[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIFORNIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 12 10:13:43 CDT 2004
THE PETERSON TRIAL -- Prosecution faulted by observers in court Defense
seems to be scoring points during D.A.'s time
Is Scott Peterson's defense team that good? Or are the prosecutors just
not up to snuff?
That's what veteran trial lawyers are mulling over as they watch
prosecutors try to convince a jury in Redwood City that Peterson is guilty
of double murder.
After all, legal experts say, this is the prosecution's chance to bring
out its most incriminating evidence, to build a rock-solid case against
the Modesto fertilizer salesman who is accused of the 2002 slaying of his
wife, Laci, and their unborn son.
But after 5 weeks of testimony, Mark Geragos, Peterson's noted defense
attorney, instead seems be scoring one point after another, experts say.
During intense cross-examinations, Geragos has been able to produce
evidence supporting his version of the facts, hammer away at the
credibility of prosecution witnesses and even assume control of the
courtroom, according to lawyers who have been observing the trial from the
gallery of the Redwood City courtroom.
It's been remarkable to watch, said former San Francisco prosecutor James
"He's pointing out weaknesses in the prosecution case and he's also
building his own case," he said.
Peterson's defense lawyers have not only seized on the missteps of key
witnesses, such as Modesto police Detective Al Brocchini, who admitted
omitting from his report evidence that could have helped Peterson, but
they've also turned minor witnesses to their advantage. For instance,
several employees at the Berkeley Marina were called by prosecutors this
week to show how quiet the boat dock had been on Christmas Eve, 2002, when
they say Peterson launched his boat into the bay to dump his wife's body.
Under intense cross-examination from defense lawyer Pat Harris, the
witnesses testified that the marina is one of the busiest in the Bay Area,
one regularly frequented by people taking a stroll, walking their dogs or
His aim was to cast doubt on the notion that in the middle of the day with
a lot of people around someone could tow a dead body in a boat without
being noticed. And he hit his mark, said Hammer.
"Time and time again, the district attorney has delivered half the story
and allowed Geragos to drive a truck through," he said.
Prosecutors apparently did some regrouping over the July 4 weekend and
last week finally brought out some of their strongest evidence -- graphic
photos of the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.
The emotional impact was undeniable, with jurors so distressed that some
put their hands to their mouths while others quickly looked away. But
veteran trial lawyers questioned the timing of the evidence, which was
brought in after weeks of a presentation that they said was often both
tedious and hard to follow.
Several lawyers said that prosecutors should have brought out their most
powerful evidence at the beginning of their case, a standard practice
among district attorneys.
"You start the case that way," said Chuck Smith, a defense lawyer and
former San Mateo County prosecutor. "You want the bodies to haunt the
San Francisco defense attorney Jim Collins also was puzzled why the
prosecution has not played up the passion and outrage inherent in the sort
of crime considered the worst imaginable: killing your pregnant wife and
your unborn child.
"They bored the jurors with an opening statement that didn't get to any of
the emotion," he said. "And then the blood and guts comes in the middle of
a boring presentation."
Veteran trial attorneys credit Geragos -- who has made a name for himself
representing a string of high-profile clients, including Gary Condit,
Winona Ryder and Susan McDougal -- for his fast-thinking, solid trial
skills and thorough preparation. But they also say that prosecutors have
given him too many openings.
Smith said that prosecutors have even inadvertently bolstered Geragos'
credibility with the jurors by allowing him to bring out new evidence that
they should have introduced: for instance, that Brocchini omitted from one
report evidence that was actually included in others, and that the
Berkeley marina was a busy place. "It puts Geragos in the eyes of the jury
as the guy they look to for the truth,'' he said.
Court observers also fault prosecutors for spending too much time with too
many witnesses on seemingly minor points, creating a disjointed story that
is hard for jurors to follow.
Dean Johnson, a defense lawyer and former San Mateo County prosecutor,
said that the prosecution seems overly defensive, trying too hard to
anticipate what evidence Geragos might attack instead of focusing on
presenting a clear, convincing story.
