- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — The jury in the Scott Peterson case, repelled by his apparent lack of sorrow and remorse, decided yesterday that he deserves the death penalty for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, almost two years ago to the date.

A cheer went up outside the courthouse as the jury of six men and six women announced its decision after 11 hours of deliberations over three days.

Inside, Peterson reacted with the same tight-jawed look that some jurors said turned them off after seeing little emotion out of Peterson since his wife’s disappearance two years ago.

“I still would have liked to see, I don’t know if remorse is the right word,” juror Steve Cardosi said at a press conference after the sentence. “He lost his wife and his child — it didn’t seem to faze him. While that was going on … he is romancing a girlfriend.”

Peterson still might not be executed for decades — if ever — and it can take years for the appeals process to begin. Since California brought back capital punishment in 1978, only 10 executions have been carried out, an average of 16 years after the sentences were handed down.

The state’s last execution, of Stephen Wayne Anderson in 2002, was for the 1980 murder of an 81-year-old retired piano teacher that netted him less than $100 while the convicted burglar was on the run after escaping from a Utah prison. California’s clogged death row houses about 650 people.

Jurors said they were swayed as much by Peterson’s emotions as by any of the testimony during the trial.

“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,” juror Richelle Nice said, responding to a question about whether they wanted to hear a statement from Peterson. “I heard enough from him.”

Juror Greg Beratlis said the jury was convinced of Peterson’s guilt by “many, many things.”

“Those bodies were found in the one place he went prior to her being missing,” he said. “I played in my mind over and over conspiracies: Was somebody trying to set up Scott? Was somebody after Laci? It didn’t add up.”

Miss Nice also described the jury’s repugnance for a man killing his wife and their unborn child, which they already had named Conner.

“Scott Peterson was Laci’s husband, Conner’s daddy — the one person that should have protected them,” she said.

Mr. Cardosi, Miss Nice and Mr. Beratlis were the only panel members to discuss the case yesterday with reporters. The other nine declined to be interviewed.

A crowd of several hundred gathered outside the courthouse for the verdict — a scene reminiscent of when about 1,000 people showed up last month to hear the conviction. The San Francisco Examiner came out with a special edition within minutes of the sentence, with the giant headline “DEATH.”

The victim’s mother, Sharon Rocha, cried quietly — her lips quivering — after the decision was read. Jackie Peterson showed no apparent emotion at the verdict against her son.

Mrs. Peterson’s stepfather, Ron Grantski, was the only member of her family to speak publicly after the jury’s decision, saying his son-in-law “got what he deserved.” Mrs. Rocha and a dozen other family members and friends sat sobbing nearby.

Mr. Grantski noted that the last time he saw Mrs. Peterson was almost two years ago to the day — on Dec. 15, 2002.

“We have a lot of tough holidays and dates coming up that are going to be very hard for us,” Mr. Grantski said.

The jury had two options in deciding the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman’s fate: life in prison without parole or death by injection.

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi will formally sentence Peterson on Feb. 25. The judge will have the option of reducing the sentence to life imprisonment, but such a move is rare.

If the judge upholds the sentence, Peterson will be sent to death row at San Quentin State Prison outside San Francisco, the infamous lockup that overlooks the same bay where Mrs. Peterson’s body was discarded.

The sentence marked one of the final chapters in a soap opera-like saga that began nearly two years ago with the Christmas Eve disappearance of Mrs. Peterson, a 27-year-old substitute teacher who married her college sweetheart and was a month away from giving birth to their son.

The tale of adultery and murder quickly set off a tabloid frenzy as suspicion began to swirl around Peterson, who claimed to have been fishing by himself on Christmas Eve and was carrying on an affair with massage therapist Amber Frey at the time.

The remains of Mrs. Peterson and her unborn child washed ashore about four months later, just a few miles from where Peterson said he was fishing in the San Francisco Bay.

The case made more People magazine covers than any other murder investigation in the publication’s history. Court TV thrived on the case, providing countless hours of coverage on the investigation and gavel-to-gavel commentary throughout the trial. CNN’s Larry King hosted show after show with pundits picking apart legal strategies, testimony and even Peterson’s demeanor.

The jury’s decision came after seven days of tearful testimony in the penalty phase of the trial. In arguing for death last week, prosecutors called Peterson “the worst kind of monster” and said he was undeserving of sympathy.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos begged of jurors: “Just don’t kill him. That’s all I am asking of you. End this cycle.”

Prosecutors spent months portraying Peterson as a cheating husband and cold-blooded killer who wooed his lover even as police searched for his missing wife. They said he wanted to murder Mrs. Peterson to escape marriage and fatherhood for the pleasures of freewheeling bachelorhood.

The prosecution put on a short, but emotional case in the penalty phase, calling just four witnesses.

“Every morning when I get up, I cry,” Mrs. Rocha told jurors. “It takes me a long time just to be able to get out of the house. … I miss her. I want to know my grandson. I want Laci to be a mother. I want to hear her called Mom.”

Mrs. Rocha later rose halfway out of her seat and screamed at Peterson, who was seated impassively at the defense table: “Divorce was always an option,” she said. “Not murder!”

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