- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. Scott Peterson yesterday pleaded not guilty to killing his pregnant wife and unborn son, as prosecutors filed murder charges against him and said they probably would seek the death penalty.
"I am not guilty," Mr. Peterson said during a brief arraignment in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Prosecutors filed the murder charges hours before Mr. Peterson, 30, appeared in the Modesto courtroom.
In the filing, District Attorney James Brazelton said Mr. Peterson acted "intentionally, deliberately and with premeditation" in killing his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn child, for whom the parents had settled on the name Conner.
Their bodies washed ashore last week about three miles from where Mr. Peterson said he had been fishing in San Francisco Bay when his wife, who was eight months pregnant, vanished Christmas Eve.
Sharon Rocha, Mrs. Peterson's mother, vowed in her first public remarks since the bodies were found to seek justice for her daughter and the grandson she never knew.
"I can only hope that the sound of Laci's voice, begging for her life, begging for the life of her unborn child, is heard over and over and over again in the mind of that person every day for the rest of his life," she said in a news conference after the arraignment.
"They didn't deserve to be dumped in the Bay and sent to a watery grave."
Mrs. Peterson's father, Dennis Rocha, had trouble speaking through his sobs.
Mrs. Rocha said her son-in-law called her the night before Christmas with the news that her daughter was missing. The family members declined to discuss Mr. Peterson.
"Justice can now be done. I am not going to say anything about Scott," Mr. Rocha said.
The charges against Mr. Peterson include the special circumstance that he committed more than one murder, allowing Mr. Brazelton to seek the death penalty. The district attorney said his office would probably decide by a May 19 preliminary hearing whether to seek the death penalty, but he told ABC News that it was likely.
"It's hard for me to realistically believe it is anything but a death-penalty case at this time," he said.
California law permits a murder charge in the killing of a fetus if a pregnant woman is slain, even if the fetus is not viable, said Hallye Jordan, spokesman for the state attorney general. The law has been on the books for about 30 years.
The head of a National Organization for Women chapter in New Jersey criticized the double-murder charge during the weekend, saying it could aid pro-life groups.
"If this is murder, well, then any time a late-term fetus is aborted, they could call it murder," Morris County NOW President Mavra Stark told the Morris County Daily Record.
Documents filed by prosecutors said the killings occurred at the Petersons' home in Modesto on Dec. 23 or Dec. 24.
Mr. Peterson, a fertilizer salesman, was handcuffed and shackled when he entered the courtroom yesterday. Mrs. Rocha wept as Judge Nancy Ashley read the charges.
Public defender Tim Bazar was assigned to the case after Mr. Peterson said he could not afford to hire a lawyer. The judge set a bail hearing for May 6.
Mr. Peterson was arrested Friday in San Diego County because detectives feared he might try to flee the country. He was being held without bail at the Stanislaus County jail.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Peterson's naturally dark hair was reddish blond, and he had grown a goatee. He had $10,000 in cash with him in his car, said a law-enforcement source who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
In the jail, Mr. Peterson was separated from other inmates and placed in a maximum-security section because of the nature of the charges and because prisoners have made threats against him, officials said.
Mr. Peterson has maintained he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance and was fishing in the San Francisco Bay when she vanished just before Christmas.
He also has declined all interview requests, authorities said.
In an interview with Time magazine Sunday, Mr. Peterson's father, Lee, said police had "bungled" the investigation.
"You have a district attorney calling this a slam dunk before there's even an arraignment," the accused's mother, Jackie, told the magazine. "I'm feeling like I'm living in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union."
"We're grieving for the baby, as Scott is for Laci," Lee Peterson said.
Authorities have not said publicly whether they have found a murder weapon, determined a cause of death, determined a motive, or located eyewitnesses.



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