Celebrity lawyer chastises media

Geragos claims Scott Peterson trial unfair because of attention


January 28, 2006
The Post and Courier, Charleston.net

Celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos told the South Carolina Bar Association on Friday that his former client Scott Peterson is innocent and his conviction will be overturned on appeal.

Peterson was sentenced to die for killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in a case that drew international publicity and endless coverage in print and on cable TV news shows.

"I believe he's innocent. That's why I lose a lot of sleep," Geragos said to the annual gathering of state lawyers and judges at Charleston Place. He was one of the keynote speakers at the four-day convention that runs through Sunday. He has represented such high-profile defendants as Peterson, Winona Ryder, Michael Jackson and former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit. He talked about how difficult it is for celebrities to get a fair trial because of the constant pressure from the national media.

"I just think the jurors could not get past him talking on the tapes to Amber," he said. Amber Frey, Peterson's former girlfriend, worked with police to tape her calls with Peterson as evidence.

Peterson is on death row at San Quentin Prison in California. His appeals process could take as long as 10 years. Geragos said Peterson did not receive his constitutional right to a fair trial because jurors, judges and attorneys are affected to some degree by such intense media scrutiny.

Geragos said there is a symbiotic relationship between police and the media that allows information to leak. The result is what he called the "Foxification of the criminal justice system," referring to cable's Fox News. He called the trio of morning news shows, cable TV news and the tabloids the "axis of evil" when it comes to a criminal defendant receiving a fair trial.

National pretrial publicity made a fair trial for Peterson impossible because there was no impartial venue, he said.

He said the biggest threat to justice is a "stealth juror," a person who lies to get on a jury and has an agenda for being there, such as a book deal. He said there was at least one stealth juror on the Peterson jury, and that will be the basis of the appeal. That appeal is being handled by another lawyer because the case needs a "fresh set of eyes," he said.

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