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Peterson Lawyer Says Police May Have Used 'Voodoo' Tactics

He cites psychics as a possible example. A court rules that search warrants stay sealed.

May 06, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

MODESTO — Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos attacked the government's case against murder defendant Scott Peterson on Monday, telling a judge in this Central Valley farm town that police may have used psychics and other "voodoo" tactics to investigate the killing of Peterson's wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son.

Geragos, who has earned a reputation for his aggressive representation of celebrities and for serving as a legal commentator for CNN, also promised that Peterson's defense team would track down the real killer.

"We've set the bar extremely high, and that's to prove that Scott is not only factually innocent, but to figure out exactly who ... did this horrible thing to Scott's wife and to Scott's son," Geragos told dozens of reporters and camera crews on the steps of the Stanislaus County courthouse.

His remarks provided the boldest assertion of the 30-year-old fertilizer salesman's innocence since his arrest two weeks ago. It came on a day when an appellate court denied the media's bid to gain access to documents in the case.

The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled late Monday that the search warrants filed in the case should remain sealed, despite requests from several newspapers that they be opened.

The newspapers argued that police statements used to obtain the warrants should be made public, to provide important details about the investigation. The media lawyers said any concern about harming the investigation became moot once Peterson was behind bars, facing two counts of murder.

But in a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel found that the investigation is not necessarily complete and that release of the documents could harm the work of police and prosecutors.

The justices found that the trial court erred in assuming that an arrest, or the mere lapse of time, "would remove the possibility that a potential suspect would be alerted, that evidence would be destroyed, or that witnesses would be discouraged."

Peterson has been held without bail at the Stanislaus County Jail since he was arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in the deaths of Laci and the couple's unborn son, Conner. Police say Laci was killed in the couple's Modesto bungalow in the days before Christmas, when she was eight months pregnant.

On Monday, Peterson strode into court dressed in a dark blue suit and a tie. His wrists and ankles were free of chains that he previously wore in court as guards escorted him to a seat next to Geragos. His parents sat just a few feet behind, in the front row.

Judge Al Girolami presided over the first of the day's two hearings. Geragos introduced Kirk McAllister, Peterson's former attorney, saying he has rejoined the defense team. Then, in a long argument, Geragos said Girolami should remove himself as trial judge because he was involved with civil proceedings involving the sealing of the warrants.

Geragos told the judge he had reviewed the first few hundred pages of evidence turned over by prosecutors and that the material was "rife with inadmissible evidence" of a "voodoo type of investigation" that would jeopardize his client's right to a fair trial. Geragos cited as examples the use of psychics, voice stress analyzers and experts in facial expressions -- although the lawyer conceded he was not sure how much of the information was used to obtain search and arrest warrants.

The judge said he would not recuse himself, finding that the warrant and the criminal proceedings were separate actions.

Reporters, lawyers and Peterson's parents then moved across the hall for a second hearing. There, the debate before Judge Roger Beauchesne centered on the question of whether the search and arrest warrants should be unsealed.

Authorities have yet to release a motive or the reasons they had for searching Peterson's car, office workshop, boat and home.

While the media argued that the public has a right to know details of the investigation, Geragos said the information could harm his client's right to a fair trial.

Before Peterson's arrest, Beauchesne had ruled against releasing the documents. Lawyers returned to him, arguing the arrest should affect his ruling. Beauchesne said he would wait for the appellate court's ruling and, by day's end, the 5th Circuit had agreed the information should remain sealed.

Earlier in the day, Geragos was joined outside the courthouse by Peterson's family.

"Our son is innocent," Jackie Peterson said. "And we once again feel that the truth will come out. And we have faith in the justice system."

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