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Defense team examines remains of Peterson, fetus

Hearing scheduled on cameras in courtroom

Laci Peterson was last reported seen December 24.
Laci Peterson was last reported seen December 24.

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Attorneys for Scott Peterson and their forensic experts examined the remains of Peterson's wife, Laci, and their unborn son. CNN's Rusty Dornin reports. (August 12)
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MARTINEZ, California (CNN) -- Attorneys for Scott Peterson and a team of high-profile forensics specialists examined the remains of Peterson's wife, Laci, and their unborn son Monday, looking for evidence to clear the defendant in the slayings.

Two high-profile forensic scientists, Henry Lee and Cyril H. Wecht, joined Peterson's lawyers for three hours in the coroner's office. They photographed and videotaped the remains and took tissue samples.

"It was as smooth and performed as well as could be under the circumstances," defense attorney Mark Geragos said.

On Friday, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami approved guidelines for the examinations, which he had previously authorized. He told the defense it could take "a reasonable amount of tissue" for study.

The exam took place after nearly two weeks of haggling over who would be present and what could be done, a source said. In the end, the defense was required to bring its own equipment and pay any additional costs for the exam.

Prosecutors were also on hand for the procedure, but Assistant District Attorney David Harris would not discuss what went on, citing the gag order in the case.

Scott Peterson, 30, has been charged with murder in the deaths of his wife and unborn son.

Lee, 64, is chief emeritus of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden, where he was director for more than 20 years and handled forensic examinations in many high-profile cases, including those of O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey.

He is also distinguished professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science.

Wecht, a nationally acclaimed forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, told CNN that the doctors were making "whatever determinations that we can. It's preliminary but it's important."

After leaving the coroner's office, Lee, Wecht and a member of the defense team went to the Petersons' home in Modesto, California, looking around the yard and taking a tour of the house.

The defense team wants to examine physical evidence from the home, as well as from Peterson's boat and warehouse. Geragos and the doctors also might visit a DNA laboratory where items from the Petersons' home and the recovery scenes are stored, but prosecutors must grant them permission.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, who was to be named Conner, have been in the custody of the Contra Costa County coroner since shortly after they were washed ashore on San Francisco Bay in April.

The two were found about five miles from where Scott Peterson said he was fishing December 24, the day his 27-year-old wife was last reported seen alive.

Defense argues against cameras in courtroom

Next on the agenda is a hearing Thursday to determine whether cameras may be present at Peterson's preliminary hearing, scheduled for September 9. Several broadcast outlets, including CNN, have argued that a camera should be allowed at the proceedings.

Monday, defense attorneys filed a court document against the media petition, saying a camera would prohibit Peterson from having a fair trial down the road.

"There is a substantial probability of prejudice that will be prevented by closure of the hearing" because of the "unique attention given to this case by the media," the defense attorneys wrote.

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

"There is no difference between the activities prohibited by the gag order and those that will occur during the preliminary hearing," defense attorneys wrote.

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 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.

"To ask for the public's interest and involvement in the search, and then disregard the public's ongoing interest in the result of criminal proceedings, is cavalier," the media attorneys argued.

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.


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