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Move to open Peterson autopsies is being termed damage control
The Modesto Bee ^ | June 1, 2003 | Garth Stapley

Posted on 06/01/2003 8:30:40 AM PDT by runningbear

Move to open Peterson autopsies is being termed damage control

Move to open Peterson autopsies is being termed damage control

By GARTH STAPLEY
BEE STAFF WRITER

Published: June 1, 2003, 07:18:53 AM PDT

Prosecutors in the Scott Peterson double-murder case changed course on release of the autopsy reports as a strategic move, not because the attorneys favor public scrutiny, legal specialists say.

"When you play the case in the media, both sides make pragmatic decisions," said Michael Vitiello, a professor of criminal law at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. "This is not a legal question -- it's a pragmatic one."

The Stanislaus County district attorney's office decided Thursday to go to court to ask for the unsealing of the autopsy reports for Peterson's alleged victims, his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.

Previously, the district attorney's office argued against opening the reports, and arrest and search warrant documents in the case, and Superior Court orders are in place to keep all of the documents sealed.

Then a leak made it to cable television's MSNBC on Thursday morning: Conner's autopsy report indicated that he was found with plastic tape around his neck and a significant cut in his torso.

Within hours, the district attorney's office did an about-face and filed a motion to have both autopsy reports unsealed, with prosecutors saying they did so because the leak unfairly favored the defense camp.

"Partial news is worse than everything," said Stephen Lubet of the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. "Once there is a leak, there is a real possibility for rumor and distortion. Prosecutors realize that rampant speculation is worse than the release of accurate information."

Laci Peterson, 27 and pregnant, was reported missing Christmas Eve. Her 30-year-old husband told police that he went fishing that day on San Francisco Bay, and his wife was gone when he returned to their Modesto home.

National intrigue intensified when a Fresno woman revealed that she had had a relationship with Peterson before his pregnant wife was reported missing. The bodies of mother and child were recovered on the shore of the bay in mid-April, and Peterson's arrest came a few days later.

Historical precedent

Lubet is writing a book about the 1881 trial of Wyatt Earp, who was charged with murder after the famed shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz. In that case, a judge who initially favored closed proceedings reversed course after harmful information leaks, Lubet said.

"If there is going to be some information out there, you'd rather have it be accurate," Lubet said. His book is due out in early 2004.

Peter Tague, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., speculated that the autopsy reports in their entirety may work against Peterson.

"Prosecutors are now revealing this because they think that, on balance, (the reports) favor the prosecution's theory," said Tague, a former deputy public.......

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Unsealing Laci's autopsy records is in public interest

Unsealing Laci's autopsy records is in public interest

Published: May 31, 2003, 06:40:25 AM PDT

It's encouraging to see the district attorney reverse course, taking The Bee's position that the autopsy reports on Laci and Conner Peterson should be publicly released.

Open judicial process calls for no less.

After some details of the sealed documents were leaked Thursday to the press, District Attorney Jim Brazelton scrambled to neutralize a perceived advantage to the defense.

"The information being leaked has clearly been skewed in favor of the defense so the People cannot see why the autopsy documents should not be released," the DA's office wrote in a court filing Thursday. A hearing on whether to unseal the records is scheduled for June 6.

We see no reason to keep the reports secret -- regardless of whom the leaks may help.

Justice is best supported by truth, not speculation. Full disclosure of the autopsy records would serve the public interest by replacing conjecture with facts.

As the DA's office wrote in Thursday's court filing, "By releasing the autopsy reports the court will allow the media to see what the actual facts are and then accurate information may be reported. "

Justice requires open government. Residents have a right to see the records in a case prosecuted in their name.

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Foundation that aided family of slain Laci Peterson irks some

Foundation that aided family of slain Laci Peterson irks some

Sunday, June 1, 2003

By BRIAN MELLEY

Associated Press Writer

MODESTO -- In some ways, this city is a home to the missing.

There were the tourists who vanished in nearby Yosemite National Park. There was federal intern Chandra Levy, a hometown girl who disappeared in the nation's capital. And now there's Laci Peterson, the smiling, pregnant substitute teacher who went missing just before Christmas.

You'll find their photos among more than 160 lesser-known faces at the Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a small organization striving to help their families and the law.

But the foundation, which offers rewards to help solve crimes, is better known for being at the center of cases that don't even meet one of its basic criteria.

Neither Laci Peterson nor Chandra Levy's families needed money to post rewards. Yet, the foundation plunged into the cases, forming bonds that continue to this day.

On Tuesday, executive director Kim Petersen was in court with Laci Peterson's family. Later in the day, she attended the private burial of Levy, more than a year after her remains were discovered in a Washington, D.C., park.

The foundation was set up by the parents of Carole Sund, who vanished with her daughter and a friend during a visit to Yosemite in 1999.

During their ordeal, Francis and Carole Carrington realized other families struggling to find missing loved ones didn't benefit from the news coverage their case garnered.

