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Peterson venue change focus of Thursday hearing

Scott Peterson, left, and attorney Mark Geragos in a court appearance last month.
Scott Peterson, left, and attorney Mark Geragos in a court appearance last month.

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(CNN) -- A California judge will hear arguments Thursday over whether a man accused of killing his wife and their unborn child can get a fair trial in his hometown.

Jury selection for the trial of Scott Peterson is scheduled to begin January 26 in Modesto, California, but that date may change depending on the venue decision reached by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Al Girolami.

Thursday's hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET).

Peterson, 31, is charged in the killings of his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and their unborn son. At an arraignment hearing earlier this month, Peterson denies the charges. (Full story)

The charges against Peterson carry the death penalty.

Laci Peterson was last heard from last Christmas Eve 2002. She was eight months pregnant. Scott Peterson a fertilizer salesman, told police he left to go fishing that morning and she was not there when he returned late that afternoon.

In April 2003 the bodies of Laci and the couple's unborn son washed up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, just miles from where Scott Peterson said he had been fishing. He was arrested days later in San Diego and brought back to Modesto to face murder charges.

Both sides cite Manson trial

Defense attorney Mark Geragos first filed for a change of venue last month. (Full story) Earlier this week argued that the best place for his client to obtain a fair trial is in Los Angeles County.

Using the 1970 murder trial of Charles Manson as a precedent, Geragos stated that "in a case of massive publicity Los Angeles County will necessarily always be the venue of choice since the adversities of publicity are offset by a trial being conducted in a populous metropolitan area."

More than 9 million people -- one-fourth of the state's population -- reside in Los Angeles County. Stanislaus County, where the case is currently centered, has a population of 500,000.

Last week, the prosecution made their case against moving the trial location out of Stanislaus County. (Full story)

Prosecutors have cited the same People v. Manson case as a reason not to move the trial: Because Charles Manson did not receive a change of venue out of Los Angeles in spite of massive pretrial publicity, District Attorney James Brazelton argued, Scott Peterson also could receive a fair trial in the county where his crime was allegedly committed.

Manson and five of his followers were convicted in 1971 of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the brutal killings of actress Sharon Tate and six others.

In his rebuttal argument filed on Tuesday, Geragos repeated his contention that Stanislaus County is too small and the citizens too involved in the case for the defendant to obtain a fair trial.

"Potential jurors in Los Angeles County or otherwise remote from Stanislaus County are far less likely to have had such an intimate involvement with this matter," Geragos wrote.

He also challenged the prosecution claim that he and his client were to blame for the massive amount of pretrial notoriety the case has received in the national media.

"The police orchestrated a press conference starring Amber Frey (Peterson's admitted lover) that was carried live on television in January, almost four full months before Scott was even arrested let alone arraigned in this matter. Before the current defense team was in place, Modesto police had held at least six televised press conferences," Geragos noted in the court papers.

CNN Producer Chuck Afflerbach contributed to this report.


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