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Judge Changes Peterson Trial's Location

Continuing Coverage: A judge decided Tuesday where to move the murder trial of Scott Peterson.
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A judge decided Wednesday where to move Scott Peterson's murder trial, which was originally scheduled to take place in Stanislaus County.

The murder case against Scott Peterson will move to San Mateo County, a judge ruled Tuesday after he rejected a prosecution request to keep the case in Modesto. Judge Al Girolami chose San Mateo, which is south of San Francisco and about 90 miles west of Modesto, from a list of four counties. Girolami had said he wanted a county close enough to Modesto so witnesses could drive there.

San Mateo was the second choice of both the prosecutors and defense attorneys. The prosecutors' first choice was Santa Clara, and Mark Geragos, Peterson's attorney, wanted the trial moved to Orange County. Girolami said he was satisfied that Peterson would get a fair trial 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," Girolami said, adding that he would prefer that San Mateo County appoint a different judge to handle the trial. The trial is scheduled to start Monday, but will likely be postponed. A hearing is scheduled later this week to discuss a delay. Peterson has not waived his right to a speedy trial.

One legal expert said that the county that gets this trial will see some economic benefits from the trial.

"While it's not the Olympics, it may bring in enough tax dollars and tourist money to where it's attractive to a county," said Dr. Steven Ornish, a forensic psychiatrist who also works as a jury-pool expert for San Diego attorneys. Prosecutors asked for two weeks to move their operation to San Mateo County. Before deciding to move the trial to San Mateo County, Girolami rejected the prosecution's motion to keep the trial in Modesto, saying he based his decision to move the case based on more than what is now being called a bogus survey of possible jurors. Prosecutors said 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 cheated and made up results. 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 Peterson would have a difficult time getting a fair trial in his dead wife's hometown. In the Jan. 8 ruling, the judge said his main concern was that there was too much local news coverage of the case in the county of fewer than 500,000 people. He also said area residents had become too attached to the case -- turning out in the thousands to search for Laci Peterson, mourn at her memorial service and give blood in her name. Peterson, 31, has pleaded innocent to two counts of murder for allegedly killing his wife just before Christmas 2002 and dumping her body in 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 Scott Peterson said he was fishing when she vanished.

Four counties had offered to host the trial: Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara in Northern California and Orange just south of Los Angeles.

The survey conducted by students at California State University, Stanislaus found that prospective jurors were less likely to be biased against Scott Peterson in the San Francisco Bay area or in Southern California than they were in Modesto, where Laci Peterson grew up. Nine students at the university have since anonymously told the Modesto Bee they made up results for the phone poll or broke the rules for conducting the survey by interviewing friends.

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