Cameras banned at Scott Peterson prelim hearing

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

FRESNO, Calif. -- A judge has ruled that Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing shouldn't be televised, arguing that the case against the man accused of killing his pregnant wife shouldn't be turned into a "'reality' television show."

The ruling was a blow to TV networks that argued for live coverage -- and a victory for prosecutors, who said broadcasting the case against Peterson would only escalate the media frenzy.

Stanislaus County Judge Al Girolami said the decision would help retain some privacy rights for witnesses "who never asked to be involved" in the high-profile case.

"It involves the victims' families who will be forced to relive their worst nightmare in a very public way, which unfortunately is necessary to the process," the judge wrote. "Televising these passionate proceedings is not, however, necessary to the process."

Lawyers for several national television networks argued that the public's right to know what happens in court should trump any other concerns. The media lawyer who argued the case, Rochelle Wilcox, declined comment Monday.

At issue was the Sept. 9 preliminary hearing, which will include testimony from witnesses and culminate with the judge deciding whether the case should go to trial.

Last week, Girolami denied requests by Peterson's attorneys to exclude the public and media from the hearing. After that decision, Peterson's attorneys backed away from their initial reluctance to let in cameras, saying it was better to broadcast direct coverage of the case than rely on indirect reports on the court action.

Peterson, 30, has pleaded innocent to two murder charges in the deaths of his wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's unborn child. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve. The bodies of the 27-year-old Modesto woman and her son washed ashore in April along the San Francisco Bay.

Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said Monday he could not comment because of the judge's gag order in the case. The district attorney's office also refused to comment.

Though the judge's decision itself did not come as a surprise, the length of his ruling was unusual, said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor.

"This is a judge who went out of his way to explain his position," Levenson said. "He's saying that 'Even though I am being deferential to the family, I haven't forgotten Scott Peterson's argument."'

The judge wrote that protecting the integrity of potential jurors and the ongoing investigation compelled him to exclude cameras.

"Because this case remains in its earliest stages, the possibility exists that the actual perpetrator of these crimes remains at large," the judge wrote.

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who represents former Peterson girlfriend and possible prosecution witness Amber Frey, argued that courtroom cameras would have intimidated her client.

"Ordinarily I am a person who comes out in favor of television coverage because I think the public has a right to know ... on the other hand, I think the judge was right in this instance because this is a death penalty case," Allred said Monday.

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