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Law

Peterson guilty of murder

Jury faces life-or-death decision


REDWOOD CITY, California (CNN) -- Attention turned Saturday to the life-or-death choice facing jurors who convicted Scott Peterson of killing his pregnant wife and their unborn son.

Their verdict in the high-profile case leaves the jurors to decide whether to sentence Peterson to death, or to life in prison without parole. The sentencing phase of the trial is set to begin November 22.

Tension was high in the courtroom before the verdict was announced Friday evening.

The side of the courtroom with family members and friends of Peterson's wife Laci erupted into sighs and cries when the verdict was announced.

Scott Peterson -- though he was smiling confidently before the verdict -- looked "straight ahead, and not to either side," after the announcement, Dornin said. The Peterson family said nothing after the verdict was read.

Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, was not in the courtroom Friday. Nor was Peterson's father.

Laci Peterson's relatives did not speak to reporters after the verdict.

Prosecutors had accused Scott Peterson of killing 27-year-old Laci on or around December 24, 2002. They said he dumped her body, weighted with homemade cement anchors, in San Francisco Bay.

After 184 witnesses testified over a period of 23 weeks, Geragos said in closing arguments that prosecutors had introduced no direct evidence that Peterson killed anyone, and he admonished jurors to weigh only the evidence and to put aside their feelings about his client.

"I don't care if you hate Scott Peterson," Geragos had said.

During his closing arguments, prosecutor Rick Distaso told jurors that it was a common-sense case in which a man killed his wife and that Peterson was the only one who could have killed Laci.

The verdict came after San Mateo Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi's dismissal and replacement Tuesday of juror No. 7, a woman who reportedly did her own research on the case. On Wednesday, the judge dismissed juror No. 5, a doctor and lawyer who was the panel's foreman. The reason for his dismissal was not given.

Replacement juror No. 6, a firefighter, was named the new jury foreman. Court watchers observed that he took few notes during the trial and appeared bored at times. Dornin reported that sources said the new foreman may have been able to smooth over tensions in the jury room.

During the trial, the defense maintained that police bungled the investigation and targeted Peterson to the exclusion of other viable suspects. Geragos claimed Peterson was framed, possibly by a homeless person or a burglar.

Distaso also theorized that Peterson's motive was not to continue an admitted affair with massage therapist Amber Frey, but freedom from the burden of a wife and son, or if he became divorced, freedom from paying child support.

Geragos said his client would never kill his wife to be with a woman he had gone out with only a few times, even telling jurors of Peterson's two previous affairs.

Geragos pointed out that those weights were never found.

"If there were anchors, why didn't they find them?" Geragos asked jurors in his summation.

Laci Peterson was about eight months pregnant when she disappeared.

Scott Peterson was arrested April 18, 2003, just days after the remains of Laci and their unborn son, whom they planned to name Conner, washed ashore separately in San Francisco Bay near the marina where Peterson said he launched his boat on a fishing trip he took Christmas Eve 2002.

He had dyed his hair blonde and had nearly $15,000 in cash. Prosecutors said he was preparing to flee to Mexico.

On January 24, 2003, Frey stepped up to a microphone and told reporters that she had been having an affair with Peterson before and after his wife went missing.

She said she began cooperating with police when she found out her lover had lied to her about many things, including his marital status.

During his trial, the prosecution played tapes of phone calls Peterson made to Frey while searches were under way for his missing wife.

The calls between Peterson and Frey revealed a web of lies by the defendant, including his statement to her that he celebrated New Year's 2003 near the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, the day that call was made he attended a candlelight vigil for his wife in Modesto.

Jury selection in the trial began March 4, and opening statements started June 1.

Before the six men and six women began deliberating November 3, the judge told jurors they had two choices if they decided to convict: first-degree murder, carrying a possible death sentence or life without parole; and second-degree murder, with the potential of two sentences of 15 years to life.

Delucchi explained, "First-degree murder you need ... expressed malice and intent to kill and premeditation."

Second-degree, he said, means Peterson killed them but didn't plan it. The judge added the lesser charge after finding there was ample evidence to support a case that did not involve premeditation.

The option of the lesser charge was a victory for prosecutors, because evidence against Peterson was largely circumstantial.

CNN's Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.


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