pointless because publicity on the case has spread statewide. “The theory that it’s equal everywhere is wrong,” Schoenthaler states in the article. According to his latest survey, nearly 69 percent of Stanislaus County respondents said they have decided Scott Peterson is guilty, a stark contrast to the Ebbe Ebbesen survey cited by prosecutors. “In my survey, only 9 percent said they knew enough to say Scott was guilty,” Ebbesen remarks. “Clearly either time heals all wounds, the media coverage of the case has changed or the responses one obtains depend on how the question is framed.” According to the story, Schoenthaler oversaw 65 graduate and undergraduate students who randomly interviewed people by telephone in coming up with his new figures.

January 5 Dave Harris files a court document seeking to allow Steven Todd to testify as a witness against Scott Peterson. Speculation about what Todd can bring to the case range from him being a witness of Scott Peterson’s activities to simply an example that investigators did not focus on “the husband” from the beginning of the case, as the defense team claims. In the request, prosecutors call Todd a “necessary and material witness,” and ask that he be moved from the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy to the Stanislaus County Jail for the duration of Scott Peterson’s trial. Al Girolami orders California state prison officials to transfer Todd.

January 6 Mark Geragos files paperwork claiming that Scott Peterson’s home was “vandalized on at least two occasions,” showing evidence of public animosity “obvious to any breathing human being in Stanislaus County.” The document states that “few defendants in recent history have been as demonized as Scott Peterson,” noting that a “hostile press” has portrayed him as an “adulterous fertilizer salesman in dire financial difficulty who is an outsider to Modesto” who has victimized “a beautiful daughter of Modesto, with good looks and an infectious smile.” Geragos also questions the prosecution’s logic of keeping the trial in Stanislaus County: “The prosecution now essentially contends that since Mr. Peterson cannot get a fair trial anywhere, he might as well be tried and hung in Stanislaus County.” Citing the trial of Charles Manson—the same case that Dave Harris used to prove a point earlier in the week—Geragos states that “in a case of massive publicity, Los Angeles County will necessarily always be the venue of choice since the adversities of publicity are offset by a trial being conducted in a populous metropolitan area.” Geragos claims the prosecution, not the defense, started the media parade. “The police orchestrated a press conference starring Amber Frey that was carried live on television in January, almost four full months before Scott was even arrested let alone arraigned in this matter,” Geragos writes. “Before the current defense team was in place, Modesto police had held at least six televised press conferences.” He blames at least one prominent media leak on the prosecution: “Most disgracefully, as recently as two weeks ago, an actual transcript of an interview between Modesto police and Mr. Peterson was leaked to the media by the prosecution.” Geragos cracks that Brazelton’s claims “could only be made from one suffering from some sort of institutional delusion or short-term memory loss.” Prosecutors fire back with a brief of their own, arguing that Geragos has “hurled invectives and accusations in an attempt to inflame the court.” Brazelton angrily denies the charges that the prosecution leaked documents. “It should be noted that the publication that received this document showed two photographs of the document, both of which clearly hide the lower right corner of the document—the place where the traditional discovery stamp is placed on documents released to the defense,” he states. The prosecution’s document claims that a recent survey done by Stephen Schoenthaler is inadmissible. Dave Harris asks the court to “require the defense to produce admissible evidence to support his motion” and defends the Ebbe Ebbesen survey, which suggests that local jurors “can keep an open mind and set aside whatever they know and feel about this case.” Although it is not supposed to be a consideration, the cost of moving the trial is part of the controversy. Geragos charges that prosecutors deliberately padded their witness list to 400 names. “The prosecution conveniently listed the witnesses’ locales, so as to further mislead the court with phantom costs,” Geragos argues. The Modesto Bee runs an article on Dave Cogdill, who introduced Assembly Bill 1083, prohibiting persons from obtaining insurance polices of more than $50,000 on their spouses without spousal consent. According to the article, the bill was inspired by news reports that Scott Peterson had taken out insurance on his wife without her knowledge, but the lawmaker later suffered criticism when it was revealed that he relied on false rumors and inside information about the Laci Peterson case to push for the law.

January 7 Rick Distaso files paperwork in Stanislaus County Superior Court arguing against dismissing the charges against Scott Peterson. Distaso writes that there is no legal requirement to show the cause of death to prove a murder has taken place. “If that were the case, it would foreclose prosecution of any murder where the body was too decomposed to determine the cause of death,” Distaso says. “It is well established that the prosecution does not even have to produce a body in order to successfully prosecute a murder.”

