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Several issues to be decided in Peterson case

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson

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MODESTO, California (CNN) -- A California judge will hear several arguments in Scott Peterson's murder case Friday, including whether to remove prosecutors from the case because of alleged misconduct.

Hearings will determine whether a gag order will be placed on the legal teams and whether to officially release autopsy reports for Scott's wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Portions of the reports were leaked to the media last week, prompting the prosecution to reverse an earlier decision and ask for the records to be unsealed.

Peterson faces two counts of murder in the deaths of his pregnant, 27-year-old wife and their unborn child. The victims' bodies were discovered about 80 miles from their home in early April, near the marina where Scott Peterson said he had launched his boat on a Christmas Eve fishing trip the day his wife disappeared.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

Peterson has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers have insisted that the real killers remain at large.

The idea of a gag order gained steam after the details from the autopsy report were leaked. The idea of limiting what attorneys, assistants and others working for the legal teams can say outside the courtroom is supported by the prosecution and opposed by the defense.

The defense has labeled such an order "unconstitutional."

According to a court document filed Wednesday, the defense said a gag order would "do little to stop the tsunami of coverage in this matter" and would instead "increase the depth and breadth of misinformation and scurrilous accusations that swirl around this case."

An attorney for Amber Frey -- a Fresno massage therapist who had an affair with Peterson shortly before his wife disappeared and voluntarily came forward to cooperate with police -- also objected to a gag order.

Attorney Gloria Allred said Frey should not be barred from defending herself in the event false statements are made about her in the press. She characterized Frey as "a private citizen who by cruel circumstance has been dragged into this highly public matter" and has suffered "public humiliation" as a result.

Peterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos, has also asked that the prosecutors handling the case be removed because of what he termed "grave prosecutorial misconduct," relating to the interception of 69 phone calls Peterson made prior to his arrest. He also asked that all information from the wiretaps be suppressed.

But in a court filing Thursday responding to the charges, Stanislaus County Assistant District Attorney Rick Distaso said the wiretaps were authorized under both California and federal law.

He said only two of the phone calls were privileged communication between Peterson and his previous attorney, and both were only monitored for a short time to determine who was on the line. Distaso also said prosecutors had not listened to the calls in question and did not plan to use either the phone calls to Peterson's lawyer, or a third call to a private investigator he hired, in the trial.

Distaso said the "sole purpose" of the defense motion was "to influence the court with inflammatory language." And he said the only possible sanction that could be imposed on prosecutors would be to suppress the three calls in question, not to throw them off the case.

"Over the course of 30 days, through the conduct of two wiretaps and 3,858 intercepted phone calls, the defense can only argue over three," he said.

A judge will also consider Friday whether journalists whose conversations with Peterson were captured by the wiretaps should be given access to the recordings. The journalists have also requested that the recordings and their content then be sealed.


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