- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) — The California Supreme Court yesterday rejected a request from Scott Peterson’s attorneys that a new jury be selected to decide whether he should receive the death penalty.

The ruling clears the way for the penalty phase to start today.

The same jury of six men and six women that convicted Peterson on Nov. 12 of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and the unborn child she carried will decide whether he should get life in prison or death.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos had argued that the jurors were tainted by the public’s reaction to the verdict. When the verdict was announced, a big cheer arose from a crowd outside the courthouse, and spectators pumped their fists approvingly.

Mr. Geragos wanted the case moved, perhaps to Los Angeles County, and a new jury selected for the penalty phase — a request that had been turned down by the trial judge and an appeals court.

The jury will decide whether Mr. Peterson should be executed, but the decision may not be final for years, given his numerous options for appeal.

Appeals are expected to focus on the performance of Mr. Geragos, legal analysts said.

“An appellate attorney would argue that Geragos was incompetent,” said Pete Kossoris, a retired Ventura County death penalty prosecutor. “One of the things he can be criticized for was his promise of certain evidence in his opening statement, and he never offered it.”

Mr. Geragos, as with others involved in the case, remains under a court-imposed gag order.

A celebrity lawyer who has represented such well-known clients as Winona Ryder and Michael Jackson, Mr. Geragos will not represent Peterson once he is sentenced. State-appointed, publicly funded lawyers will take over, a standard practice in California murder appeals.

The effectiveness of the defense is a bread-and-butter issue for appeal in capital cases, analysts said.

In his opening statements to jurors in June, Mr. Geragos floated a series of explanations for the murders of Mrs. Peterson and her unborn child. Among them was that transients who lived in the couple’s neighborhood abducted Peterson’s pregnant wife, then framed him after learning about his alibi, which was widely circulated in the press.

Mr. Geragos never backed up his opening statements, which could have prejudiced jurors against his client.

Peterson’s grounds for appeal also could include the dismissal of two jurors during deliberations. One was ousted after performing her own research on the case; the reason for removing the other juror, who was the foreman of the panel, has not been disclosed.

Then there are the numerous hearings regarding evidence — what was allowed before the jury and what was excluded.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was the hundreds of secret recordings between Peterson and his mistress, Amber Frey, but defense attorneys could argue that the recordings were inflammatory and not relevant to the case.

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