REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Laci Peterson's mother took the stand Tuesday in the sentencing phase of Scott Peterson's (search) murder trial, screaming at her former son-in-law that divorce was always an option over taking her daughter's life.
A very emotional Sharon Rocha (search) brought members of the jury panel and those in the courtroom to tears with her heart-wrenching testimony, much of which she addressed directly to Peterson. Peterson, 32, was convicted Nov. 12 of killing her daughter, Laci, and the couple's unborn son.
"Divorce was always an option — not murder!" Rocha shouted at Scott Peterson, whom she initially defended when 27-year-old Laci was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002. The sudden outburst, during which Rocha's voice rose and cracked, made several jurors jump.
Rocha spoke on the stand about the nightmare she and her family went through between the time Laci disappeared and the time her remains and those of her fetus washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay.
"There was someone who knew where she was and would not tell us, and instead had us going through this every day," Rocha screamed, looking directly at Peterson. During much of the testimony directed at Peterson, Rocha rose from her seat.
"She wanted to be a mother. That was taken away from her," she yelled in Peterson's direction.
Peterson watched her and had no visible reaction.
Rocha, wearing a gold heart-shaped pendent with a picture of her daughter in it, took the stand on the opening day of the sentencing phase in Peterson's double murder trial. Her son, Brent Rocha, and daughter, Amy Rocha, testified before her.
During her testimony, prosecutors displayed several photographs of Laci Peterson, including one from Mother's Day 2002. Taken a week after Laci's 27th birthday, the picture showed three generations of women — Laci, her mother and her grandmother.
Sharon Rocha's outburst followed. Mother's Day, she said, would never be the same.
"The first Mother's Day [after her death] I laid on the floor and I cried most of the day because she should have been there," she said.
Sharon, Brent and Amy Rocha were among four prosecution witnesses. Laci's stepfather Ron Grantsky was also in the lineup.
The jury will ultimately have to decide between recommending life in prison or death by lethal injection.
The penalty phase of the trial got off to a delayed start late Tuesday morning, after a matter involving potential juror misconduct was resolved.
During his opening statement prosecutor Dave Harris told the same jury that found Peterson guilty of two counts of murder that the killing of his pregnant wife Laci left her family with "a hole in their hearts that can never be repaired."
"When the defendant dumped the bodies of his wife and unborn son into the bay, those ripples spread out and they touched many, many lives," Harris said.
Jurors heard from Laci's family about her dreams, how much joy she brought to their lives and how much she was looking forward to being a mother.
"Based on what you're going to hear on the circumstances of this crime, the only appropriate and just punishment is death," the prosecutor said in his opening.
Earlier in the day, lawyers for both sides were called into chambers to talk about a bartender's claim that he'd overheard a juror talking about the case. Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos (search), subpoenaed the bartender on the grounds that he allegedly overheard at least one juror discussing the case in his bar, according to a defense source. Jurors are forbidden from discussing a case they're on outside the jury room.
It was not clear how many jurors were involved, what they talked about or what further connections the bartender had to the trial. It also wasn't known what exactly was discussed during the meeting with the judge Tuesday morning.
Judge Alfred A. Delucchi (search) said the delay was for a "402 hearing," which legal experts said could be used to hear concerns about possible juror misconduct. Courthouse administrator Peggy Thompson said the matter had been resolved. She declined to discuss the details, citing the judge's gag order.
Prosecutors said they planned to move through testimony quickly and hoped to wrap up by the end of Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. Jurors will then hear from defense witnesses. The defense portion was expected to last for the rest of the week.
As predicted, the penalty phase was already proving to be the most emotional part of the trial on day one. Typically, both the prosecution and defense try to pull at jurors' heartstrings during sentencing testimony.
Peterson's parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson (search), plan to take the stand in their son's defense. There's even been some speculation that Peterson himself could testify to try to convince jurors that he should live.
The prosecution seeks the death penalty for Peterson, who was found guilty of first-degree murder for Laci's homicide and second-degree murder for that of her nearly full-term fetus.
The defense, which is appealing the conviction, will ask the jury to spare his life, though his attorneys aren't allowed to suggest in the sentencing proceedings that Peterson is innocent.
The jury will be sequestered during deliberations and will ultimately give its recommendation when it reaches its decision. The judge will issue the final sentence.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court denied a petition by Peterson's defense lawyers to delay the penalty phase of the trial and seat a new jury in another county.
Geragos sought relief from the high court after the lower court judge, and subsequently an appeals court, denied his motion.
Geragos filed a petition last week with the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking a delay for the penalty phase. He wanted the appeals court to overturn the lower court ruling that keeps the same jury on the case.
Geragos claims that, among other things, the jury that found Peterson guilty is now tainted by public opinion. The appeals court denied his bid within hours of the filing.
Delucchi initially denied the motion. Geragos then sought relief from the appeals court.
The defense attorney filed his petition with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, a day after the appeals court denial.
Geragos claims Delucchi wrongly sent jurors home after they reached a verdict, exposing them to outside influences, instead of keeping the panel sequestered through the penalty phase.
In his appeal for a new jury, Geragos also cited the ousting of two jurors in two days during deliberations, noting that one, the jury's foreman, told the judge other jurors had become hostile to him and he felt his decision would be compromised. Both ex-jurors remain bound by a gag order.
The other juror was removed after she did her own research on the case, according to the motion, disobeying the judge's orders to consider only the evidence presented at the trial.
Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and regular Peterson trial observer, said testimony from prosecution witnesses during the penalty phase "is limited to their loss in terms of Laci, what Laci meant to them and how her absence from their lives will hurt them."
Horowitz said testimony will likely only come from Laci's immediate family members.
Prosecutors will also show jurors photographs of Laci throughout her life, "the kinds of things Scott would have imagined he was robbing from the family," Horowitz said.
Witnesses testifying on Peterson's behalf can speak about anything that might show the former fertilizer salesman in a favorable light as his attorneys try to convince jurors his life is worth sparing, Horowitz said.
"It can simply be that Scott was a nice little child," Horowitz said.
He said the judge has likely already ruled on evidence allowed in the penalty phase since attorneys on both sides must view the items before they are presented at trial.
Meanwhile, the judge ruled Monday that jury instructions and the reading of the panel's sentence recommendation will be broadcast live on an audio feed. The judge will also allow still pictures to be made of Peterson while he issues his instructions.
FOX News' Claudia Cowan, Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Trace Gallagher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.