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Autopsy records will stay sealed in Peterson case

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Autopsy records will stay sealed in Peterson case

  • Judge also forbids reporters from hearing their own wiretapped conversations.

June 10, 2003 — Victim autopsy records in the Scott Peterson murder trial are to remain sealed, a superior court judge in Modesto, Calif. ruled Friday.

Judge Al Girolami also denied reporters access to wiretapped conversations between themselves and Peterson gathered by law enforcement officials who had tapped Peterson’s phone before he was arrested.

Girolami refused to issue of a gag order on attorneys involved in the trial. In documents recently submitted to the court, prosecutors indicated support for a limited order, while the defense counsel opposed the action.

In a motion filed May 29, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office moved for release of autopsy records for Peterson’s wife, Laci, whom Peterson is accused of murdering, and of their unborn son. The request came after members of the media began reporting information claimed to be found in the coroner’s report.

Prior to the media reports, the district attorney opposed disclosure of the records to protect Peterson’s right to a fair trial.

“The information that has been leaked has clearly been skewed in favor of the defense so the People cannot see why the autopsy documents should not be released,” the district attorney stated in the motion.

Autopsy details of the autopsy reported thus far could give credence to the defense’s claim that Laci Peterson was kidnapped by a cult, analysts cited by The Associated Press said. Using an anonymous source, the AP confirmed findings reported by MSNBC that the fetus had 1 ½ loops of plastic around its neck and a large cut on its body.

Girolami did allow the coroner’s office in Contra Costa County, where Laci Peterson’s body was found April 14, to disclose the two death certificates to the public. The records were released that afternoon, The Modesto Bee reported.

In another matter in the same case, attorneys for 22 journalists requested permission to review their wiretapped conversations. In a motion filed for some of the reporters, their counsel argued that these communications are protected by California Shield Laws, which forbids compelled disclosure of information obtained during the newsgathering process.

Although Girolami denied the reporters access to the conversations, he allowed for additional time to look into the matter. The issue will be addressed again at a hearing scheduled for June 26.

(State v. Peterson; Counsel: For Ted Rowlands, Douglas R. Young, Farella, Braun & Martel LLP, San Fransisco; For Rita Cosby and Greta Van Susteren, Amy M. Gallegos, Hogan & Hartson LLP, Los Angeles; For 17 nonparty journalists; Rochelle Wilcox, Davis Wright Tremain LLP, Los Angeles; For Suzanne Phan and Ethan Harp, Stephen H. Johanson, Johanson & Associates, Sacramento) EH

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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