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Retired judge to preside in Peterson murder trial

SAN FRANCISCO -- A retired judge whose long experience with high-profile cases dates to the sensational 1970s trial of black militant Angela Davis was picked yesterday to preside at the murder trial of Scott Peterson.

Retired Contra Costa County Judge Richard Arnason, 82, was chosen a day after Judge Al Girolami decided to move the trial to the San Francisco Bay area because of hostility toward Peterson in Modesto, his wife's hometown.

The trial is scheduled to start Monday but will probably be postponed. Prosecutors asked for two weeks to move their operation to San Mateo County. A hearing is scheduled for later this week to discuss a delay.

Peterson, 31, is charged with two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and unborn son just before Christmas 2002 and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay.

Peterson's lawyers said he had been demonized in the town where the couple lived and Laci Peterson grew up..

California Chief Justice Ronald George chose Arnason, in part because officials wanted a retired judge to keep the monthslong trial from slowing down local courts.

Arnason presided at the trial of Angela Davis, a former member of the Communist Party who was charged in 1971 with plotting a courthouse shootout during the trial of three black prisoners accused of killing a prison guard. She was acquitted.

The Peterson trial will be held in Redwood City. San Mateo County's tourism bureau said local businesses could see an influx of $8 million to $16 million as members of the media arrive.

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