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Peterson to be sentenced for murder

Judge will rule on defense request for new trial

• Rocha, Peterson families argue
• Timeline: Key dates in case
• FindLaw: People v. Petersonexternal link
Scott Peterson
Capital Punishment
Mark Geragos
Crime, Law and Justice

REDWOOD CITY, California (CNN) -- Scott Peterson, convicted of killing his pregnant wife Laci and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay, will learn Wednesday whether he will face the death penalty for the crime.

Meanwhile, Laci Peterson's mother Tuesday blasted a decision to limit the number of seats reserved for the victim's friends and family at Wednesday's hearing.

The jury that convicted Peterson in November recommended that he receive the death penalty. Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi has the option of reducing his sentence to life in prison without parole, but he is expected to follow the jury's recommendation.

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002. Scott Peterson told police he had launched his boat at Berkeley Marina, about 80 miles from where the couple lives in Modesto, to fish in the bay that day.

Her body, and that of the fetus she carried, washed up separately on the shore in April, near where Peterson said he was fishing. A definitive cause of death was never determined.

Prosecutors alleged Peterson killed his wife in the couple's home on December 23 or 24, 2002, with an absence of blood in the house pointing to strangulation or smothering. They said Peterson -- who police learned was having an extramarital affair with massage therapist Amber Frey -- wanted to continue to live life as a freewheeling bachelor.

Peterson, 32, may speak on his own behalf during the sentencing. He has maintained his innocence in his wife's death. He is currently being held in the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, but will be moved to San Quentin State Prison if sentenced to death.

Some members of the jury that convicted Peterson are also expected to attend the sentencing. After convicting Peterson and recommending the death penalty, some jurors said that although evidence against him was largely circumstantial, the puzzle pieces pointed to his guilt. (Full story)

Last month, Peterson's defense attorneys filed a motion requesting a new trial on several grounds, including what they called newly discovered evidence.

That evidence stems from a telephone conversation involving an inmate at a California prison. The inmate's brother told him that Laci Peterson had walked up on a man who was burglarizing the house next door and that the man had verbally threatened her.

In their response, however, prosecutors claim that evidence was not newly discovered, but that defense attorneys had known of it but failed to check it out properly.

"This is, once again, an all-too-familiar tactic on the part of the defense to twist the truth and make false claims," prosecutors said. "The defense conveniently fails to provide any admissible evidence on this point and instead relies on rumor and innuendo."

Prosecutors said the man who allegedly conducted the burglary was available to testify, but was not called to do so.

In his motion for a new trial, defense attorney Mark Geragos claims that Delucchi committed an error by dismissing two jurors during the trial. Three jurors were dismissed in all. Prosecutors, in their response, said the issue had already been handled during Peterson's trial and the defense claim was "a rehashing of prior arguments."

Geragos says in his 135-page filing that jurors were allowed to conduct their own unauthorized experiment with Peterson's boat. Prosecutors said the so-called experiment, in which the defense claimed two jurors got in the boat and one "jumped up and down," does not amount to the taking of new evidence.

Delucchi has said he will rule on the defense motion at Wednesday's hearing.

Victim's mom outraged

Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, said that friends and family should have been given seats at the hearing that were instead reserved for journalists and members of the general public.

"All of these 'strangers' who were given priority seating will walk out of that courtroom with smiles on their faces and be able to say, 'I was in the courtroom when Scott Peterson was sentenced.' To them, it's a show, entertainment, a status quo. They will go on with their lives and put all this behind them," Rocha said in a letter distributed by the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office.

"To the people who have lived this nightmare every day since 12/24/02, this is just one more example of what has been taken away from us. This is not a show for us. This is not entertainment for us. This is not a status quo for us. This is a huge part of our lives."

Rocha's family had asked to have 30 seats reserved for Laci's family and friends at the hearing, but the court granted 23 seats. By contrast, there will be 44 seats reserved for members of the news media and 27 for the general public. Another 18 seats are being held by the judge.

Rocha said it was "such a shame that these people are given priority over Laci's family and friends, the people who truly deserve to be in that courtroom."

She added that Laci Peterson would be "upset to know that the people who worked so hard to find her, and worked so hard to put Scott in prison won't be allowed to witness his sentencing.

"She would be heartbroken to know her family and dearest, lifelong friends won't be allowed to witness the sentencing of the man who murdered her, because their seats were taken by people who felt their need to be a part of the circus atmosphere in the courtroom far outweighs the needs of Laci's loved ones to witness justice being served on her and Conner's behalf."

Conner was the name of the couple's unborn child.

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