- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) — The judge in the Laci Peterson murder case moved the trial about 90 miles away to San Mateo County yesterday because of hostility toward Scott Peterson in his dead wife’s hometown.

Judge Al Girolami ruled earlier this month that the trial had to be moved out of Modesto to ensure Mr. Peterson got a fair trial in the slaying of his wife, Laci, and unborn son.

Judge Girolami said he was satisfied that Mr. Peterson would get justice anywhere outside of the Central Valley and that San Mateo had available court resources to accommodate the trial soon.

“I’m satisfied we can get a fair and impartial jury in San Mateo,” Judge Girolami said, adding that he wants San Mateo County to appoint a judge to handle the trial.

The judge had four counties to choose from and picked San Mateo, the county south of San Francisco. Judge Girolami had said he wanted a county close enough to Modesto so witnesses could drive there.

The trial is scheduled to start Monday, but will likely be postponed. A hearing is scheduled later this week to discuss a possible delay. Mr. Peterson has not waived his right to a speedy trial.

Prosecutors asked for two weeks to move their operation to San Mateo County.

Before deciding to move the trial, Judge Girolami rejected the prosecution’s motion to keep the trial in Modesto, where the couple lived and where Laci Peterson grew up.

Prosecutors said Judge Girolami unknowingly relied on fake data in a survey of potential jurors that was conducted by college students, some of whom have since admitted they made up results.

Judge Girolami, however, said the survey had little role in his decision to move the case to another county, although he had cited it in his previous decision to move the case because he said Mr. Peterson would have a difficult time getting a fair trial in Modesto.

Mr. Peterson, 31, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in the death of his wife just before Christmas 2002 and the dumping of her body in the San Francisco Bay. In April, the remains of her body and the fetus she was carrying washed ashore in the Bay two miles from where her husband said he was fishing when she vanished.

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