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Scott Peterson Gets Death for Murders

His wife's family denounces him at the close of a court case that captivated the nation.

March 17, 2005|Maria L. La Ganga and Tonya Alanez | Times Staff Writers

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Scott Peterson, the 32-year-old fertilizer salesman convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son, was sentenced to death Wednesday morning in a chilling courtroom drama tailor-made for a case that has transfixed the nation.

Speaking on behalf of her dead daughter, Sharon Rocha looked Peterson in the eye and told him what she believed went through Laci Peterson's mind as she was murdered and her body dumped in San Francisco Bay -- words, Rocha said, that she hoped would "haunt you forever."

"I trusted you, I believed in you, you promised to take care of me," Rocha said, as if channeling her dead daughter. "I want to be your wife and the mother of your baby.... Scott, I want to live. I don't want to die.... Please stop, please stop, I don't want to die."

The atmosphere in the courtroom was electric as Rocha and Peterson faced off and the anguished woman gave voice to Conner, the grandson she would never cradle in her arms. Conner, she told the impassive defendant, was probably thinking, "Daddy, why are you killing Mommy and me? I don't know you yet, but I love you."

The riveting court procedure -- interrupted by the angry shouts of Peterson's parents -- became a public face-off between two grieving families separated by violence and the chasm of class.

Relatives of Laci Peterson, 27 years old and eight months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002, repeatedly told Peterson that he was selfish, evil and arrogant. Peterson, they said, thought that his privileged youth made him "better than everybody else" and that he could get away with not one, but two, murders.

Peterson's parents, precluded by Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi from speaking in court Wednesday, were reduced to shouting their son's innocence from their seats before they left the packed gallery.

Rocha excoriated her dark-suited former son-in-law before an emotional Delucchi sentenced him to death.

She taunted him for what she described as his betrayal and his treachery and detailed the depth and breadth of her loss.

"I'll never meet my grandson," she said. "I'm left to wonder ... what costume would Laci get him for his first Halloween? Would he cry when he got his picture taken with Santa? What would be in his Easter basket?"

Filled with melodramatic twists, lurid details and photogenic main characters, the case has captivated the media and the public from its heart-wrenching beginning.

Made-for-TV elements included an exhaustive search for the missing Laci, employing horses, dogs, divers, rafts, hundreds of volunteers, thousands of fliers, a hefty reward and the FBI.

Televised pleas from tearful relatives begged for her return.

There was an adulterous husband poised to go on the lam, the other woman who went to the authorities and the tape-recordings of their intimate phone conversations, filled with his lies and played in Room 2M of San Mateo County Superior Court.

Defense attorneys blamed Laci's death on a satanic cult or a band of homeless people who dumped her body in the bay in an effort to frame her innocent husband. Jurors were dismissed at key times under mysterious circumstances.

For months, hundreds of would-be spectators queued up in the early morning chill for empty seats in the crowded courtroom and a ringside view of crime history in the making.

The biggest draw during the trial was the testimony of former masseuse Amber Frey, who took the stand in August to tell about her affair with Peterson.

And even at the bitter end, after a 5 1/2 -month trial in which the six-man, six-woman jury voted that Peterson be put to death, his attorneys filed one last motion in an effort to get the proceedings scuttled and start from scratch.

In court documents filed Feb. 25 and made public Monday, defense attorney Mark Geragos put forth 13 reasons to give Peterson a new trial, including new evidence, jury misconduct and decisions by Delucchi that broke for the prosecution.

Geragos and prosecutor David Harris argued the motion for a new trial in court Wednesday as most of the jurors who convicted Peterson looked on.

Delucchi then detailed his objections to each of Geragos' issues, ruled that Peterson was appropriately convicted and began the sentencing hearing.

Peterson declined to speak on his own behalf. Geragos asked the judge to allow Peterson's parents to speak, reasoning that they, too, were victims, having lost a grandson. A terse Delucchi denied the request: "It was not their daughter who was murdered."

Brent Rocha, Laci's brother, was the first member of the victims' family to face the man who had left them bereft.

"You thought you were better than anyone else," Brent Rocha scolded, "more entitled and more privileged. I never would have thought it would have led to murder.... Is it because your parents gave you money? You had a good golf game?"

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