- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) — Scott Peterson pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of murdering his wife and unborn son, and a judge scheduled his trial to begin Jan. 26.

It was the second time that Mr. Peterson, 31, had answered the charges that could send him to death row. He first denied the accusations after his arrest in April. A judge decided last month there was enough evidence for prosecutors to take the case to trial, so Mr. Peterson was arraigned again.

Judge Al Girolami set the trial date and scheduled a hearing for Jan. 6 so the defense can request that the trial be moved from Stanislaus County. He also planned to set hearings for the defense to challenge wiretaps, the use of devices that tracked Mr. Peterson and cadaver-sniffing dogs used to search for Laci Peterson’s scent in the boat her husband said he took fishing the day she vanished.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, who is simultaneously representing Michael Jackson, also persuaded the judge yesterday to order prosecutors to return Mr. Peterson’s pickup truck to his family.

In court papers, prosecutors said they don’t want to return the 2002 Ford pickup because they believe it was used in the murder of Mr. Peterson’s pregnant wife. They believe Scott Peterson bled inside the truck’s cab while using the vehicle to haul his wife’s body to his fertilizer warehouse and then to San Francisco Bay.

It was the first time prosecutors had hinted at parts of their theory behind the slaying and the first mention that Mr. Peterson was injured.

The defense wanted the truck returned to Mr. Peterson’s family because he faces mounting legal bills and continues to pay $643 in monthly auto payments.

Laci Peterson, 27, a substitute teacher who was eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child, was reported missing Christmas Eve when her husband said he returned from a fishing trip at the Berkeley Marina. Her remains and her fetus washed ashore a few miles from the marina in April.

The charges that her body was taken to Mr. Peterson’s warehouse indicates she was probably killed at the couple’s home, explaining why lawyers grappled at the preliminary hearing over a mop and bucket used to clean up the kitchen area in the couple’s house.

The charges against Mr. Peterson contend that his wife was killed on Dec. 23 or Dec. 24. Authorities said they believe her body was weighted down and tossed into in the Bay.

Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton said in the court papers that cementlike material was found in the bed of the pickup truck. A detective at the preliminary hearing said there was evidence Mr. Peterson fashioned several concrete anchors using a bucket in his warehouse, but only one of those anchors was found in his boat.

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