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Peterson jury must decide life or death

First-degree and second-degree murder convictions

Scott Peterson could get a death sentence after the double murder convictions.
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Scott Peterson could now receive the death penalty.

Reaction to the conviction in Modesto.

The events leading up to the double murder trial of Scott Peterson.

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Scott Peterson

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.

Jurors found that special circumstances -- a conviction of multiple murders -- applied in Laci Peterson's death, which means either a death sentence or life without parole apply under California law.

The sentencing phase of the trial is set to begin November 22. With time off for the Thanksgiving holiday, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi said the second phase should take less than a week.

Tension was high in the courtroom before the jury's decision was announced Friday.

Laci Peterson's mother and brother, Brent Rocha, sobbed when the verdicts were announced -- first-degree murder in the death of his pregnant wife Laci and second-degree murder in the death of the Petersons' unborn son.

Scott Peterson -- though he was smiling confidently before the verdict -- looked "straight ahead, and not to either side," after the announcement, CNN's Rusty 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.

Outside the courtroom, people cheered and car horns sounded as the news of the verdicts spread.

Prosecutors had accused 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 the judge'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, became the new jury foreman. Sources said he 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.

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 no cement weights were found.

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

Distaso 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.

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 near the marina where Peterson said he launched his boat on a fishing trip he took Christmas Eve 2002.

When Peterson was arrested in April near San Diego, he was carrying nearly $15,000 in cash, and prosecutors said he was preparing to flee to Mexico. He also had dyed his hair blond and wore a beard.

On January 24, 2003, Frey 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.

Those calls 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.

CNN's Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.

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