January 8 A change-of-venue hearing before Al Girolami begins at 9:30 a.m. Scott Peterson, sporting a new haircut, wears a khaki suit and a cream tie. As he enters the courtroom, he smiles at Lee, Jackie and Janey Peterson. According to a Court TV account, he seems “relaxed and confident.” Prosecutors attempt to persuade Girolami to reverse an earlier, tentative decision to change the venue. In remarks that within hours will prove prophetic, Dave Harris questions the wisdom of basing the decision on student-supplied numbers via professor Stephen Schoenthaler. “Is it possible that college students went home and simply made these numbers up?” I think there is a significant likelihood of that.” Harris suggests that Schoenthaler is someone out to make a name for himself using unreliable data. “You have to ask yourself what else is wrong with this when you ask college students for credit to go back to their house or their dorms to make long-distance calls,” Harris charges. The prosecution also predicts that the publicity generated in Modesto will follow Scott Peterson to a new trial location. “The press is not going to go away. It’s never going to go away,” Harris contends. “By changing the venue, we take away the voice of the community letting them decide this particular case.” Ebbe Ebbesen, called as a witness, states that “it would be very easy to get a fair jury here.” However, his testimony is undermined during cross-examination by Geragos, who calls Ebbesen a “witness of choice” for the prosecution: Ebbesen reveals he has testified in such hearings more than 20 times and has never recommended a change of venue. At one point, Geragos mocks Ebbesen for his lack of legal expertise. “How many defense cases have you tried?” Geragos asks. “Oh, I forgot, you’re not a lawyer. How many episodes of Law and Order did you watch?” The questions prompt Girolami to chastise Geragos. Geragos blast back at the prosecution, who two days earlier accused the defense team of orchestrating a leak to the National Enquirer, citing the strategic covering of the lower right corner of the document photographs as proof. “What Mr. Harris doesn’t realize is that the lower right-hand corner on my defense discovery doesn’t have anything in it,” Geragos counters. “In fact, the reason I know that this is a police leak is because the numbering system that is released to the defense is not on the top. I know that that came—for a fact that that came—from the police. And the police have done this week in, week out.” After the final arguments, Girolami rules that the trial must be moved. “Despite the court’s best efforts, the nature and extent of the publicity this case has received has rendered Stanislaus County an inappropriate venue,” he states. “There’s a reasonable likelihood that in the absence of a change of venue, the defendant would not be tried by a fair and impartial jury.” Girolami notes that, although most media accounts were factual, the sheer amount of coverage made it too likely that a local jury would “base its decision on some facts learned outside the courtroom.” He notes that many local residents took part in searches and felt a bond to Laci Peterson. “What is unique to Stanislaus County is that some jurors might view the victim as their own,” he suggests. Girolami points out a survey by Stephen Schoenthaler showing 69 percent of Stanislaus County’s residents had already decided that Scott Peterson was guilty. Girolami also says he relied on his own observations. “In my over 30 years in this community, I have not seen anything like the publicity this case has generated,” he remarks. When asked by Girolami to list his top three choices for new venues, Mark Geragos replies, “L.A, L.A. and L.A.,” drawing laughter from Scott Peterson and others. Geragos then provides a more traditional list to Girolami: Los Angeles, Orange and Alameda counties. Prosecutors list Santa Clara and San Mateo counties as their top picks. Girolami confesses he is not leaning toward moving the trial to Los Angeles County, but wants it to be within driving distance of Stanislaus County so there is minimal inconvenience to witnesses. “Better one person be inconvenienced than a whole lot of others,” he states. He names Santa Clara, San Mateo and Alameda counties as contenders, and says that he will suggest these to the Judicial Council of California, which will weigh the choices. “The court has taken the first step toward ensuring a fair trial in this case, and I think that is something that everyone is interested in doing except the prosecution,” Mark Geragos says after the ruling. John Goold is philosophical. “It’s one more ruling, and there will be a lot more rulings as time goes on,” he says. Goold confirms that January 26, 2004, is still the date for Scott Peterson’s trial to begin. “He has not waived time,” Goold says. “We’re planning on the case going on the 26th.” Goold dismisses arguments over leaks to the National Enquirer. “I don’t see how you can draw any conclusions from anything that’s put in the National Enquirer,” he says. When asked if he knows whether the documents are being leaked by police or the defense team, he says, “I would love to reply to that, but I think the protective order stops me from doing so.” A representative of ABC turns over to prosecutors a videotape of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Scott Peterson. Peterson’s defense requested unedited copies of the interview, but a lawyer for ABC said the network would fight release of that material. Just before 5:00 p.m., Girolami finds out that six senior California State University, Stanislaus, students have admitted to fabricating survey results that factored into his decision to move the trial. “We falsified the info,” says an anonymous 20-year-old criminal justice student. “The stuff we submitted wasn’t true.” Through a court intermediary, Girolami refuses to comment on the revelation. But reporters do get a reaction at the Office of the District Attorney. “Oh, my God,” Goold says when informed of the students’ claims. “It certainly sounds like this would affect the underpinnings of the judge’s decision.” Geragos, not surprisingly, approaches the problem from a different angle. “Hypothetically speaking, one should never put any credence in anonymous sources,” he says. Schoenthaler, who conducted the survey using student labor, is also contacted by reporters. “I’m stunned and I find it hard to believe,” he says. “It seems impossible that I could have missed something like that.” Late in the day, Mike Tozzi confirms for reporters that Girolami’s venue proposals have already been forwarded to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts in preparation for a January 20, 2004, hearing in which the judge will render a final decision on the trial’s location.

January 9 The Modesto Bee reports on the revelation that California State University, Stanislaus, students admitted to fabricating survey results that were presented before Al Girolami when he was deciding on a change of venue for Scott Peterson’s trial. The article reports on eight students who agreed to provide information anonymously. In the article, the students say they made up survey answers because real answers were difficult or too expensive to obtain. The students complain that they were required to pay out-of-pocket for lengthy long-distance phone calls required to get survey responses. One student reports that she struggled to complete half of her required surveys, then gave up and faked the rest. Another says she did not have the resources to do the survey, so she simply failed to complete it, even though it counted for 20 percent of her course grade. Three of the students admit that they surveyed friends and relatives—a violation of survey ethics. The students say they fabricated their “results” in accordance with the hypothesis presented to them by Stephen Schoenthaler: People outside of the Modesto area will know less about the Scott Peterson case. “You just make it up,” says one. Another complaint about the survey is that it was assigned just two days before Thanksgiving break. “It’s just an asinine thing to make a student do a week before finals,” a 22-year-old student contends. Asked for a response, Schoenthaler says he required students to include the phone numbers they supposedly called, but never verified the numbers by calling them again. In his defense, he says that formulas developed to detect fraud did not show anything unusual about the results. Reporters from the Modesto Bee challenge him to call the numbers provided by students, but he declines, stating that the university wants the numbers as part of an official investigation.

