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By the time you read this, "On the Record" will be "on the road." We are flying across country so that we can be in the courtroom in Redwood City (search) on Wednesday, at 9 a.m. to hear Scott Peterson's (search) motion for new trial and hear the judge's decision at to his sentence. Of course we have to get to California in time for Tuesday's show, too... hence the early morning flight to California.
A few legal points to answer questions I frequently get from viewers: The jury in a California death penalty can recommend a death sentence — as it did for Scott Peterson — but the judge makes the final decision whether it will be death. Usually the judges, but not always, follow the recommendations. The judge has the authority to reduce the "death" to life without parole should he deem it appropriate. If the jury had decided Scott Peterson should be sentenced to life without parole — and not death — the judge could not "increase" the sentence to death.
On Wednesday, Sharon Rocha (Laci's mother) will be able to address the court in what is called a Victim Impact Statement. I was in the courtroom when she testified during the sentencing before the jury and her statements were powerful.
Also, on Wednesday there will also be a hearing on Peterson's motion for a new trial. It is rare that a trial court judge grants a motion for new trial (it is an admission that the judge made a big mistake while presiding over the trial), but the defendant will raise the same issues on appeal later. As a practical matter, the odds are better in the court of appeals but appeals are rarely won by defendants. The defendant, called "appellant" in the court of appeals, has a big hurdle to overcome to convince the court his trial was unfair. Appeals courts don't like to disturb the decision of a jury unless the constitution demands it.
Now to put you to work. I grabbed some e-mails and a note from Laura Ingle in the Jackson courtroom:
E-mail No. 1
It appears that Ashley Smith's statements have given Brian Nichols' defense some ammo. She should have been treated for the obvious Stockholm syndrome psychological impairment prior to making public statements. When she was asked if she would stay in touch with Nichols, she said she was not sure. She also stated that he was obviously a different person in her apartment than the one portrayed on the news. It sounds like a loose basis for temporary insanity.
His attorney will surely use her public statements to sway the jury.
Colorado Springs, CO
E-mail No. 2
Hi again Greta:
I am very curious as to why nobody (at least not that I have heard) has asked her where her daughter was and why she was going to visit her vs. the girls being in the home with her. It is probably a very good thing the little girl wasn't there but it seems nobody is asking why the daughter wasn't there. It's not as if she was visiting her father for the weekend.
E-mail No. 3
I think there is something wrong with this girl's statements. I believe there is something behind the story and believe she is not telling the truth about this situation. I think she may have known this man previously. Her demeanor is consistent with someone lying. I do hope I am wrong and will gladly be wrong. However, I think I'm right.
E-mail No. 4
A thought to ponder: What if the rape charges had no foundation and Nichols was an innocent man? Does anyone re-examine the issue of possible false charges that triggered the massacre?
Answer: Alberto, "false charges" is no defense to first-degree murder.
E-mail No. 5
Wait a minute! If I'm not mistaken, when the courtroom killer car-jacked that reporter's car (just after the courtroom shooting), the killer asked the reporter directions to a certain mall or shopping center or something like that. The killer then went to that exact area where he shot and killed the Customs Agent and took his truck.
And then he went to this woman's Apt. (Ashley Smith) and eventually went to sleep and got a meal. Hmm. I would be very curious if there was a pre-existing connection between the woman and the killer: Possibly some sort of relationship. Where was her apartment in relation to all the other apartments? Did he walk past other apartments before coming to the woman's? Why did he ultimately choose this woman's apartment? Of all the places the killer could have gone and asked directions to, why that particular area?
Is there more here that meets the eye with Ashley Smith? Someone needs to look into where Ms. Smith has worked or volunteered and if there was a point where her and the killer's paths could have crossed in the past.
E-mail No. 6
In my opinion, it was incredibly stupid of her to have even exited her vehicle upon her return from the store. If I came home at 2:30 in the morning and saw a vehicle sitting there that had changed spaces since I left 5 min earlier, but the driver was still in there, I would have exited the parking lot immediately. Especially when there was a known escapee running around free. People will continue to praise her for the bravery she demonstrated, but I also think people need to acknowledge how incredibly stupid she was at the same time. I just simply can't imagine any addiction being that strong that I would go out at 2:30 a.m. to buy cigarettes when there is an escaped convict running around free not that far from where I lived.
