Judge keeps Peterson hearing open

Thursday, August 14, 2003 Posted: 4:43 PM EDT (2043 GMT)

Modesto, California (CNN) -- The September preliminary hearing for a man accused of killing his pregnant wife will not exclude the public, a judge ruled Thursday.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Al Girolami said he would take a few days to decide, however, whether cameras should be permitted at the September 9 preliminary hearing for Scott Peterson.

After the ruling, Peterson attorney Mark Geragos withdrew his request to ban cameras from the courtroom.

"We might as well open it up entirely and pollute the entire state," Geragos said. A prosecution request to ban cameras remained in place.

Peterson, 30, has pleaded innocent in the killings of his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, 27, who vanished on Christmas Eve, and their unborn son. The bodies washed ashore in April along the San Francisco Bay.

Earlier Thursday, the parents of Laci Peterson sent a letter via fax to the news media begging them to omit "unnecessary graphic details" when reporting on the deaths.

Several broadcast outlets, including CNN, Court TV and the networks, have argued that a camera should be allowed at the September hearing.

"The events of this week have once again added pain to our daily grief as we read in the newspaper details regarding our daughter and grandson's remains," said the letter, which was signed by attorney Adam Stewart.

The family, including Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, also pleaded with Geragos to do everything he can to get the bodies released so the family can bury them "in dignity and peace when the time comes."

Officials said Thursday that after the remains are X-rayed, the court and prosecutors will hand them over to her family.

Defense attorneys earlier this week filed a court document against the media petition, saying a camera would prohibit Peterson from having a fair trial.

The defense pointed out that the gag order, which pertains to all statements by witnesses and counsel, was issued to protect the ability of both sides to select a fair and impartial jury.

In addition, if the hearing is open to the media, "the mere introduction of evidence at the preliminary hearing" could put the party introducing that evidence in violation of the gag order, the defense said.

The Stanislaus County district attorney has requested that Girolami bar cameras from the preliminary hearing out of respect for Laci Peterson's family.

Television media attorneys have countered that neither the prosecution nor defense argument offers sufficient reason to prohibit cameras.

They said that when the family, the police and Scott Peterson himself asked for national publicity to help find Laci Peterson, they received it.

The media attorneys also offered federal and state studies purportedly showing that cameras in courtrooms had little or no influence on the conduct of trials.

Also earlier this week, defense attorneys were allowed to look at the remains and allowed to take tissue samples. The bodies are at the Contra Costa coroner's office.

Other developments:

 Girolami responded to a prosecution motion to survey registered voters in Stanislaus and two other counties about how familiar they are with the case. The prosecution hopes to use the responses to fight any defense request for a change of venue. The judge said that before he makes a decision he wants to see a copy of the questionnaire.

 Girolami ordered that information from wiretaps on Scott Peterson remain sealed until a decision is made on whether to admit it as evidence.

 Girolami asked the district attorney to investigate whether defense attorneys violated a court gag order based on an article in the Modesto Bee.