January 10 Prosecutors file court documents showing that they intend to introduce an edited recording of Laci Peterson’s memorial service as evidence to support the death penalty if Scott Peterson is convicted. According to the papers, the service demonstrates “the impact that Laci and Conner Peterson’s murders had on their immediate family members and the local community.” In arguing for the death penalty, prosecutors say they intend to introduce evidence that Scott Peterson planned the murders, was preparing to flee when arrested, attacked an “especially vulnerable” victim, and added insult by withholding “knowledge from distraught family members” about the murders and the location of the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson. Prosecutors also announce that they are seeking to speak with California State University, Stanislaus, students who admitted fabricating telephone survey data used by the defense team. “We are interested in not seeing anything false put before the court,” John Goold states. Stephen Schoenthaler tells reporters that he needs more information to determine whether the claims of his students are true. “I need to know more than I know now,” he says. He confirms that he did not follow a federal mandate to alert the university’s Institutional Review Board in advance that students would be conducting the survey, claiming that his polls are exempt because respondents are not quizzed on their own behavior or subjected to embarrassment—an interpretation that was dismissed as erroneous by Diana Demetrulias. Ronda Swenson comes forward to say that she completed the assignment without cheating, and another student, requesting anonymity, also denies faking the results. “Life sucks, but hey, who said school was supposed to be easy?” she says. “It’s supposed to be a learning process.” One of the seven unidentified students who said the day before that they falsified results states, “I’m really disappointed in the school. They never said how Dr. Schoenthaler didn’t have permission to do this, and they seemed more upset with the students. It wasn’t an approved assignment.”

January 11 The Modesto Bee releases an article entitled “Costly Trials Under the Gun” in which lawmakers and experts discuss the potential cost of prosecuting Scott Peterson and who will pay for it. “You don’t want to put a price tag on justice,” Roy Wasden says. “You want to have the resources to care for and follow up on these cases.” Darryl Steinberg, chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and Dede Alpert, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, disagree. Alpert is particularly critical of local law enforcement officials’ citing an exemption from open-records laws and refusing to submit a line-item cost report even as they are asking the state to foot the bill. Terry Francke agrees. “They have a lot of chutzpah coming to the Legislature asking for a bailout when they won’t do a line-item justification,” he says. According to the story, Jeff Denham and Dave Cogdill are still in Wasden’s corner, saying they will keep pushing for funding. “It’s similar to a forest fire,” Cogdill says. “When it happens, it happens. You have to deal with it, you have to spend whatever it takes to see to it, that, in this case, that justice is served—and that can be very expensive.”

January 12 In a Court TV article, John Goold says the Office of the District Attorney is still attempting to speak with California State University, Stanislaus, students who may have fabricated survey results that were presented before Al Girolami. “We’re working on it,” he says. Stephen Schoenthaler is contacted by reporters concerning another trial in which his survey data was used, with data collected not by his students but by a private company owned by one of his students—a connection he calls “irrelevant.” Paul O’Brien and other professors write a letter to administrators, urging them not to punish the students for “poor judgment in the face of overwhelming difficulties.” In the letter, the professors argue that the students were simply “trapped in an inappropriate, unreasonable and unduly burdensome situation.”

January 13 The Judicial Council of California announces that the Scott Peterson trial can be moved to Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo or Orange counties. Mike Tozzi says the call will be Al Girolami’s. “The decision is ultimately his,” Tozzi says. Officials from the four possible relocation sites speak to the media about why their site should or should not be considered. The Modesto Bee reports that the scandal involving Stephen Schoenthaler’s survey about the Scott Peterson case has thrown into question his contributions to a case in Fresno County. “We’re looking into what’s happening in Stanislaus County right now, as it might affect our case,” says Peter Jones. The article also quotes from Elizabeth Martin, president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, whose standards warn against “inadequate supervision, lack of concern about interviewer motivation, poor quality control, inadequate compensation, excessive workload and off-site isolation of interviewers” and call for verification of results by recontacting 5 to 15 percent of survey respondents. Chris Barnes says the questionable poll “is an amazing event in our industry” because “it’s just horrible.”

