- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Scott Peterson was convicted today of murdering his pregnant wife and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay in what prosecutors in the made-for-cable-TV case portrayed as a cold-blooded plot to escape marriage and fatherhood for the bachelor life.

Peterson, 32, could get the death penalty. The former fertilizer salesman was convicted of one count of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Laci, and one count of second-degree murder in the death of the son she was carrying.

Peterson stared straight ahead with no show of emotion as the verdict was read, then looked at each of the jurors as they were polled to confirm their decisions. The jurors looked serious, and none appeared to look back at Peterson. Cheers broke out among the hundreds of onlookers who gathered outside court - some of them pumping their fists in celebration upon hearing the news on the radio.

Laci Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, sobbed as the verdicts were read, and her son Brent wrapped his arm tightly around her. Laci’s friends in the gallery, arms around each other, cried. Sobs and loud sighs could be heard in the courtroom. After the jury was dismissed, prosecutor James Brazelton reached forward and patted the shoulder of the lead detective, whose testimony in the case proved pivotal.

The verdict came after a five-month trial that was an endless source of fascination to the tabloids, People magazine and the cable networks with its story of an attractive, radiant young couple awaiting the birth of their first child, a cheating husband, and a slaying for which prosecutors had no eyewitnesses, no weapon, not even a cause of death.



The verdict followed a tumultuous seven days of deliberations in which two jurors were removed for unspecified reasons and the judge twice told the panel to start over.

The jury of six men and six women was told to return Nov. 22 to begin hearing testimony on whether Peterson should die by lethal injection or get life in prison without parole.

Laci Peterson, a 27-year-old substitute teacher, was eight months pregnant when she vanished around Christmas Eve 2002. Four months later, her headless body and the remains of her fetus were discovered along the shoreline about 90 miles from the couple’s Modesto home - not far from where her husband claims he was fishing alone the day of her disappearance.

Peterson was soon arrested in the San Diego area, more than 400 miles from home, carrying nearly $15,000, his hair and goatee bleached blond.

Police never were able to establish exactly when, how or where Laci died.

At trial, prosecutors presented 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence, from wiretapped phone calls to videotaped police interrogations, depicting Peterson as a liar and a philanderer who was sweet-talking his girlfriend, massage therapist Amber Frey, at the same time he was trying to show the world he was pining for his missing wife.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury that Peterson could not stand the thought of being trapped in a “dull, boring, married life with kids,” and either strangled or smothered his wife and dumped her weighted-down body overboard from his fishing boat.

“He wants to live the rich, successful, freewheeling bachelor life. He can’t do that when he’s paying child support, alimony and everything else,” Distaso said. “He didn’t want to be tied to this kid the rest of his life. He didn’t want to be tied to Laci for the rest of his life. So he killed her.”

The jury heard how Peterson had bought a two-day ocean-fishing license days before his wife disappeared, yet claimed his fishing trip was a last-minute substitution for golf because of blustery weather. Prosecutors also offered evidence suggesting he used a bag of cement mix to make concrete anchors to sink his wife’s body into the bay.

After a day off for Veterans Day, jurors resumed deliberations Friday at the end of a chaotic week in which the judge removed two members of the panel. The final 12 members deliberated for about 8 hours Wednesday and Friday before reaching their verdict, which the judge prohibited from being broadcast on television.

A huge crowd massed outside the courthouse in Redwood City, where the case was moved after defense attorneys argued Peterson had been demonized in his hometown of Modesto to the point that he couldn’t get a fair trial. “He’s a sicko. He needs to fry,” said Bob Johnston, 42. “I wanted to see that justice was served.”

Prosecutors and defense lawyers remain under a gag order that prevents them from commenting.

Peterson never took the stand. His lawyers argued that he was the victim of a frame-up. They suggested that someone else - perhaps homeless people, sex offenders or suspicious-looking characters spotted in the neighborhood - abducted Laci Peterson while she walked the dog, then killed her and dumped the body in the water after learning of Peterson’s fishing-trip alibi.

Peterson’s lawyers also offered evidence that the fetus may have died days or weeks after the disappearance, when Scott was being watched closely by the police and the media.

And they explained his lies and inconsistent statements about his affair and his activities around the time of the disappearance as the mutterings of a man in the midst of a breakdown over his missing wife.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos acknowledged the jurors probably hated Peterson, and pleaded with them not to convict him simply because the prosecution had made him look like a “jerk and a liar.”

Geragos also noted the lingering questions about how Laci died. “Maybe the logical explanation for the fact that we have no evidence of her struggling in that house, dying in that house is because it didn’t happen in that house,” he said.

In addition, Geragos said police found that someone had used a computer in the Petersons’ home on the morning Laci vanished - after authorities contend Laci was already dead - to search Web sites for a scarf and a sunflower-motif umbrella stand. He suggested the user was Laci Peterson.

The story proved irresistible to the cable networks, which almost every night brought in experts to pick apart the two sides’ legal strategies and expound on some of the soap opera aspects of the case, which included hours of secretly taped calls in which Peterson spun out elaborate tales to Frey.

Frey herself testified, saying that Peterson told her during their affair that he had “lost his wife.” But she said that in all their recorded conversations, he repeatedly professed his love for his wife and never said anything to incriminate himself in her slaying.

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