State

Who'll pay for murder trial?

Having won partial state reimbursement for trial costs in Scott Peterson's double-murder case, Stanislaus County wants to up the ante for Columbus Allen Jr. II.

Prosecutors expect to spend large sums trying Allen for the February 2006 Salida murder of California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott. County leaders are looking for financial help from Scott's employer -- the state.

Sen. Jeff Denham, who helped Modesto and the county recoup some costs in Peterson's 2004 blockbuster trial, introduced legislation in Sacramento three weeks ago allowing counties to seek state reimbursement for prosecuting those accused of killing officers.

"Local governments facing tight budgets should not be forced to pull law enforcement officers off the street to cover the excessive costs to investigate and prosecute cop killers," Denham said Tuesday. Assembly members Bill Berryhill, Tom Berryhill and Cathleen Galgiani, all of whom represent parts of Stanislaus County, are co-authors.

As in the Peterson case, Allen faces capital punishment if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin in April in Sacramento to escape potential juror bias caused by extensive pretrial publicity in and around Modesto. Peterson's trial was moved to Redwood City for similar reasons.

Peterson, 37, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner, and arrived on death row five years ago next week, where he awaits appeals.

Denham led a push that returned $1.12 million to Modesto police, the lead agency in the Peterson case, plus $860,700 to Stanislaus County, whose prosecutors won the death sentence. The March 2006 reimbursement total of $1.98 million was less than half of the combined $4.13 million cost, but was seen as a victory because such requests rarely bring anything.

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At the time, Denham, an Atwater Republican, was running for re-election. This year he's in a congressional race against former U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund.

Denham's current legislation, Senate Bill 1356, would provide 100 percent reimbursement for the trial costs.

Scott's body was found at the edge of northbound Highway 99, just south of Hammett Road, holding registration papers for a Nissan Maxima registered to Allen's wife, Bertera.

County supervisors in September agreed to set aside $1 million for the Allen trial. The county has slashed millions of dollars in services and salaries and expects another $23 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Although Allen lived in San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County taxpayers also must foot the bill for his indigent defense because Scott was killed here.

On the Net:

A PDF of the bill can be found at www.is.gd/a5I1V.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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