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Jurors Say Scott Peterson Should Die for 2 Murders

The defense has several options for appeals, but experts say the chance of success is remote.

December 14, 2004|Louis Sahagun and Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writers

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — A divided jury came together here Monday to decide that Scott Peterson should die for murdering his wife and unborn son, voting for death shortly after reviewing photos of the decomposing bodies of his victims -- Laci Peterson, missing her arms and head, and Conner Peterson, barely recognizable as a fetus.

When the jury had stopped deliberating Friday, foreman Steve Cardosi recalled Monday, six were in favor of death, two were for life in prison without possibility of parole, and four were uncertain.

Soon after they reconvened Monday morning, the panel asked to review evidence, including the photographs of the corpses and one of a pregnant Laci clad in a maternity outfit, smiling broadly, her hands folded on her belly.

"I thought before we made a final vote ... people really needed to look at that," Cardosi said. "Seeing those on the big screen when it's 40 feet away from you ... is a little different than putting them down in front of you and seeing them, and seeing that it is, or was, a baby.... We all passed them along, and everybody looked at them."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 15, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Laci Peterson -- An article in Tuesday's Section A about convicted murderer Scott Peterson's being sentenced to death said Peterson's wife, Laci, had been seven months pregnant in the summer of 2002. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve of 2002.

The jurors took a vote and then sent a message to Judge Alfred A. Delucchi, saying they had reached a decision.

Laci Peterson's mother smiled as a court clerk read the verdict. Defense attorney Mark Geragos wrapped an arm around his client. But the courtroom was mostly silent, the mood subdued, even as a crowd gathered outside the San Mateo County courthouse cheered.

Peterson sat expressionless, as he did throughout most of the trial, though he did tear up last week when a friend testified that he was a good man.

The jurors, who a month ago convicted Peterson of first-degree murder in the slaying of his wife and second-degree murder in the slaying of their unborn son, came to their decision following 12 hours of deliberation over three days. The body of Laci Peterson and that of the fetus she was carrying washed ashore along San Francisco Bay four months after she went missing on Christmas Eve 2002.

Three jurors who agreed to speak with reporters after the verdict was read said they were never influenced by the hoopla surrounding the much-publicized case and that they all presumed Peterson innocent when the case began. When it ended, they agreed, he deserved to die.

"Scott Peterson was Laci's husband, Conner's daddy -- the one person that should have protected them. And for him to have done it ," said juror Richelle Nice, her voice trailing off.

The entire process, the jurors said, had been physically and emotionally draining, but "it doesn't get any harder than today," said Cardosi, a firefighter and paramedic from Half Moon Bay.

When the jury, which had been sequestered in a hotel, failed to announce a decision Friday, some court watchers speculated that was good news for Peterson, that a jury returning a death verdict would do so quickly.

The jurors said Monday that the panel was simply being careful. As with every jury, the jurors devised rules on how to proceed. Eventually, they imposed time limits on their remarks after some jurors, liberated from days of listening, went on for 30 minutes when they had the floor.

"Any time you put 12 people in a room together and expect them to agree -- to think that would happen easily -- is naive," Cardosi said.

Until Monday, the jurors never knew one another's real names. They went by numbers or nicknames.

Juror Greg Beratlis, a youth sports coach from Belmont, said the last six months had included "many sleepless nights, because you want to make the right choice.... It's a man's life." And after he voted to take that life, Beratlis said, he looked Peterson in the eye so Peterson would understand his decision was sincere.

Peterson never took the stand, and Nice, a mother of four who came to call the dead baby Conner "Little Man," said that was fine with her.

"We heard him," she said. "For me, a big part of it was at the end -- the verdict -- no emotion. No anything. That spoke a thousand words -- loud and clear.... I heard enough from him."

Cardosi said he had hoped Peterson might take the stand, offer some reason, some insight.

"I still would have liked to see, I don't know if remorse is the right word," Cardosi said. "He lost his wife and his child -- it didn't seem to faze him. While that was going on ... he is romancing a girlfriend."

Prosecutors had argued that a future as a suburban father with a boring job -- he was a fertilizer salesman in Modesto -- had haunted Peterson. In the summer of 2002, with his wife seven months pregnant, Peterson met Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey, a slim, blond single mother. The two slept together the day they met and, prosecutors said, Peterson began plotting to kill his wife.

Delucchi could reduce the sentence to life in prison without parole. He is scheduled to pronounce sentence Feb. 25.

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