- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

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

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 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.

Mrs. Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, sobbed as the verdicts were read, and her son Brent wrapped an arm tightly around her. 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 with its story of an attractive young couple awaiting the birth of their first child, a cheating husbandand 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. Peterson faces the death penalty because he was convicted of multiple murders.

Mrs. 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 soon was 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 Mrs. Peterson 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,” Mr. 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 water.

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

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

As the courtroom emptied, throngs of well-wishers cheered Mrs. Peterson’s family. Gwendolyn Kemple, a distant relative of Mrs. Rocha, was crying and shaking, saying, “We’re just elated.”

Outside the courthouse, someone in the crowd booed Peterson’s mother, Jackie, before the family was rushed away by police.

Peterson never took the stand in the trial. His attorneys 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 Mrs. 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 attorneys also offered evidence that the fetus may have died days or weeks after the disappearance, when he 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 lawyer Mark Geragos acknowledged the jurors probably hated Peterson, and pleaded with them not to convict him simply because the prosecution made him look like a “jerk and a liar.”

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