With $200,000 earned in commercial real estate, the Carringtons created the fund for families who couldn't pay rewards to find missing loved ones who were innocent crime victims.

In four years, the foundation boasts offering $1.5 million in more than 160 cases nationwide. The payout has been much smaller. To date, 10 rewards totaling $65,500 have been awarded, roughly equivalent to Petersen's annual salary.

Tax records report $35,000 paid for rewards through June 2002. The foundation claims it has solved 19 cases and will pay remaining rewards upon convictions.

Only a fraction of cases have been solved, and it's hard to evaluate the effectiveness of the foundation, but the rewards have helped.

Of nine cases in Sacramento, rewards have led to arrests in two different cases.

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COMPILED FROM NEWS DISPATCHES

WORLD NATION BRIEFS

COMPILED FROM NEWS DISPATCHES

May 31, 2003

Peterson Autopsies Sealed

A judge ruled Friday that an autopsy report on the deaths of Laci Peterson and her unborn son should remain sealed along with other search warrant and arrest records.

Superior Court Judge Al Girolami said releasing the information could hamper the murder investigation and prejudice public opinion before a trial begins.

Girolami is scheduled to hear more arguments June 6 from prosecutors preparing a murder case against Peterson's husband, Scott Peterson. Prosecutors on Thursday asked that the autopsy reports be released to the public. They argued that media leaks of the reports are biased toward the defense.

Girolami also ordered that leaks of sealed information stop and indicated he would consider a gag order to stop the prosecution and defense teams from talking to the media.

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Suspect arrested in woman's stabbing

a snip it

Suspect arrested in woman's stabbing

By Christine Vovakes --
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Saturday, May 31, 2003

SHASTA COUNTY -- Shasta County sheriff's deputies have arrested a 42-year-old Anderson man suspected of stabbing a pregnant woman last week.

Mark Steven Ortiz was booked Thursday into Shasta County jail on suspicion of the attempted murder of 21-year-old Lindsay Wurch. Officials said the woman, about four to six months pregnant, was stabbed several times inside an Anderson residence May 22.

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ReCap:

Lawyer: Family of Laci Peterson broke agreement on personal items

Lawyer: Family of Laci Peterson broke agreement on personal items The Associated Press

Last Updated 2:15 p.m. PDT Saturday, May 31, 2003

SACRAMENTO (AP) - Murder suspect Scott Peterson's attorney said Saturday that an agreement with the family of Peterson's slain wife to get personal items from the couple's Modesto home had been broken. On Friday, a group of family members and friends of Laci Peterson removed several personal articles from the single-story home. The group, which included Laci Peterson's brother Brent Rocha, drove off with a rocking chair and other belongings.

Lee Peterson, Scott Peterson's father, told CNN the defense team had wanted to videotape the house before items were removed and that lead lawyer Mark Geragos had not agreed to the removal of any items on Friday.

"I am not seeking their arrest," Geragos told The Associated Press. "We're going to try and resolve this through appropriate channels and not fight it out in the media."

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A life as an attorney:

SNIP IT

Defender of the rich and poor
When he's not arguing for a major company, high-powered S.F. lawyer takes on civil rights cases for Valley residents.

SNIP IT

"When a Modesto police officer shot 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda during a drug raid on his parent's house in September 2000, Gonzalez negotiated settlements of $3 million for the boy's family.

He also represented the boy's father, Moises Sepulveda, on a federal drug charge that could have landed him in prison. Sepulveda originally was charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine, but in a deal worked out with federal prosecutors he pleaded guilty to a marijuana charge. He was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3,000. Gonzalez represented Sepulveda for free on the criminal charges.

"That case cried out for help," Gonzalez says.

He has pocketed no money in any of his civil rights cases in the Valley. Instead, his lawyer's cut from the successful lawsuits has gone to a special fund at Morrison & Foerster that helps finance other public interest cases involving poor clients.

Some Latinos know exactly who Gonzalez is and consider him the best, and arguably most successful, civil rights lawyer working in the Valley. Others know him only by reputation, his name escaping them, but not his million-dollar victories.

To a few, he is el gallo. That's rooster in Spanish. Latino rights activist Ben Benavidez of Fresno gave Gonzalez the nickname because of his confident, strutting style in court. One opposing lawyer remembers Gonzalez flapping his arms in a contentious trial. His voice sometimes rises to a high pitch as his words tumble out and intensity can well up in his dark eyes.

The smooth-faced Gonzalez appears younger than his years, and at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, few would describe him as an imposing man. He exudes a detached casualness when not before judge and jury, and sometimes wears an Oakland Raiders jersey when questioning people in pretrial depositions.

One recent morning at the Raiders trial in Sacramento, as sterile hallways bustled with stone-faced lawyers in conservative suits, Gonzalez strolled along wearing a pair of wrap-around sunglasses and a Disney character tie ablaze with reds, oranges and yellows.

