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Lawyers prep for Peterson civil trial

Lawyers prep for Peterson civil trial

Two Modesto attorneys will travel to San Quentin State Prison this week to ask Scott Peterson if he killed his wife.

Attorneys Adam Stewart and Gary Davis probably won’t get an answer, because Peterson can invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

But they have 10 hours set aside to interview the death-row inmate on Thursday and Friday, according to court records.

The deposition — part of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Laci Peterson’s parents — raises one main question.

"What do they have to gain from this?" asked Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara law professor who was part of football star O.J. Simpson’s legal team.

Wrongful death lawsuits often are brought in cases involving auto accidents, defective products or medical negligence, when insurance companies can afford to pay damages. They also are brought in high-profile cases, for instance, when celebrities are acquitted of criminal charges then pursued in civil court.

Simpson, for example, was found liable for the 1994 deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.

More recently, actor Robert Blake was found liable for the 2001 death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, whose children were awarded $30 million.

Peterson, formerly a fertilizer salesman, doesn’t have that kind of money. But Sharon Rocha and her ex-husband Dennis Rocha want to keep him from selling his story.

The Rochas are seeking $25 million from their son-in-law, who was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son, then dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay during a Christmas Eve 2002 fishing trip.

Trial to revolve around damages

A trial is scheduled to begin April 4 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Neither Stewart nor Davis, who represent the Rochas, could be reached for comment. Neither could attorney Pat Harris of Los Angeles, who was part of Peterson’s criminal defense team and represents him in several civil cases.

Both sides have told the court that a jury trial would revolve around damages and that they do not want to re-create the criminal trial that filled a Redwood City courtroom for most of 2004.

Attorneys Cliff Gardner of Oakland and Lawrence Gibbs of Berkeley, recently hired to help Peterson appeal his guilty verdict and death sentence, said the civil cases have no bearing on their work.

But they’ll be watching.

"If something good came out of the civil action, we’d certainly use it," Gardner said.

Uelmen said Scott Peterson should let his attorneys speak for him, even if his failure to answer questions results in some court sanctions.

"That’s certainly what I would advise him if I were his lawyer."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or sherendeen@modbee.com.

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