Convicted murderer Scott Peterson may face a second full-blown trial when his former in-laws seek a multimillion-dollar civil judgment against him for the deaths of Laci and Conner Peterson.
Judge Roger Beauchesne ruled Friday that Peterson's conviction and death sentence would not speak for themselves during a wrongful death trial. Beauchesne stayed his ruling until June 23 to allow lawyers to appeal.
Defense attorney Nareg Gourjian of Los Angeles cited a videotaped deposition at San Quentin State Prison where Peterson insists he is innocent and the victim of a shoddy investigation by Modesto police.
"We're obviously disputing that he killed his wife," Gourjian said.
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The trial is set to begin July 8 and should take about five weeks, said Gourjian, an associate of attorney Mark Geragos, who represented Peterson during a trial that garnered nationwide attention.
Attorneys for Laci Peterson's father, Dennis Rocha, and mother, Sharon Rocha, argued that the facts of the case were already settled. Beauchesne disagreed, saying there were still issues in the case sufficient to be re-tried.
"It's a very hard burden to carry," said Gary Davis of Modesto, who represents Dennis Rocha. "The court ruled."
Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son, then dumping her body in San Francisco Bay during a Christmas Eve 2002 fishing trip. Twelve jurors also said he should die for his crime, but the verdicts have been appealed.
The former fertilizer salesman does not have the deep pockets of celebrity murder suspects who have been acquitted in criminal trials but pursued in civil court, such as football player O.J. Simpson or actor Robert Blake.
But Peterson was at the center of a trial that generated numerous books, two made-for-TV movies and countless news stories. Laci Peterson's parents want to make sure he never sells his story.
The Rochas, who are divorced, initially sought $25 million, but their lawsuit now asks for an unspecified amount of damages. Sharon Rocha is the author of "For Laci: A Mother's Story of Love, Loss and Justice."
An appeal to the California Supreme Court is being handled by attorneys Cliff Gardner of Oakland and Lawrence Gibbs of Berkeley. Gardner said the outcome of the lawsuit should have no bearing on the appeal, which will be based on the trial record.
In a previous lawsuit, Scott Peterson and Sharon Rocha argued over a $250,000 life insurance policy in Laci Peterson's name. Peterson said the money could not be awarded to his mother-in-law, who is the executor of Laci Peterson's estate, until his appeal is final.
Beauchesne said there was no reason to wait and an appellate court upheld his ruling. Death penalty appeals can take decades.
Meanwhile, Laci Peterson's parents want to tell 12 jurors how much they miss their daughter, then request a symbolic judgment to close the book on the case.
Attorney Adam Stewart of Modesto, who represents Sharon Rocha, said Peterson can end the litigation any time he likes by agreeing to a monetary judgment of $10 million or more.