Judge Chosen to Preside Over Peterson Case

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Scott Peterson's double-murder trial will be presided over by a retired judge known for evenhanded treatment of suspects and praised for work in another high-profile case.

Richard E. Arnason, 82, was selected Wednesday by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, in part because of his experience in handling major trials, including the sensational 1970s murder trial of black militant Angela Davis.

Court officials opted for a retired judge to avoid slowing down other trials.

Arnason took the Davis trial after five other judges either withdrew or were disqualified. Davis, a former member of the Communist Party, was acquitted of plotting a bloody courthouse shootout during the trial of three black prisoners accused of killing a prison guard.

Arnason is known for an exhaustive work ethic, his fair treatment of defendants and a civil demeanor. Convicted felons have been known to hug Arnason, write him letters from prison or thank him for their sentences. In turn, he refers to defendants as "sir" or "ma'am" and does not allow them to be shackled in his courtroom.

One of Davis' defense lawyers, Howard Moore Jr., said he immediately took to Arnason during Davis' 13-week trial because, "he exuded those qualities we wanted in a judge. We wanted a judge who was knowledgeable in the law, let each side be heard and would be reasonable and fair."

After lunch Wednesday, Arnason remained holed up in his chambers in the Contra Costa County seat of Martinez. He declined to answer questions or have his photograph taken.

The Peterson trial is scheduled to start Monday, but will probably be postponed. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Prosecutors have asked for two weeks to relocate their operation from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County. The case is being moved to San Mateo County because a judge ruled Peterson could not easily get a fair trial in his dead wife's hometown.

Scott Peterson, 31, has pleaded innocent to two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant wife, Laci, just before Christmas 2002 and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay. In April, her remains and those of the fetus she was carrying washed ashore two miles from where her husband said he was fishing when she vanished. He could receive the death penalty.