January 14 Marie Silveira presides over a hearing to determine if Al Girolami was correct in his finding that there was enough evidence to hold Scott Peterson for trial. Although release of Scott Peterson was widely considered to be a long shot at best, the hearing provides an opportunity for both sides to give context to evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing. Mark Geragos argues that witnesses who saw Laci Peterson after Scott Peterson had left town, and suspicious people seen in neighborhood parks about the same time, point to his clients innocence. “The most likely thing is she was abducted, and she was abducted by someone other than my client, and she was abducted while walking her dog,” Geragos tells the court. He contends that an examination of Conner Peterson’s body showed a developmental age between 33 and 39 weeks, even though Laci Peterson’s obstetrician had determined she was just 32 weeks pregnant at the time of her reported disappearance—proving again that Scott Peterson, under heavy surveillance during the weeks after the disappearance, could not have been the culprit. Noting that Conner Peterson’s body was found with knotted tape around the neck, Geragos suggests that the likely explanation for the tape is that the body was disposed of in a plastic bag. “That’s the only thing that makes any sense,” he says, explaining that it was this bag, not Laci Peterson’s womb, that kept Conner Peterson’s body from decomposing as much as his mother’s. Noting that the prosecution failed during the preliminary hearing to present a cause of death, place of death or an exact time of death, Geragos quips, “What you can boil this down to is it’s a prosecution without a theory.” Rick Distaso says any suggestion that Laci Peterson was not murdered is “ludicrous” because “people don’t wrap themselves in duct tape and then go jump into San Francisco Bay in the middle of winter.” Distaso pokes holes in Scott Peterson’s alibi that he decided on the morning of Laci Peterson’s reported disappearance to drive nearly 90 miles to go fishing in the windswept San Francisco Bay because it was too cold to play golf in Modesto. Who in their right mind does that?” Distaso asks. Distaso points out that that evidence, combined with Scott Peterson’s alibi, provides only about 10 minutes for Laci Peterson to finish mopping the floor, put on her shoes, walk McKenzie and be abducted. “All these things are impossible,” Distaso argues. “If those things are impossible, then this man murdered Laci Peterson.” After hearing about 30 minutes of argument, Marie Silveira denies the dismissal motion filed by Mark Geragos. Responding to a prosecution subpoena, Stephen Schoenthaler appears in court with personal attorney Ernie Spokes, Diana Demetrulias and university attorney Karen Carr. Silveira states that she does not have jurisdiction over the matter of Schoenthaler‘s controversial survey, and sends the dispute back to Girolami. She orders Schoenthaler to appear during the change-of-venue hearing scheduled for January 20, 2004. Citing student confidentiality laws and a desire not to interfere with a California State University, Stanislaus, investigation, Spokes refuses to hand over documents related to the survey. Geragos speculates that one of Schoenthaler‘s students who is an intern in the Office of the District Attorney is behind the rush of student confessions. He and Spokes argue that prosecutors abused their subpoena power by requiring Schoenthaler at a hearing that had nothing to do with the survey. Dave Harris counters that Al Girolami has been on vacation and inaccessible. The Modesto Bee reports than a total of nine students have now admitted to falsifying results in Schoenthaler‘s survey. After the hearing, Joe Peterson speaks with reporters, saying that the Peterson family, even though they knew realistically that there was a very slim chance, had hoped for a dismissal. “We always do,” he says. “We didn’t expect her to rule differently, but, you know, that was our hope.” He says that he has not discussed the legal proceedings with his brother. “We don’t go into that,” he says. “The truth will come out, and it’s just a matter of time.” Schoenthaler’s lawyer, Ernie Spokes of Modesto, refused to immediately give authorities documents related to the survey. He cited student confidentiality laws and a desire not to interfere with a university investigation. Schoenthaler begins to speak to the media, saying, “There are two sides to every story,” but Spokes advises him to provide no further comment, saying, “Now is not the time.” Spokes attempts to shift blame to the students, saying those found guilty of academic fraud should get “a swift boot out the door.” He says that Schoenthaler “is terribly devastated that students would embarrass him, this university and the entire polling industry.”

January 15 Always showing up with an interesting, if not concise, headline, the New York Post sums up the previous day’s events with, “Laci Judge Denies Scott Bid to Ax Trial.”

January 16 In court documents, prosecutors formally declare that they prefer Scott Peterson’s trial be moved to Santa Clara County if Al Girolami “does not reconsider Sacramento,” an event made less unlikely by revelations about Stephen Schoenthaler‘s survey. Prosecutors list San Mateo County as their second choice, followed by Alameda County. They argue that Orange County should not be considered by the judge because it is “cost prohibitive,” noting that the cost of flying “roughly 175 witnesses” there would range between $33,950 and $96,250, and is so far away as to “pose an undue hardship to witnesses and citizens of Stanislaus County.”

January 18 The Modesto Bee reports that businesses located in the possible venues for Scott Peterson’s trial are busy promoting themselves and their area, hoping to benefit from the expected economic boost the trial will bring. Representatives from Radisson Villa Hotel in San Mateo and the Suite America chain report contacting those close to the case, hoping to do business. The article puts the potential benefits in perspective: If a hotel were to rent 80 rooms at $80 a night for the duration of a 6-month trial, it would reap $1.15 million in revenue. In a separate article, the Modesto Bee reports that Mark Geragos is to represent Jeffrey Hambarian in a trial scheduled to begin the same day as Scott Peterson’s. The New York Post reports that Dave Harris has said he is bringing in a former employee of Stephen Schoenthaler‘s who will testify that the professor falsified data on previous studies.