E-mail No. 7
This is one woman who has her head on straight. I could find nothing in anything she said other than her compassion for human life whether it be her own or Nichols or others. Who knows, maybe he was set up by the alleged rape charge initially. That doesn't erase his actions to get away from the hell he found himself in. This is a prime example of what happens when one takes matters into one's own hands instead of letting others try to right the wrong they thought had been placed on them. As a matter of fact, he opened a lot of eyes with what he did. Others were to blame directly or indirectly for what had occurred by Mr. Nichols hands.
Lexington Park, MD
E-mail No. 8
Ann Bird said Laci had mentioned to her that she enjoyed floating in the pool to relax and get comfortable as her pregnancy progresses, and Ann stated she feels Scott killed her in the pool, that he was unusually attentive to cleaning the pool. However, why would Laci still have on her maternity bra and khaki pants if she had been relaxing in the pool? Of course, he could have overtaken her by strangulation while she was NOT in the pool and then finished the job there.
E-mail No. 9
Finally, I can see a person who actually went thru an ordeal and should get a book deal and maybe a movie. While her actions may not be recommended to all, she was exceptionally brave, clear headed and decisive. I looked at the Frey book in the store and that’s where it stayed. This woman was thrown into the event and maybe saved other lives. Great job Ashley! And think of the stories that lil' 5 year old gets to tell about her mom!
E-mail No. 10
The Jackson prosecution is going so badly that Michael Jackson could admit he molested that youngster back in 1993, said he learned his lesson and still would be acquitted. Every single important prosecution witness comes off as a terrible liar from lawsuit hungry family and no amount of burden shifting by the talking heads — who keep saying molest victims routinely hide the truth — can salvage this case. As I follow the trial I am actually starting to think Michael is innocent, not just "not guilty."
E-mail No. 11
Even though I have no use for Jackson, I must say something about the e-mails on his situation. One said that he should be in jail for missing the judge's time limit to be in court. First of all, the judge did exactly what he had to. He has to be incredibly careful not to do anything that might cause an appeal. Or he might have thought that he would have a nervous breakdown or just plain go NUTS. I do feel the judge should have raised his bail.
He is a trouble individual and I feel that almost anything that causes even more pressure on him he could very well "go over the top."
As far as leaving the country it may be something very simple such as his financial situation. Leaving the country will forfeit his bail and from what I am hearing he this may be the last of his finances.
E-mail No. 12
Great show and coverage this weekend on the tragic events in Atlanta. I think Ms. Ashley Smith deserves the $65K reward as she did provide the tip that led to his capture, and a peaceful one at that. It would be a crime in itself if she is not given the reward. I expected like many others that Nichols would go out shooting in the end, and am glad that he spared Ashley's life and gave up peacefully. She is one amazing woman from what I saw of her interview with WAGA that has been played over the past day, and should be commended.
E-mail No. 13
Ashley Smith deserves the $60,000 reward money and triple that!
And finally, a note from Laura Ingle in the Jackson courtroom — she e-mails me these from the courtroom:
Laura note (dated March 14, 2004)
Jackson arriving in red... back to fancy self.
Jackson seems to be back to normal... whatever that is. He's fiddling with the candy jar again, picking out pieces. He's talking to attorneys, whispering in their ears like usual. While kid is testifying he shakes his head "no" when the kid tells jurors that he couldn't get a hold of Jackson sometimes...
Courtroom and listening rooms are filled to capacity. As accuser testifies, the judge seems aggravated with witness answers. He says "LISTEN! Answer the question... You are not answering the question."
Why is the judge being "mean judge?" I wonder...
Later, I see the front two rows on the right side of courtroom filled. They are usually empty. I hear that the new faces belong to friends of the judge. When I asked a deputy, he told me only "friends of the court."
Jurors heads are down, taking notes every time I look over at box. One juror motions to deputy his pen is out of ink. Deputy gets him a new one and brings a whole bunch out. Lines them up on his desk. He'll be ready for the next pen crisis.
With a fist full of school records, Mesereau challenges boy about misbehaving in school. Told dean of his school at the time of alleged molestation Jackson never touched him sexually. Most legal experts agree: Lots of abused kids don't offer up information like that immediately, shamed and hurting from the crime.
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