Gonzalez's impact in the Valley rests in the less colorful but important arena of public policy:

Dinuba, a northern Tulare County town of 18,500, formed a citizen's police advisory commission with power to investigate law enforcement wrongdoing after the shooting of Gallardo and the family's successful lawsuit. The city also trained its officers in neighborhood policing after the lawsuit.

Police raided Gallardo's home while serving a search warrant looking for a weapon reportedly used in Visalia during an attempted murder. Police did not find the weapon. Two officers -- one white, one Latino -- were accused of shooting Gallardo.

Ed Todd, Dinuba city manager, says: "You know, Arturo is a very astute person. One of the things he pointed out -- and I think we went after it in a pretty determined way -- was the issue of training. Our officers met all the [state] requirements, but they were doing things they weren't trained for."

Is Gonzalez feared? Todd says he doesn't think so, but then adds: "It depends, I guess, who you are and what you're up to."

Modesto police formalized SWAT policy advising officers not to aim weapons at compliant suspects. The change was part of the settlement Gonzalez negotiated after the death of young Alberto Sepulveda, shot while lying facedown, as police told him to.

Police Chief Roy Wasden says he made other policy changes after the Sepulveda shooting, but not because of Gonzalez's involvement in the case. For example, federal authorities initiated the raid on the Sepulvedas, and Wasden says his department would now ask tougher questions before committing officers to serving high-risk search warrants.

Wasden called the shooting "a tragic accident" and says he was irritated that Gonzalez made public statements that the Modesto officer, who is white, fired intentionally. Gonzalez doesn't think he said that but cannot recall for certain.

Wasden describes his feelings about Gonzalez in guarded terms: "Ahh, boy. I thought he was effective. That's probably all I should say."

San Francisco attorney Gregory Fox is more specific. He represented Modesto when the Sepulvedas sued and says Gonzalez ignored a chance to explore an issue of national importance raised by Alberto's shooting: How truthful are federal law enforcement agencies about suspects when they involve local police departments in SWAT raids?

Modesto wanted to know whether the federal authorities had reason to think Alberto's father had a history of narcotics trafficking, violence and weapons possession. The SWAT raid uncovered no drugs, drug paraphernalia or weapons in the home.

But the city couldn't find out because Gonzalez reached an out-of-court settlement with the federal government for $450,000 even as he continued to push his case against Modesto. Fox speculates that Gonzalez settled to influence federal officials to go easy on Moises Sepulveda on his criminal drug charge.

"There is a bigger problem that should have been investigated, and changes that should have been made at the national level have not been made," Fox says. "And when it happens again -- and it will happen again -- at what price and what cost will it take to get that search for the complete truth?"

Gonzalez says he was obligated to think first of his client rather than try to remake federal policy. Alberto's mother was traumatized by her son's death and was better served by not having to testify at a trial, Gonzalez adds.

Valley police chiefs received training on how to handle suicidal suspects. Gonzalez says he made the training part of a $150,000 negotiated settlement .........

(Excerpt) Read more at modbee.com ...


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: California
KEYWORDS: avoidingchildsupport; baby; babyunborn; conner; deathpenaltytime; dontubelievemyalibi; getarope; ibefishing; laci; lacipeterson; smallbaby; smallchild; sonkiller; unborn; wifekiller
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To: Lijahsbubbe
Oh yeah..I heard it too. Did you hear that he had it altered?
41 posted on 06/01/2003 7:41:57 PM PDT by Freedom2specul8 (Please pray for our troops.... http://anyservicemember.navy.mil/)
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To: Lijahsbubbe
He also wants some diamonds that were given to her by her grandmother. Seems to me those should go back to her family, not to her murderer.
42 posted on 06/01/2003 9:18:51 PM PDT by trussell (I've come to appreciate the value of a good divorce!!!)
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To: ~Kim4VRWC's~; trussell
You'd think his attorney would advise against these kind of demands. It only makes Peterson look more despicable, if that's possible.
43 posted on 06/01/2003 10:04:34 PM PDT by Lijahsbubbe
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To: runningbear
Thanks for the ping! Holy mackeral, one of those articles quoted one of my old professors!
44 posted on 06/02/2003 12:01:48 AM PDT by Devil_Anse
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To: trussell
Gee, and I'm sure he wants that watering can that said "Laci's Garden." What better object to use to remember his wife and the things she loved? I mean, that IS why he wants those diamonds, isn't it? Sentimental value?
45 posted on 06/02/2003 12:10:05 AM PDT by Devil_Anse
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Comment #46 Removed by Moderator

To: Devil_Anse
small world aye?....
47 posted on 06/02/2003 2:37:17 AM PDT by runningbear (Lurkers beware, Freeping is public opinions based on facts, theories, and news online.......)
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To: Spunky
getting up early for work, tends to have me crashed out early in the evening.. ;o(
48 posted on 06/02/2003 2:37:56 AM PDT by runningbear (Lurkers beware, Freeping is public opinions based on facts, theories, and news online.......)
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