January 19 The New York Times releases an article containing interviews with representatives of visitors bureaus in Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

January 20 At 9:00 a.m., a change-of-venue hearing begins before Al Girolami. Prosecutors ask the judge to reconsider moving Scott Peterson’s trial, citing the revelation of falsified survey data. They state that they have a witness who will testify that Stephen Schoenthaler asked her to falsify data on a research project in 1991. Girolami asks if they have been able to locate any of the students who took part in the questionable survey. They say they have not, because Schoenthaler has refused to turn over a list of the participating students, and they ask Girolami to order him to do so. Girolami replies that he will not, and adds that the investigation of Schoenthaler should be conducted by California State University, Stanislaus. Girolami says that the survey “entered very little” in his decision to move the trial, and rules that a change of venue is still needed. “I have moved venue mainly because of the extent of media coverage in this area and the amount of community involvement,” Girolami explains. Among the four counties offered by the Judicial Council of California, the prosecution argues for Santa Clara County and Mark Geragos contends for Orange County. Geragos points out that Lee and Jackie Peterson have “saved the taxpayers a seven-figure sum, at least” by agreeing to fund their son’s defense, and asks Girolami to consider this fact and select a venue that is cheaper for the defendant’s family. Dave Harris objects to the mention of the Peterson family finances, arguing that the defense team brings up the specter of public money whenever “the court doesn’t give them their way.” Geragos also claims that Jackie Peterson is on a waiting list for an organ transplant, and that having the trial in Orange County would be more convenient for her. “Orange County has no negatives,” he opines. Santa Clara County is ultimately rejected because conflicts with other proceedings would prevent a trial from starting there until March 1, 2004. Alameda County is seen to have a similar problem with an immediate start. Girolami rules for San Mateo County, the second choice of both the prosecution and the defense. “The security is better in San Mateo County,” Girolami states. “The convenience of the witnesses factors in choosing that over Orange County. It is very important that they have the necessary staff on site. I’m confident we can get a fair and impartial jury in San Mateo County.” Girolami also says he would prefer to not hear the case, and will only follow the trial if the Administrative Office of Courts is unable to appoint another judge. “If there’s a judge available, I’m not going on the road,” he states. The decision seems to disappoint Geragos, who says he is pleased with San Mateo County but still wants Girolami. “I just think it would be a waste of judicial resources to have some other judge try to get up to speed at this point,” he explains outside the courtroom. He says he hopes the Administrative Office of the Courts will “let Judge Girolami take a road trip.” Rick Distaso tells Girolami that the Office of the District Attorney will need two weeks to move its operation to Redwood City in San Mateo County. Geragos responds that, although his client is not waiving his right to a speedy trial, the defense “would try to accommodate” the requested delay. Despite Distaso’s plea for a two-week delay, John Goold insists after the hearing, “We’re ready to go on Monday, and that’s what we’re planning on.” Citing the gag order, he declines to comment on the selection of San Mateo County or Girolami’s decision not to travel with the case. Lee Peterson expresses that he is happy for his son’s sake that the case is being moved from Stanislaus County, but agrees with Geragos that relocating to San Mateo County is “not going to help” the burdened Peterson family members. Jackie Peterson says concerning the trial, “We are happy to have it wherever they can find a fair jury.” She refuses to reveal what organ she needs. “I don’t want to talk about that right now,” she explains. “This is about clearing Scott’s name. I hope I live long enough to see that take place.” When asked by a reporter why he wants a speedy trial, Geragos counters with another question: “Why do you want me to waive time?” Ron Grantski also notes that he and Sharon Rocha face a long drive and a long trial. “There’s no way one of us or both of us aren’t going to be at the trial, one way or the other,” he states. “This is all new to us,” he continues. “We’re still missing Laci. It was hard during the holidays for the whole family. We spent most of our time reflecting. When it comes to this part now, we want it to proceed. Hopefully, it will start soon.” California State University, Stanislaus, officials say they are continuing their investigation into the survey scandal, targeting Schoenthaler and at least 65 criminal justice students. “There is nothing I would like to deliver more than a quick, appropriate, fair action,” Marvalene Hughes states. Concerning Schoenthaler, Goold states the obvious—the professor’s research work will not be looked at in the same way from now on. “It’ll certainly be an issue,” Goold says, “if he volunteers his service as an expert in future cases.” Following the ruling by Girolami, members of the media tour the courtroom in Redwood City. Meanwhile, in Redwood City, Mark Forcum and his staff begin to prepare summonses to send out to potential jurors. “It’s a really nice letter that tells them that they can bring laptops, where to find parking, how to get a parking permit and how to check the Web site,” he later tells reporters. Anne LeClair tells reporters that she and her staff at San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau watched Girolami’s change-of-venue decision on television and were “screaming with great excitement” when the decision was made. She says they were “ecstatic” over the choice and that it was “wonderful” that the trial was coming to San Mateo County.

January 21 Ronald George appoints Richard Arnason to be the judge at Scott Peterson’s trial. Rick Distaso files court papers arguing that Dale Pennington hypnotized Kristen Dempewolf following state guidelines. John Goold visits Redwood City. Don Horsley tells reporters that Scott Peterson will be housed in a 7-foot-by-10-foot cell in near-solitary confinement, having contact only with the two deputies on duty. “Right now, he plays chess through the bars of his cell with other prisoners—that can’t happen here,” Horsley says. Jerry Hill calls Anne LeClair to express concern over her public glee at the arrival of the Scott Peterson trial. The San Mateo County Times releases an article entitled “Attention Is Not a New Thing,” which summarizes some of the more sensational cases to have been tried in San Mateo County over the years.

