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Judge Keeps Hearing in Peterson Trial Open

The jurist rejects a bid to exclude the public from a preliminary session. The defense said airing of evidence would 'poison' the jury pool.

August 15, 2003|From Associated Press

MODESTO — A judge denied a request Thursday that the public be excluded from a preliminary hearing in the trial of Scott Peterson, the Modesto fertilizer salesman accused of murdering his wife and son.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami ruled that the Sept. 9 hearing should remain open, rejecting arguments from defense lawyers that public access would only perpetuate speculation in the intensely covered case.

Peterson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder. Prosecutors allege that he killed his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and their son on Christmas Eve. Their remains washed up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay in April.

Scott Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, requested the closure, contending that a discussion of the evidence for public consumption would "poison" the jury pool. He added that some of the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing may be excluded from trial and that the media could prematurely learn the identities of some witnesses.

"It's going to create wild speculation," Geragos told the judge. "There's no way if we have an open hearing to rein in or control how that information gets out."

Preliminary hearings are like mini-trials that often include testimony from law enforcement officials, experts and witnesses. At the end, a judge decides whether the case goes to trial. Media lawyers noted that many of California's recent high-profile cases -- including those for O.J. Simpson and actor Robert Blake -- have had open preliminary hearings.

In ruling to keep the hearing open, the judge said the Peterson case "is not unlike other high-profile cases."

The judge said he would likely decide within several days whether to allow cameras.

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