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On The Scene

Rowlands: 'Very somber, when the verdict was read'


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CNN correspondent Ted Rowlands
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Scott Peterson found guilty in the murder of his wife and unborn child.

CNN's Rusty Dornin describes the scene in the courtroom.

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

(CNN) -- A jury recommended the death penalty Monday for Scott Peterson, convicted a month ago of murdering his wife and unborn son.

CNN correspondent Ted Rowlands has been covering the case from day one and had an early interview with Peterson. He spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the mood inside the courtroom when the verdict was read.

ROWLANDS: Well, Wolf, it was very somber, as you can imagine. Both sides [were] feeling the weight of what was going on. The security was very tight. There were bailiffs along both sides of the walls, there were police officers that had been part of this investigation on the side, near the prosecution seating.

The families had a much different type of seating. The Rocha family was there, and then in force were friends and supporters of the Rocha family, people that have known Laci all of her life. On the other side it was just the Petersons and it was only Jackie, Lee and Janie Peterson. There were three empty rows behind them.

And the Petersons seemed resigned from the minute they walked in that they knew what was coming and there was no visible reaction when the verdict of death was read. In fact, the jurors were most likely the most emotional people in the courtroom as far as showing their emotions. But you could feel the emotion, obviously, before, during and after.

Very somber, when the verdict was read, that there was no, as you might imagine, cheering or not even a reaction at all from the prosecution side. And like I say, it looked like the Petersons were resigned to what was coming. They knew it was coming given the evidence that was asked for earlier today.

Mark Geragos talked to the Peterson family just before the verdict was read. And then after the verdict was read he talked to them as well. Jurors filed in. A couple apparently looked at Scott Peterson, I did not see that, but for the most part they looked away, and then they filed out and looked away.

BLITZER: Ted, was there any reaction that you could discern whatsoever from Scott Peterson, body reaction, facial reaction?

ROWLANDS: No. When he walked in he does the same thing most times. Walking into court, he gives a little bit of a quirky smile as he gets in, to his family. He did that again, but this time he took a deep breath when he sat down. It was an obvious sigh. And then when the verdict was read there was no reaction.

However, when they were polling the jurors he was intent on trying to make eye contact with each and every juror as that individual juror got up. It didn't appear as though [he] made eye contact with any of the jurors as they acknowledged their verdict in the case.

But he didn't show any outward emotion. Obviously, he, too, was prepared, if you will, by Mark Geragos because of the evidence that was asked for from this jury. He most likely told Peterson, get ready for it, it's probably coming. We're still on your side and we're still going to fight this.

And then you talk to family members, that's their feeling, is that this isn't over. They feel like that they're going to find the person who was really responsible for this. In their mind they truly still believe that their son is innocent. So that is what got them through the reading of this verdict.

BLITZER: Was he wearing his suit as usual? What was he dressed up in?

ROWLANDS: He was wearing one of his normal suits that he wears. He's got a half-dozen suits that he wears. And for all practical purposes he looked the same as he does walking in every day: He's well-dressed, walks in and he doesn't appear down. He never really shows any negative emotion. If there's any emotion at all coming from him, it's positive reinforcement with his family. His family is always in the front row when he walks in and he usually gives them a little nod and a quirky smile.

And again, he did it today even though he most likely knew what this jury had come up with. I think that this verdict was much different than the guilt phase verdict in that it didn't seem to be as much of a question of what this jury was going to do. And for the Peterson family, quite frankly, you talk to them, they say they've been beaten down so much, it really didn't matter what this jury came back with. When they came back with guilt that's what really hurt this family and that was when the emotions were just off the charts in terms of inside that courtroom.

BLITZER: So there was no visible emotion, no visible reaction from Scott Peterson, and you say there was no visible emotion, no crying, no screaming, no sort of expressions of concern even from his family, is that what you're saying?

ROWLANDS: Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. Not even a shake of the head or anger. It was just like they had been told you're going to have to go through this exercise. It was as if they had prepared for this exact scenario. They came in stone-faced, sat there. Jackie Peterson held hands with Janie. Janie Peterson, Scott's sister-in-law. And Lee Peterson just sort of scanned the room. He looked at some of the detectives that investigated the disappearance of Laci, that first fingered his son in this early on.

He didn't say anything and there was no outward expression, but obviously he was looking at everybody and internally he was most likely going through a lot of emotions, because these were the players that he hadn't seen in a long time, the folks that were first on-scene. They came up from Modesto to witness the reading of this verdict and they all were standing along the back wall of the courtroom. They were not sitting, so they were visible.

In fact during those sort of awkward three to four minutes before the jury came in it was dead silent and I noticed that Lee Peterson was scanning this group, this group including the police chief that investigated his son.

But otherwise, it was really difficult to see any outward emotion that wasn't coming from jurors. One juror wiped away a tear at one point. Obviously, this jury had a very, very difficult decision to come to, and I think they are the ones that felt the most emotion coming to this decision and then announcing it.


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