January 22 Rick Distaso files a two-sentence peremptory challenge to the appointment of Richard Arnason, stating that he “is prejudiced against the interest of the party” to the extent that the prosecution cannot get “a fair and impartial hearing.” Neither Arnason nor prosecutors comment on the filing, but observers point out that, in three of Arnason’s most celebrated recent cases, he vacated a jury’s death penalty ruling, refused to invoke California’s “three strikes, you’re out” law and later declined to try two high school football players as adults for multiple sexual assaults, saying that the state’s Proposition 21 law violated its constitution. Lynn Holton states that Ronald George carefully considered the appointment of Arnason and would give the same amount of thought to his replacement. “Therefore, he will not be making his selection until next week, but he is already starting to consider other judges,” she says. “Of course they didn’t want him,” Mark Geragos states concerning the challenge to Arnason. “He has a reputation for fairness. By reputation, he’s legendary. He literally is considered one of the foremost trial judges in the state, and has been for decades.” Bronwyn Hogan and other San Mateo County officials visit Modesto. Mike Tozzi meets with Stanislaus County court officials to discuss transferring the case to San Mateo County. At a news conference to explain plans for dealing with the expected crush of media during Scott Peterson’s trial, Sgt. Dan Mulholland states there are to be two lanes of parking along the curb next to the government center, but no other lane closures. Concerning the traffic, he is optimistic. “I think at some point it’s going to plateau,” he says. “People will get used to the changes in the roadway.” Marvalene Hughes issues a statement concerning embattled professor Stephen Schoenthaler and allegations of cheating at California State University, Stanislaus. “Two strands of investigation are underway,” Hughes states. “One examines issues involving the faculty member, and the second examines issues involving the students. Each investigation requires that we respect all parties’ rights to due process. If the university determines the faculty member is in noncompliance with policy, actions could include reprimand, demotion, suspension without pay, or dismissal. If a preponderance of evidence establishes a violation of the student code of conduct, the Judicial Affairs staff at the university meets with the student to establish an appropriate sanction that may include probation, suspension or expulsion.” She emphasizes that a thorough investigation will take time, and asks for understanding. “Due process is a legal concept that undergirds our democracy,” she says. “More often than not, it requires patience. A rush to judgment is a disservice to parties involved and to the community. We ask for the community’s patience as we conduct our investigations.” The Modesto Bee releases an article entitled “Court Document Cites Allegation on Past Research,” which delves deeply into the past of Schoenthaler. The article notes that the one person who has stepped up to tell Kevin Bertalotto that Schoenthaler had previously published reports based on questionable data is “Justine Pinto” (reportedly her maiden name), but explains that her allegation is just the latest blow in a battle between the two that goes back to at least 1990. According to the story, at that time Pinto and another researcher accused Schoenthaler of sexual harassment, causing him to be demoted from full to associate professor. In the account, Ernie Spokes says Pinto was fired for falsifying results, but she says she left “about 1991,” and that it was Schoenthaler who ordered her to omit results that did not square with his hypothesis. The story says that Schoenthaler was exonerated and reinstated in 1993, but that the squabble escalated when he filed a $3 million lawsuit against California State University, Stanislaus, and the two researchers in 1996, saying they hurt his research grant and chance at a Nobel Prize by telling others about the sexual harassment allegations. The suit against Pinto, the Bee notes, was dismissed a year later. The Modesto Bee also publishes an editorial by Cecil Rhodes about the controversial survey and its aftermath in which he states, “To the students’ credit, when they saw the unsanctioned survey in the media, they knew they had to do the right thing despite the peril such righteous actions could bring them.” A humbled Anne LeClair says that she and her staff “feel terrible for Laci’s family.”

