'People' article may revive Peterson gag order dispute

From Chuck Afflerbach
CNN Producer
Friday, August 29, 2003 Posted: 3:15 AM EDT (0715 GMT)
Friday, August 29, 2003 Posted: 3:15 AM EDT (0715 GMT)

(CNN) -- Both sides in the Scott Peterson murder trial late Thursday agreed to put aside their wrangling over alleged violations in the judge's gag order and will move on to their dispute over evidence in the case.

The agreement comes as a new People magazine article threatens to challenge the confines of the judge's order once again.

In a joint motion filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court in Modesto, California, the prosecution and defense attorneys asked Judge Al Girolami to drop his inquiry into possible violations of his Protective Order issued in June. This so-called "gag order" prohibits all involved parties from revealing any material information regarding the murder case.

The brief motion begins with the statement, "Without admitting any violation occurred, and in order to allow each side to focus on their preparation of the case, the People and Defense stipulate to drop the currently alleged violations of the Protective Order now pending before the Court." It is signed by defense attorney Mark Geragos and Chief Deputy District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

In an attached court order, Judge Girolami granted the request to dismiss the allegations, but adds, "the Court reserves the right to pursue them at any future time upon its own noticed motion."

The gag order could be tested again Friday as the latest issue of People magazine hits the stands with a cover story on the Peterson case called "The Secret Laci Files." The story quotes detectives and other sources in the case, who gave new details and showed People reporters the autopsy photographs of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, who was to be named Connor.

Peterson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in their deaths. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

"What those photos seem to indicate -- although we don't really know anything for sure -- is that the bodies were in a different state of decomposition. The baby's body was much better preserved than was Laci's body," said Elizabeth Gleick, the assistant managing editor for People.

"It washed up in a slightly different area and we can confirm what had been kind of rumored and leaked in the past that the baby was wrapped in tape and that it's possible that that tape was not actually debris. The tape was wrapped tightly around the baby. There was a knot in it. It could have been done deliberately."

Gleick said the evidence may be enough for defense attorneys to cast reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors who will hear the case.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and the baby washed up along the shore of San Francisco Bay in April, just miles from the marina where Scott Peterson said he was fishing on December 24, 2002, the day she disappeared. The bodies were identified through DNA analysis.

The gag order issues dealt with Thursday involved news reports published in the Modesto Bee newspaper.

On June 20, District Attorney James Brazelton was quoted as calling the defense claims of satanic involvement in the murder "a bunch of baloney."

Then on August 13, the Bee quoted attorney Matt Dalton of the defense team as he discussed strategy with forensic experts hired by the defense.

Putting the gag order dispute behind them, the prosecution and defense move on to a status hearing Tuesday.

In a separate order also issued Thursday, the judge put on the agenda requests from both sides for additional discovery of evidence.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin September 9, and each side claims the other has been slow in turning over evidence to be presented in the case. The judge will determine on Tuesday whether both sides are prepared to present their case on schedule at the preliminary hearing.