Scott Peterson was convicted today of first-degree murder in the slaying of his pregnant wife, Laci, and second-degree murder in the killing of their unborn son.
Peterson looked straight ahead as the verdict was read. He had no immediate visible reaction. Meanwhile, Sharon Rocha, Laci's mother, sobbed as her son Brent wrapped his arm tightly around her. The side of the courtroom where Laci's family and their supporters sat erupted in sobs and sighs of relief.
The jurors appeared emphatic about their decision when polled as part of court procedure. On their way out, several jurors nodded and smiled at Rocha.
Outside the courtroom, where hundreds of onlookers gathered, there were cheers and fist-pumping. When Peterson's mother, Jackie, left the courthouse, someone screamed at her: "I hope they fry your son." Peterson's father was not at court today.
The verdict means Peterson faces the possibility of death by lethal injection or life imprisonment without parole. The penalty phase of the trial is due to start Nov. 22 and the judge, Alfred A. Delucchi, has said it will take less than a week. Delucchi sent the jury into recess with a reminder that the gag order was still in place and sternly warned members not to discuss any of their thoughts with the media.
The verdict was reached after more than five months of testimony and several dramatic turns during jury deliberations. The 12-member jury began deliberating Nov. 3 in Redwood City, Calif. But this week, two jurors were removed and replaced by alternates, meaning deliberations had to begin anew.
Laci Peterson, 27, was about 7 1/2 months pregnant when she disappeared. Her husband reported her missing on Dec. 24, 2002. Peterson said he had gone fishing alone that day, but investigators believe the fertilizer salesman killed his wife and used his boat to dump her body in San Francisco Bay. Her remains and those of her fetus washed ashore separately in April 2003, near the area where Peterson told investigators he had been fishing.
Prosecutors suggested that Peterson, 32, killed Laci because he was tired of his marriage, feeling pressure from her pregnancy and wanted to continue his affair with Amber Frey.
"He wants to live the rich, successful, freewheeling bachelor life. He can't do that when he's paying child support, alimony and everything else," prosecutor Rick Distaso told jurors in closing arguments. "He didn't want to be tied to this kid the rest of his life. He didn't want to be tied to Laci for the rest of his life. So he killed her."
Defense attorney Mark Geragos admitted that Peterson was a "cheat, a jerk and a liar" but said that did not make him a killer. Geragos argued that someone else killed Laci, and investigators failed to follow other leads in her disappearance and slaying.
"You're not supposed to just decide this case on whether or not you like Scott Peterson," he said in his closing arguments.
In closing arguments, the prosecution said it believed Peterson strangled or smothered Laci but admitted it could not be proven. The defense stressed that prosecutors did not have any decisive physical evidence tying Peterson to the slayings.