January 23 Appearing before Al Girolami, Mark Geragos challenges the prosecutorial motion to remove Richard Arnason as judge. Geragos argues that even though the peremptory challenge of Arnason was filed the day after he was appointed, it was untimely because a hearing had already been scheduled. “Once a matter is sent out to a court, you no longer have the opportunity to challenge the judge,” he says. Geragos contends that the prosecution used up its one peremptory challenge when it moved to have Girolami blocked from hearing a related civil case. Geragos further states that he does not believe Ronald George had the authority to assign a judge at all, insisting that the decision should have been made by the presiding judge in San Mateo County. He tempers his remarks by saying George is “like the 800-pound gorilla—he can do what he wants,” and adding that he does not “want to tangle with Chief Justice George.” Geragos accuses George of “micromanaging” the case. Rick Distaso dismisses the defense argument. “I don’t think anything improper has happened,” he tells the court. “Of course, if the defendant hadn’t made his motion, he could have his trial Monday in Stanislaus County.” Girolami calls for a 30-minute recess, after which he says, “I don’t feel confident handling the issue” of whether Arnason was legally removed. Girolami rules the matter will be decided on February 2, 2004—either by Arnason, a San Mateo County Superior Court judge or a new judge appointed by George. Girolami even hints that he may stay with the case if asked to do so by George. “I’m waiting for a future order from on high,” he says. “I can’t say whether it’s another judge or me.” Geragos also asks that Scott Peterson be allowed to have a laptop computer, saying that it would be difficult to make photocopies of the 35,000 pages of discovery generated by the case. Girolami declines the request. Geragos praises Girolami for his handling of the case, prompting an apparently embarrassed judge to respond, “I”ll try not to remember that in case I handle this case again.” Despite Geragos’ claim that Girolami no longer has jurisdiction, Geragos asks the judge to stay with the case, going so far as to use a television appearance to appeal to his wife to convince him to change his mind. “Yes, I prefer Judge Girolami,” Geragos tells reporters. “I think he knows the case. He’s on the case. I think that it makes the most sense for Judge Girolami to take the road trip. So if Mrs. Girolami is listening, I’m encouraging you to go on a road trip with your husband.” Geragos also responds to questions about his involvement in two high-profile cases simultaneously—a situation that saw him flying via Santa Barbara County to Las Vegas to meet with Michael Jackson the day that Scott Peterson was bound over for trial. “I suppose it was hectic, going from one public spectacle to another,” he says. “I try to divorce myself from the circus that surrounds this and focus on the legal issues.” Lynn Holton confirms to reporters that Girolami is still the judge of record until relieved, saying, “He would have authority to preside over a hearing until a new trial judge is named.” Pat Harris and Adam Stewart argue the wrongful death suit brought by Sharon Rocha against Scott Peterson. Harris argues that the suit should be thrown out because it is based on the so-called Son of Sam law that the California Supreme Court found in February 2002 to be unconstitutional but that was subsequently rewritten by the California legislature. Stewart says that the action is necessary to protect the Rocha family’s rights. “Those profits should be accounted for to the court and after the trial, made available to the victims,” he states. “The money would go to Scott if he is acquitted; It would go to Mrs. Rocha if he is convicted.” During the brief conference, William Mayhew tells both sides they will have until May 27, 2004, to build their case. Court files and evidence begin to be transported from Stanislaus County Superior Court to San Mateo County Superior Court, along with the county’s most famous resident, Scott Peterson. He leaves Stanislaus County Superior Court at about 12:15 p.m. and is soon on his way in an unmarked car to Redwood City. He arrives at the Maguire Correctional Facility at about 2:27 p.m. and is taken to the booking area by Stanislaus County deputy sheriffs. He thanks the transporting deputies as they are about to leave. He is then taken to the medical offices and examined. After the exam is completed, he is taken to a search room. While there, his clothing is exchanged for jail clothing: a dark red shirt and pants, indicating that he is in protective custody. He is interviewed by one of the facility’s classification officers to determine if he has any special needs while confined. After the interview, the officer determines that the preselected housing area in 3B West is the most appropriate, and Scott Peterson is transported there. Don Horsley tells reporters that Scott Peterson will spend at least 10 hours a day in his 7-by-10-foot cell, and will be taken out in half-hour intervals for television and other recreational privileges. Horsley says those privileges are “books, magazines and newspapers and a laptop,” but points out that there is no Internet access and that the computer can only be used in the jail’s law library. Concerning the clandestine move of Scott Peterson, Kelly Huston says, “We never had an intent to tell anybody when exactly we would move him. We just didn’t want there to be the same kind of spectacle outside the jail as we saw during his booking.” Anne LeClair fights back against criticism, sending an e-mail saying that she was improperly characterized in media accounts as giddy over the arrival of the Scott Peterson trial. “I’m a parent and I’m heartsick like everyone else about Laci Peterson’s murder, but those comments don’t make it into the stories,” she says. “We would give this trial up in a heartbeat if we could have Laci back.” The day’s events are reviewed on Larry King Live with panel members Cynthia McFadden, Nancy Grace, Chris Pixley, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Robi Ludwig and Ted Rowlands.

January 24 Jeanette Sereno writes what she thinks is a private e-mail message to a faculty group on California State University, Stanislaus, Facnet, indicating that Stephen Shoenthaler was asked by other faculty members to stop his controversial survey after students pleaded to them that his assignment was unrealistic. In her letter, she says that the students’ objections “were perfunctorily dismissed by the instructor,” but that department chair Paul O’Brien, a program coordinator and a senior faculty member met with Schoenthaler to advise him that, among other problems, his survey did not comply with standard practices and relevant laws.

January 25 The Oakland Tribune, on the eve of Scott Peterson’s trial, releases an article recounting the major events leading up to it.

January 26 Don Lundy drives eight cardboard boxes of documents and evidence to San Mateo County Superior Court, completing the transfer of paperwork related to Scott Peterson’s case. Included in the haul are thirteen 2- to 3-inch thick case files, an 8-inch thick transcript from the preliminary hearing; thirteen sealed files such as search warrant documents, evidence submitted at the preliminary hearing, a box of sealed evidence relating to wiretaps, and a dozen or so 4-inch binders containing Al Girolami’s notes and research on legal issues related to the case. “There’s nothing about the Peterson case I can talk about. Period,” says Det. Doug Ridenour. John Goold, too, refuses to discuss details about the relocation of the prosecution’s operation. “I think it all goes toward trial tactics,” he says. “I think it goes to letting the defense know what we’re doing as far as personnel and strategy—and we’re not going to do that.” Asked by reporters how much he expected the move to cost his firm, Mark Geragos offers no estimate. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I hate thinking about stuff like that.” Reyna Farrales warns that a long and costly trial could end up costing some San Mateo County employees their jobs as local governments wait months or even years for reimbursement of trial costs, which must first flow through Stanislaus County. Jerry Hill says, “San Mateo County will demand prompt reimbursement, not Sacramento games, to protect our employees and valued services.”

January 27 KCBS reporter Bob Melrose announces that Al Delucchi has been appointed as the new judge for Scott Peterson’s trial.

