Judge issues Peterson gag order

Friday, June 13, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) -- A judge in the Laci Peterson murder case issued a gag order barring lawyers, witnesses and police officers from publicly discussing details about the killing of the young pregnant woman.

Judge Al Girolami said that he believed the gag order was the only way to stop leaks and rumors from derailing Peterson's husband's right to a fair trial. Scott Peterson is charged with double murder in the death of his wife and unborn son.

The ruling came the same day another judge in Stanislaus County Superior Court ordered eighth search warrants and related documents in the case unsealed, but postponed their release until July 8.

The documents include affidavits by police giving their reasons for the searches and inventories of items seized.

Girolami cited widespread publicity about the case in issuing his order Thursday. Without it, the judge said "rumors and gossip would be rehashed shortly before trial thereby making it extremely difficult to select a fair and impartial jury."

Anyone who violates the gag order will face contempt charges.

At a hearing last week, prosecutors had asked for a limited gag order. Defense lawyer Mark Geragos responded that such a ruling would harm his ability to defend his client. He was joined in his opposition by a lawyer for Scott Peterson's former girlfriend, Amber Frey, who is expected to be a key witness, and an attorney representing newspapers and broadcasters.

Prosecutors and defense attorney have opposed the unsealing of the search warrants.

Prosecutors said it could jeopardize their investigation. Scott Peterson's lawyers said it would hurt their efforts to find the real killers. They have suggested a satanic cult may have abducted and killed the pregnant 27-year-old substitute teacher, who vanished just before Christmas.

Peterson was arrested after his wife's body and the remains of their unborn son washed ashore in San Francisco Bay. He has denied any involvement in his wife's disappearance and said he was out fishing in the bay the day his wife disappeared.