Delucchi Chosen As New Peterson Judge
POSTED: 12:27 PM PST January 27, 2004
UPDATED: 5:03 PM PST January 27, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Alfred A. Delucchi, a retired 72-year-old judge who has handled 22 death penalty trials -- including the murder of Black Panther Huey Newton, was selected Tuesday to preside at Scott Peterson's murder trial.

A trial judge for more than three decades, Delucchi retired from the Superior Court of Alameda County in 1998 after serving on that court for 15 years. He sat on the Municipal Court of the San Leandro-Hayward Judicial District from his appointment in 1971 until his elevation to the Superior Court in 1984.

He has been an active member of the Assigned Judges Program since his retirement.

Delucchi, praised by one defense attorney as "evenhanded" and "an excellent judge," has presided over 22 death penalty trials, including the case involving the murder of former Black Panther Huey Newton.

Delucchi's son, Paul Delucchi, is a deputy district attorney in Alameda County.

The selection was made by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who initially picked retired Contra Costa County Judge Richard Arnason for the role. Arnason's selection was challenged by prosecutors.

Delucchi will preside over next Monday's hearing in Redwood City in a bid by Peterson's attorneys to block the disqualification of Arnason. Peterson's attorneys allege prosecutors did not properly file their demands to remove Arnason. The challenge is not expected to delay the case, which is set to begin next month.

Peterson attorney Mark Geragos did not immediately return telephone calls. Delucchi's clerk said the judge was unavailable for comment. The clerk said Delucchi's Tuesday afternoon cases were reassigned after the judge learned of his appointment to the Peterson case.

Peterson, 31, faces the death penalty if convicted of two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in their home and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay. In April, her remains and those of the fetus washed ashore two miles from where her husband said he was fishing on Christmas Eve 2002 when she vanished.

The former fertilizer salesman was moved Friday from the Stanislaus County Jail to a cell in the lockup adjacent to the San Mateo courthouse in Redwood City. A Stanislaus County judge, before removing himself from the case, ordered the trial moved to San Mateo County because of too much pretrial publicity.

Under California court rules, the defense and prosecution each can remove -- without stating a reason -- one judge before a trial begins.

The prosecution must live with Delucchi's assignment, and only Peterson's defense team has a challenge available.

Newton, who with Bobby Seale founded the Panthers in 1966, battled drug addiction before being killed by three shots to the head by crack dealer Tyrone Robinson in 1989. Robinson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced by Delucchi to 32 years to life in prison.

Robinson's attorney, Alfons Wagner, said Tuesday that a better judge could not have been picked.

"He's one of the best trial judges I've ever had, if not the best," Wagner said. "He has an innate sense of fairness and a wonderful judicial temperament. And I don't think you're going to find anyone on the prosecution side who's going to say otherwise."

Another attorney who has represented murder suspects in cases heard by Delucchi also praised the judge.

"If I were trying a heavy case, I would certainly be happy to have him as a judge," defense attorney Spencer Strellis said Tuesday. "He's evenhanded, he's comfortable. He does not seem to be so swollen with his own importance. ... He's an excellent judge."

Hayward defense attorney Phil Schnayerson said Delucchi's experience in private practice and as a deputy district attorney before becoming a judge gives him the ability to deal with both sides fairly.

"He's solid and very smart," Schnayerson said. "He has a very good touch with lawyers ... And he has good control over the courtroom, yet he's still somewhat informal.

"Whether or not you like the results of some of his rulings, there's no getting away from enjoying him as a judge," Schnayerson added.

Schnayerson said Delucchi is not a judge who seeks the limelight.

"I don't think he cares about the notoriety ... He's got no political ambitions. He's retired," Schnayerson said. "So he's not going to try and make a circus out of it. He's going to try to prevent it from becoming a circus."