January 28 In filings with the San Mateo County Superior Court, the defense and prosecution ask in concert for a delay in starting Scott Peterson’s trial, calling for evidentiary hearings to begin February 17, 2004. Both sides also ask to have cameras banned from the courtroom, allow subpoenaed family members to remain in the courtroom during proceedings and to keep as confidential the names of all jurors and witnesses. Both sides agree to a trial week of Monday through Thursday. The defense asks the court to approve having a sequestered jury, but the prosecution opposes doing so. In the documents, Mark Geragos suggests that he will also two more motions, one to have Scott Peterson’s interviews with the media excluded from evidence and another to have a separate jury decide on the penalty—life in prison or the death sentence—should he be found guilty. Geragos asks to start the trial with the distribution of juror questionnaires so as to determine any potential bias, but prosecutors seek to delay that action until after the evidentiary hearings. Prosecutors examine their new offices in the San Mateo County Courthouse. Diana Demetrulias states that no actions have yet been taken by California State University, Stanislaus, in response to their investigation sparked by the controversial Stephen Shoenthaler survey. Nonetheless, Don Hansen confirms Shoenthaler has been absent from the classroom and will be for the rest of the term. “A collaboration of faculty are completing the class for him,” Hansen says. The Modesto Bee publishes excerpts from message-board discussions posted to California State University, Stanislaus, Facnet—a forum that, incredibly, college professors believed was open only to them even though it routinely included such messages as, “Want to Have Sex 20 Times a Day?” and, “Ejaculate Like a Porn Star.”

January 29 In a preemptive court order, Mark Forcum states that no cameras will be allowed in the San Mateo County Courthouse, except on the first floor, unless authorized by Al Delucchi. The Modesto Bee reveals in an article called “Peterson Poll Rattles Faculty” that Jeanette Sereno wrote what she thought was a private e-mail message to a faculty group on California State University, Stanislaus, Facnet, indicating that Stephen Shoenthaler was asked by other faculty members to stop his controversial survey after students pleaded to them that his assignment was unrealistic. In the article, she states that Shoenthaler’s students “came screaming” to other professors, complaining about what they perceived as an unrealistic assignment. “Within a week we had a department meeting,” Sereno says. According to her, department chair Paul O’Brien, a program coordinator and a senior faculty member met with Schoenthaler to advise him that, among other problems, his survey did not comply with standard practices and relevant laws. According to the story, Sereno says he was told to halt the survey—something she thought was done. “We all go to vacation thinking everything’s been stopped,” she tells the Bee. “Suddenly it’s in the paper and we’re going, ‘What?’ Next thing you know, he’s in court and we’re saying ‘What?’ again.” O’Brien refuses comment on whether he ordered the research stopped, but Ernie Spokes says such an order never came. “Knowing Schoenthaler, if he was told to stop, he’d stop,” Spokes says. The article also states that one student who fabricated data said he received a letter from the university indicating that officials there are in the process of verifying the results by calling the phone numbers listed by students. “They will find out I did put fake answers on there,” he says. In a New York Post opinion piece about the USA Network movie The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story, Linda Stasi calls Scott Peterson “everybody’s idea of the evilest creature on earth.” The Redwood City Daily News has as its headline article “Top 10 Ways to Get out of Jury Duty,” a story that will later draw criticism from Quentin Kopp.

January 30 Mark Geragos files a motion in San Mateo County Superior Court, asking for a delay in the Scott Peterson trial because of a conflict with another trial that is starting the next day in Los Angeles County. He states in the filing that his request to have the other trial delayed was denied, and that it is expected to last 10 days.

January 31 At a briefing for the media, Steve Alms announces that each of the 15 plots in the media tent village will be rented out at $280 per day. The announcement draws jeers from the 100 or so media representatives in the room. Alms responds, “We’ve got something you want, quite frankly,” bringing a shocked look to many in the crowd. Alms blames the media, claiming that some of them stiffed Stanislaus County. “There is no free lunch,” he bellows. The San Mateo County Times reports that Redwood City is also charging the media $7,500 per month to park satellite or microwave trucks in marked stalls on Middlefield Road. As still-stunned media members leave the meeting room, a woman hands them flyers advertising office space for lease at the nearby Redwood Law Center. After the briefing, one obviously angry television network employee stated, “My managing editor said our lawyers feel that there is a challenge to this based on our First Amendment rights” and that alternative venues are being considered. Another media representative echoes that the alleged profiteering by San Mateo County is a violation of First Amendment rights, and says, “I don’t think anyone had in mind paying to cover the trial…this is a pretty outrageous cost to just show up and cover a constitutionally protected right.” The Contra Costa Times releases an article entitled “Officials Brace for Peterson Trial Throng,” outlining how Redwood City and San Mateo County are dealing with the problems that could be caused by the hundreds of reporters, photographers, editors and support personnel who have asked for permission to cover Scott Peterson’s trial in person. The Modesto Bee releases an article with the self-explanatory title of “Isolating Trial Jury Is Costly and Risky,” which features comments from O.J. Simpson juror Lionel Cryer. “These people had all been sequestered for 10 1/2 months and wanted to just get out of there,” he says about the Simpson case, in which jurors returned a not-guilty verdict in 3 hours. “Putting twelve people together and making them stay together morning, noon and night…to spend your evening and then spend your weekends with them—it takes a bad toll,” he continues. “People get into cliques. These people antagonize those people. It’s vicious, man.” He states in the article that he felt he was “being treated as a criminal all the time,” even being called in to explain his choice of reading material to Lance Ito. “I felt the way I was being treated was tantamount to a fascist state of mind,” he states.

 

 

 

 

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