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Big murder trials: morbid, but lucrative for host towns

The Scott Peterson trial, set to begin Monday in northern California, could be a boon to local hotels and restaurants.

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Early one recent afternoon, Lito Salazar lit the neon "vacancy'' sign in a window next to the doorway to the Pacific Euro residential hotel he manages on Main Street, thereby firing what he hoped would be a preemptive economic salvo in the battle for wallet share of the Scott Peterson murder trial.

"This is a big case. I have been watching on the television,'' says Mr. Salazar. "I know there will be many people from television and the newspapers here. There will be people who want to get a look at this."

The murder trial of Mr. Peterson, a 31-year-old fertilizer salesman accused of killing his wife Laci and their unborn son, was recently relocated to Redwood City to stave off the media frenzy building in Modesto, the heart of California's farm belt and Laci's hometown.

The result is an economic windfall that will last several months, giving Redwood City unprecedented media exposure. The case, scheduled to begin monday, may be as unsavory as two other current megatrials - those of singer Michael Jackson and basketball star Kobe Bryant - but for the host communities such cases offer the financial equivalent of an ongoing convention.

That may explain why, at the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the news was greeted with paroxysms of glee. "Everybody screamed,'' says Anne LeClair, the organization's president and chief executive, who sent packets of promotional materials to court officials in Modesto. "We're all very excited."

This brought to some minds comparisons to bidding for a major sporting event, rather than the trial of a man accused of killing his pregnant wife on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumping her body into San Francisco Bay.

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