Some lawyers have begun to wonder privately whether lawyers at the
Stanislaus County district attorney's office underestimated how much of a
case they would have to put forward to get a conviction.
"Mark Geragos and Pat Harris are much more skilled, much more experienced
as lawyers," Smith said.
The Stanislaus County district attorney's office may be calling in
reinforcements to shore up what many say is a lagging case. In the last
two weeks, veteran Modesto prosecutor Birgit Fladager has been sitting
near the front of the courtroom, conferring with prosecutors after each
witness is questioned.
"They need to bring in someone with passion and some fire," Smith said. "I
think she should get in front of the counsel table."
STANISLAUS COUNTY -- Grand jury blasts D.A.'s antics; Brazelton accused of
saying he wanted to shoot a reporter
Stanislaus County District Attorney James Brazelton's office has been
slammed by legal experts for its handling of Scott Peterson's capital
murder case. And now the area's top lawman is being personally lambasted
-- this time for bizarre behavior, including whipping out his pistol and
saying that he would like to shoot a newspaper reporter.
In a 6-page report that carries no legal weight, the Stanislaus County
civil grand jury found that Brazelton committed nine acts of willful
misconduct and violated the county's workplace security and anti-violence
The findings have further drawn attention to the office, which has been
under enormous public scrutiny since the Peterson trial began in May.
Lawyers and analysts say the prosecution has thus far botched the
high-profile case. And a juror who was excused from the trial in late June
criticized the prosecution for lacking evidence against the 31-year-old
fertilizer salesman accused of killing his wife and unborn child.
Now the grand jury wants Brazelton to be publicly rebuked for his Wild
West, gun-wielding behavior.
"The Deputy District Attorneys Association is quite concerned," said Pat
Thistle, the union official who represents Stanislaus County-employed
lawyers. "It's a workplace safety issue."
Thistle said it's "not comforting at all" to know that the county's top
law enforcement official is accused of brandishing a gun in the district
attorney's office and pretending to shoot people.
According to the report, Brazelton's alleged actions began in August, when
reporters from the Modesto Bee were in his office reviewing receipts of
county-issued credit cards to make sure officials weren't dipping into the
till for personal use. During that time, Brazelton is alleged to have
twice made threatening comments to staff members about the journalists.
The 1st time, according to the grand jury report, he pulled his gun from
his holster and held it in the palm of his hand saying, "This is what I
would like to give" one of the reporters. The second time, Brazelton is
alleged to have walked into another office where employees were talking
and simulated drawing a pistol and firing it at a trash can, repeating
something similar to his original comment.
The district attorney is accused of having commented that he missed an
opportunity to run down one of the reporters with his car when the
journalist was crossing the street.
Brazelton did not return calls to The Chronicle. But, according to the
report, he has denied the incidents to county officials.
Thistle said a county employee notified the union about the alleged
incidents, and he subsequently went to officials with the information.
Then, he said, the matter was brought before the grand jury.
The jurors found that Brazelton tried to silence his employees during the
investigation. Prior to being interviewed by the county counsel's office,
the district attorney told one member of his staff that "somebody has
talked to the CEO's (county executive's) office and I'm going to find out
who it is." He then told the employee, "You know it never happened."
The worker reported feeling personally threatened and fearful.
Brazelton, according to the report, contacted another employee and said he
wanted to talk about "that gun thing." During the conversation he denied
the incidents, saying that he just wanted to find "a rat in my office."
Although the grand jury acknowledged that the district attorney is an
elected official and not accountable to the Board of Supervisors, it has
asked the board to publicly rebuke Brazelton during one of its regular
Brazelton, a former Bakersfield and Orange police officer, was appointed
by the Board of Supervisors to fill the unexpired term of the retiring
Stanislaus County district attorney in 1996. He was elected to the seat
two years later. His latest term will be up in January 2007. It is unclear
whether he will seek re-election in the March 2006 primary.
(source for both: San Francisco Chronicle)
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