Skip to main content

Laci Peterson case: Jurors find Scott Peterson guilty of murder

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2004.

(Court TV) -- After seven days of tumultuous deliberations that saw the removal of two jurors and a mutiny against the foreman, a jury convicted Scott Peterson Friday of first-degree murder in the slaying of his pregnant wife.

The jurors also found the Modesto fertilizer salesman guilty of second-degree murder in the death of the son his wife, Laci, was carrying when he killed her in December 2002.

The six men and six women will reconvene in the jury box on Nov. 22 for the penalty phase of the trial, which will determine whether Peterson will be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Peterson, 32, sat stonefaced and motionless as court clerk Marylin Morton read the first page of the verdict form to a tense standing-room-only courtroom at 1:10 p.m. PT.

"We the jury in the above-entitled cause find the defendant Scott Lee Peterson guilty of the crime of the murder of Laci Denise Peterson," the clerk said.

As Morton pronounced the word "guilty," several of Laci Peterson's childhood friends let out gasps of joy and her mother, Sharon Rocha, fell forward in her front-row seat, sobbing.

Peterson did not flinch. As Morton completed reading the forms and Judge Alfred Delucchi polled each juror about the verdict, Peterson kept his chin raised slightly and glanced nonchalantly between the judge and jurors.

Several panelists met Peterson's glance with glares and a few looked toward Sharon Rocha, who had collapsed weeping into the arms of her son, Brent.

Peterson's mother, Jackie, bowed her head slightly, but in the seats reserved for the defendant's family and friends, only one person cried: A young woman who works as a personal assistant to Peterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos.

The high-profile Los Angeles lawyer, who has been the public face of Peterson's defense since shortly after his arrest, opted to remain in southern California and tend to other cases rather than be on hand for deliberations.

Throughout the trial, Geragos often put his arm around his client's shoulder and joked and laughed with him as if they were close friends, but for the reading of the verdict, Geragos' chair beside Peterson was occupied by Nareg Gourjian, a junior associate from his firm. Second-chair lawyer Pat Harris was also at the table.

Another of Peterson's mainstays was also absent for the verdict. His father, Lee, who has been his youngest son's biggest supporter, did not come to court Friday. When Delucchi was considering allowing cameras to broadcast the verdict, those connected with the case said privately that they were worried about the elder Peterson's strong reaction to a guilty finding.

Outside the San Mateo County courthouse, hundreds of people who had gathered to listen to a live audio feed from the courtroom began cheering. The celebration was documented by scores of camera crews from the national, cable and local television networks that turned the Christmastime disappearance of the vibrant mother-to-be with the beautiful smile into the dominant news story of the last two years.

With their verdict, the jury endorsed the prosecution theory that Peterson smothered or strangled his wife of five years on Dec. 23 or Dec. 24, 2002, when she was nearly eight months' pregnant with their first child.

He then dumped her body in the San Francisco Bay during a Christmas Eve fishing trip.

Peterson, a struggling businessman, had been conducting an affair with a massage therapist, Amber Frey, and prosecutors claimed he wanted to be free of marriage and fatherhood so he could pursue a freewheeling bachelor life.

Prosecutors sought two first-degree convictions, but jurors apparently found the slaying of the child the couple planned to name Conner was not premeditated and deliberate. The one first-degree count makes Peterson eligible for death because it comes in conjunction with the special circumstance of multiple counts of murder.

Jury shakeup

The jury that arrived at the verdict was the third version of the panel that began weighing evidence on Nov. 3.

On Tuesday, a female juror was removed apparently for conducting her own personal research into the case. The judge replaced her with an alternate and ordered the jury to begin afresh.

A day later, the man initially elected foreman was removed from the panel at his own excuse after his fellow jurors deposed him. Once again, Delucchi added an alternate and ordered jurors to start to from scratch.

Although the three panels deliberated for a total of about 30 hours, the final jury weighed evidence for just seven hours before arriving at verdict.

Legal analysts credited the relatively quick verdict to the replacement of the first foreman, a fastidious lawyer with a medical degree, with a panelist who works as a firefighter and paramedic. That juror frequently appeared bored during the five and a half months of trial and took few notes on the 184 witnesses who testified.

Under the first foreman, the jury requested more than a hundred pieces of evidence. Under Juror No. 6's leadership, the panel that reached the verdict did not ask for a single piece of evidence.

"Juror No. 5 was the fly in the ointment," said criminal defense attorney Dan Horowitz. "There was a revolution led by the most impatient, bored juror who took control of this jury just like a fireman rushing into a burning building."

Hard-fought battle

The verdict was a vindication for prosecutors Rick Distaso and Dave Harris. The Stanislaus County deputy district attorneys were pilloried in the early months of the trial for a case that some legal analysts found disjointed. A juror dismissed in June said he would have acquitted Peterson based on the evidence thus far.

The prosecution, however, gained momentum with the testimony of Frey and lead investigator Craig Grogan. The defense faltered by failing to deliver on promises to prove that Conner Peterson was born alive and Distaso delivered a passionate, orderly summation that earned rave reviews from legal analysts and seemed to grab the attention of jurors.

During the trial, the prosecutors normally left the courthouse through a private underground parking garage, but Friday, about an hour and a half after the verdict, Distaso, Harris and their supervisor, Birgit Fladager, strode out the front door of the courthouse.

They were greeted by cheers and applause. Distaso looked briefly stunned.

"Can we get a smile?" a reporter prodded. He obliged.

Peterson's mother, Jackie, got a different reception.

"Are you proud of your son now?" a woman shouted from the crowd as Jackie Peterson, who depends on bottled oxygen to breathe, walked slowly from the courthouse to her car.

Peterson's parents bankrolled his defense and never missed a day of testimony in his trial.

Ronnie Pulido, a dental assistant from the neighboring town of San Mateo, stood at the edge of the plaza in front of the courthouse holding one of several special addition newspapers put out for the verdict.

She said she was leaving a matinee of the horror movie "The Grudge," when someone yelled that Peterson had been convicted.

"I came right over," she said. "I just wanted to be here and see this. I knew from the beginning that he was guilty. I don't know anything about the law, but everything I saw  the lies, the disguises, the money, the fishing story  I knew he did it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print