Peterson changes position on camera issue
By Harriet Ryan
MODESTO, California (Court TV) -- Scott Peterson wants cameras in the courtroom for his preliminary hearing next month.
A lawyer for the double-murder death penalty defendant made the surprise turnabout in court Thursday morning after a judge denied his initial request to bar all reporters and members of the public from the hearing.
"They did it in O.J. Simpson, they did it in Robert Blake so what the heck, let's pollute the whole state," attorney Mark Geragos said, referring to some of California's highest-profile televised trials. "There's no reason in the world to close this to TV cameras if you are going to open up the preliminary hearing [to the general public.]"
News outlets, including Court TV and CNN, have asked to broadcast the preliminary hearing -- a "mini-trial" during which prosecutors are to lay out evidence that Peterson killed his pregnant wife and unborn son -- but the district attorney's office and Laci Peterson's family strongly oppose such coverage.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami listened to arguments from prosecutors and media attorneys Thursday and said he would issue a written ruling on camera access in a few days.
Peterson, dressed in a navy suit and white shirt, listened intently as three lawyers for the media squared off against prosecutor Dave Harris. Harris accused the press of trying to turn the 30-year-old fertilizer salesman's case into a ratings bonanza and said that, in spite of studies that demonstrate the opposite, cameras would affect the testimony of witnesses.
"Human nature tells us that something's going to happen when someone sticks a camera in your face," he said, adding, "This is not entertainment. This is not for ratings."
Court TV Anchor Fred Graham, one of two attorneys representing the network Thursday, insisted that in the network's experience of televising 800 trials, the cameras have not proved a distraction.
"People who are involved in these proceedings are so intent on what they are doing that they are not looking up at the wall to see if [the camera] is turning," Graham said.
Peterson's parents, brother and sister-in-law attended the hearing as did Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, and stepfather, Ron Grantski, and a dozen supporters.
Rocha and Grantski wrote a letter to the judge in June asking him to ban broadcast of the hearing, which they said would force them to relive the "ugliness" of their daughter's death "over and over and over." As the hearing began, the family issued a statement urging reporters "to be sensitive to the fact that this is not a media story to us."
"This is not a story ... this is our life," the statement read.
Peterson's legal team had argued to close the preliminary hearing, now scheduled for Sept. 9, to everyone but the judge, lawyers, the defendant and support staff. His attorney had argued that the "endless amount of speculation and opining and punditry" accompanying coverage of the preliminary hearing would "poison" the jury pool and endanger Peterson's right to a fair trial.
Girolami denied that request, noting that judges in other high-profile cases had held open preliminary hearings and had managed to pick impartial panels.
Also on hand for the media arguments was attorney Gloria Allred, the lawyer for Peterson's former mistress, Amber Frey. Allred told the judge that Frey objected to having her testimony broadcast.
"She feels it will add a layer of stress for her," Allred said.
In other case developments Thursday, Girolami denied a prosecution request to survey citizens about their knowledge of the case to determine whether a change of venue is needed. The judge said the request was premature since the defense has only hinted that it wants to move the trial and not filed an official request.
He also said he would wait until after the preliminary hearing to decide whether a newspaper article outlining the defense's strategy of blaming the murders on a satanic cult violated the gag order. Geragos hinted -- to laughter in the courtroom -- that the newspaper reported and his cameraman had simply eavesdropped while the defense team conferred in a building lobby.
Finally, the prosecution and defense agreed to work together to return the remains of Laci Peterson and her child to her family. Earlier this week, the a team of forensic specialists hired by the defense, and led by noted forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, examined tissue samples from Laci and the unborn son.
The next hearing in the case is schedule for September 2.