Jury Recommends Death for Peterson

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 13, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The jury says Scott Peterson (search) should die for killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. That recommendation came down just a few minutes ago. The jury of six men and six women made their decision on the third day of deliberations…

Let me go out to Redwood City right now. Jim Hammer (search), former prosecutor with San Francisco City and County… Jim? give me your impression of what went on in that room?

JIM HAMMER, FORMER SAN FRANCISCO PROSECUTOR: Well, I've been here everyday for the past six months. There were days during the prosecution's case when it looked like the case might have been over.

Today though, I think when the verdict came back, everybody standing in line predicted the death verdict. It was incredibly heavy in that room. It was like death hanging in the air. All the families were there; you could see the tension in Sharon Rocha (search) as she waited for the jury to come in.

Then the jury started walking in. They were — as stern as I've ever seen them. They had the look of death written on their face. Not one could look at Scott. And then juror 11, this African-American woman, who's kind of the soul of the jury, looked over at Sharon Rocha and she sort of, winked at her.

The jury asked for the verdict form, the clerk read it. It was a dramatic, heavy...

GIBSON: Jim, let me interrupt you. Here's Mark Geragos. Jim, sorry.

Mark Geragos.


MARK GERAGOS (search), DEFENSE COUNSEL, SCOTT PETERSON: ... pursuing every and all appeals, motions for new trial and everything else.

All I'd ask is that you respect Jackie and Lee's and the family's privacy for the next week or so. At some point shortly, they'll make a statement or do a press conference and at that time they'll agree to field whatever questions that they will.

In the interim, I hope you can understand that it's a very difficult time. And that's all I've got to say. Thank you very much.


GIBSON: You heard that question: "What was Scott's reaction?" Mark Geragos heard it as well. You heard it, he heard it, he ignored it, he walked out of the room.

Jim Hammer, I'm sorry to interrupt you in mid-sentence.

Nonetheless, why do you think that Mark Geragos refused to take any further questions after that brief statement requesting the media respect the Peterson family privacy?

HAMMER: I don't know what Mark has to say at this point. If you watched Mark in the first couple of months of this trial, he owned this courtroom. He owned the hallway, reporters would follow him in droves of 20 or 30 as he dropped morsels of tidbits, of hints that went out about the trial.

But once this verdict came in, it's been a very different Mark Geragos. By the time of his closing argument, he was apologizing to the jury and asking their forgiveness for not being there for the verdict. So, the Mark you just saw is the Mark we saw during the penalty phase.

Again, these D.A.s stumbled so many times, John, that when this verdict finally came down, I'm sure it surprised Mark Geragos as much as anybody.

GIBSON: Now Jim, I find that astounding. This is a guy who spent a lot of time in the courtroom, a lot of time on TV, a lot of time analyzing things. Do you honestly believe he was surprised at this verdict?

HAMMER: Well, I think he was surprised all 12 came in with first- degree murder. And I'll tell you, on the day the verdict came in, I would had to have guessed second-degree murder in that, it was such an easy out for this jury, to say, "Gee, we don't know if it's premeditated, but he definitely did the killing."

They went for the moon in this verdict in less than six hours. I'm still a little bit stunned how quickly they did that, in light of the fact that there is no direct evidence. They went for first-degree and when they did that, they said to this judge and us, "We're coming back and we're going to consider death." Today they imposed it.

GIBSON: Jim, we've had this argument before and I was just talking to the Judge about it. Maybe you can explain the disconnect between the lawyers' analysis of the case and what the jury actually found.

HAMMER: You mean the trial analyst who watched it?


HAMMER: Again, I've been over the entire trial. There were days and weeks early on when the jury themselves looked like they were mystified by what the D.A. was doing, but there was a turning point in that trial. And I remember it well.

It was the week they put in this concrete evidence, this concrete anchor factory at Scott's warehouse. And you could actually see the rings John, where Scott was making anchors. Well guess what? Four anchors are missing. The week that happened and they put in autopsy photos of the baby Conner and Laci, you could feel murder in the house. The entire tone of that trial changed.

From there on in, there was less joking in the courtroom… this D.A.'s supervisor stepped in, that changed the tone. And then when the defense completely melted down with their expert, who literally said, "Cut me some slack you did such a bad job." You could just feel the case slide away from the defense.

By the end, I thought the case had turned around. I wasn't sure all 12 would agree; they surprised me

GIBSON: All right, Jim.

Now, the other thing I want to ask you about, because you spent a lot of time in California courtrooms looking at judges… [about the chances that judge feels], as many lawyer-analysts do, that it was a circumstantial case, and a tenuous one at best; that they didn't even prove that Laci was murdered. Clearly she died. But that she wasn't murdered.

HAMMER: She didn't commit suicide.

GIBSON: Is there a chance that a judge's lingering doubt here, in your opinion, would cause him to reduce this to life without parole?

HAMMER: I think there's zero chance.

But let me tell you, I left the courtroom 10 minutes ago — and you probably heard it in the audio feed — the judge was choking up actually, at the end of this case. He's, I think, one of the heroes in this case. And that this case could have come off the tracks so many times with the media circus outside; with people trying to interfere with the jury; with jurors getting removed.

He kept it on track. He was choked up in the end. He said it was a hard decision for the jury and himself. But then he praised the jury. I think after 12 citizens went through this whole thing, considered the evidence, spent part of three days and a weekend considering the death sentence, I think the chance of him reducing it are zero.

Now that's my prediction.

GIBSON: All right. Now, Jim, before I let you go — and it might be a while before I let you go, so I hope you get comfortable — do you think that there were one or two jurors who were holding out for life without parole? And what we saw this morning was the bulk of the jury asking for certain items of evidence to hold in their faces and say, "How could you; how could you even consider anything but death?"

HAMMER: There are two possibilities, John, that I'll tell you what my guess is.

One is that, as you said, come Friday, a few are on the fence, or not leaning towards death yet. They said, "Let's break. Spend the weekend in the hotel." And then summing up these photos, remember, Laci sitting alone at this Christmas party. This photograph was so moving, so touching. Here she is alone, pregnant with this smile while her husband is off with his girlfriend.

GIBSON: Planning her murder.

HAMMER: Planning her murder and saying to Amber, "Hey, I know I'm kind of busy now, but come Christmas a month later, I'll have time to spend with you." Planning it; the happiest guy on earth after he murders her: those were such, such searing images.

So that's one possibility, that somewhere on the fence on Friday; today they came around when they saw the dead bodies on the shore.

The other possibility is that they came to a verdict on Friday, but they said, "You know what? This is so momentous, we can never reverse this. Let's sleep on it this weekend." They talked again this morning and they said, "Let's get a shot of courage. Let's bring out those photos, remember why we're here. Because this guy, this monster, murdered this woman; let this baby suffocate in her womb."

And I'll tell you, nothing could strengthen them more than looking at those photographs; remembering why they were here, why they did this, and what a monster Scott Peterson was.

GIBSON: Jim Hammer, thanks very much. Hang in, will you, while we do some other things and we'll be back to you in a minute.

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