Judge Al Girolami set the case for hearings Feb. 2 in San Mateo County Superior Court, where he ordered the case moved this week after ruling that it would be difficult to find unbiased jurors in Laci Peterson’s hometown where she attained celebrity status after disappearing more than a year ago.
Judge Richard Arnason is an 82-year-old judge with a reputation for a fatherly demeanor, in a maneuver that automatically guaranteed his removal. Arnason was appointed after Girolami decided not to stay with the case when he ordered the change of courts.
Deputy District Attorney Rick Distaso filed the challenge against Arnason in Stanislaus County Superior Court saying that he is biased and prosecutors didn’t think they could get a fair trial against Peterson in the slayings of his wife and unborn son.
The peremptory challenge did not require that prosecutors show cause and they declined to comment. Each side in the case gets one challenge.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George said it would take until next week to find another judge qualified to handle the case, spokeswoman Lynn Holton said.
Peterson, 31, faces the death penalty if convicted of two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in their home and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay. In April, her remains and those of the fetus washed ashore two miles from where her husband said he was fishing on Christmas Eve 2002 when she vanished.