updated 1/20/2004 5:10:17 PM ET 2004-01-20T22:10:17

The judge in the murder case against Scott Peterson moved the trial about 90 miles away to the San Francisco Bay Area Tuesday because of hostility toward 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 make sure Peterson got a fair trial in the slaying of his wife, Laci, and unborn son.

Four counties had offered to host the trial, and the judge picked San Mateo County, situated south of San Francisco. Girolami had said he wanted a county close enough to Modesto that witnesses could drive there.

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

The trial is scheduled to start Monday but will probably be postponed. A hearing is scheduled later this week to discuss a delay. Prosecutors asked for two weeks to move their operation to San Mateo County.

Peterson, 31, is charged with two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant wife just before Christmas 2002 and dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay. In April, her remains and those of the fetus she was carrying washed ashore in the bay two miles from where her husband said he was fishing when she vanished. Peterson could get the death penalty.

Defendant was demonized, lawyers say
Peterson’s lawyers argued that he had been demonized in Modesto’s Stanislaus County, citing vandalism of his house, crowds yelling “Murderer!” outside the jail and T-shirts sold with Peterson’s likeness and the motto: “Modesto, a killer place to live.”

Blood drives have been held in honor of Laci Peterson, and 3,000 people attended her internationally televised memorial service.

Seeing a potential economic windfall, San Mateo County’s tourism bureau had sent a letter to the judge offering to host the trial.

Anne LeClair, president and chief executive of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her office was “screaming with great excitement” upon hearing the news.

Restaurants, hotels, car rental services and other businesses could see an influx of $8 million to $16 million, she said.

“There’s just under 500 media people in attendance for the trial,” she said. “They’ll be staying for three, four or five months. The economic impact is tremendous.”

Prosecution rebuffed
Before deciding to move the trial, the judge rejected the prosecution’s request to keep the case in Modesto, where the Petersons lived and where Laci Peterson grew up.

Prosecutors said the judge unwittingly relied on a bogus survey of public attitudes toward Peterson. The survey was conducted by California State University students, some of whom have since admitted making up results.

Girolami, however, said the survey had little role in his Jan. 8 decision to move the case out of Modesto.

Alameda and Santa Clara counties in Northern California and Orange County just south of Los Angeles had also offered to host the trial.

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