CALIFORNIA TRIAL Jury finds Scott Peterson guilty of 2 counts of murder
The jury will return Nov. 22 to decide Peterson's sentence.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A Redwood City, Calif., jury convicted Scott Peterson of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Laci Peterson, and second-degree murder in the death of their unborn son.
The first-degree charge, coupled with the second murder charge, means Peterson could be executed. That will be determined by the jury after a penalty phase, during which attorneys for both sides will argue whether the Modesto man should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Scott Peterson looked straight ahead as the verdict was read. As the jurors were being polled -- each one affirming the verdict -- Peterson looked at them, but none appeared to acknowledge the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman.
Laci Peterson's brother, Brent Rocha, held his mother tight while she sobbed during the verdict. Others also cried. Some cheered.
Judge Alfred Delucchi dismissed the jurors for one week.
"You can go home now," Judge Delucchi told the jurors, who had been sequestered since deliberations began Nov. 3. "This part of the trial is over."
To return Nov. 22
Jurors will be asked to return Nov. 22 to begin a penalty phase Judge Delucchi expects to last less than one week. The jurors, lawyers, family members and witnesses all continue to be subject to a gag order.
Peterson's high-profile lawyer, Mark Geragos, whose client list has included Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, was in Los Angeles when the verdict was read.
Testimony in the penalty phase is expected to be particularly emotional. Families of both Scott and Laci Peterson are expected to testify.
Though execution is an option, in California it is still rare for juries to reach that decision, especially when the defendant has no prior criminal history.
Because two jurors had been removed from the jury earlier this week, the jury had to re-form Wednesday and begin its deliberations from scratch. The jury did not deliberate Thursday because of Veterans Day, so the current 12-member panel reached its verdict in roughly one day of deliberations in the almost entirely circumstantial case.
Peterson faced two murder counts in the deaths of his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner.
The verdict capped a chaotic week in which two jurors -- including the former foreman -- were dismissed, one apparently for conducting her own research. No reason was disclosed why the former foreman -- a man with medical and law degrees who took 19 notebooks into deliberations -- was removed from the panel.
This case that became a nationwide sensation with a made-for-TV movie and wall-to-wall tabloid coverage began on Christmas Eve, 2002, when Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant, disappeared.
Scott Peterson told police he discovered she was missing when he returned home later that day from a fishing trip off the Berkeley, Calif., Marina.
A frantic search ensued, but police revealed during the more than five-month trial they suspected Peterson may have been involved from almost the beginning.
One month after Laci Peterson's disappearance, Amber Frey, a massage therapist from Fresno, Calif., held a press conference to announce she was having an affair with Peterson but did not know he was married.
Bodies washed up
In April 2003, the bodies of Laci Peterson and their unborn child washed ashore in San Francisco Bay, within a mile of where Peterson told police he had gone fishing. That proved to be one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in a case where there was never any crime scene, weapon or even cause of death, though prosecutors suggested Peterson may have strangled or smothered his wife.
Four days after the bodies washed ashore, authorities confirmed their identities and arrested Scott Peterson in San Diego, near where his parents live. By the time of his arrest, he had dyed his hair reddish and grown a goatee. He also had $15,000 in cash with him and his brother's driver's license.