REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Within moments of being dismissed as a juror in Scott Peterson's (search) double-murder trial, Justin Falconer (search) began spouting his opinions — that the prosecution's case is too weak to convince him Peterson is a killer.
"There's no way that you could possibly convict him," Falconer said. "He'd be innocent, because the prosecution hasn't given us any reason to believe otherwise so far."
Falconer wouldn't comment on what the other 11 jurors, each of whom the judge questioned privately, were saying about the case.
Falconer, who was dismissed Wednesday, said the judge told him media coverage of his brief encounter with a witness had become an intolerable distraction. Falconer was replaced with an alternate.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos (search) immediately demanded a mistrial, which Judge Alfred A. Delucchi denied.
"I've got a client who is on trial for his life," Geragos said, blaming intense media coverage for the flap.
The jolting turn of events came just before Geragos launched into a caustic cross examination of Detective Allen Brocchini.
But just as Geragos began his aggressive questioning, the judge recessed for lunch so that "everybody sort of calms down."
Brocchini was due back on the witness stand Thursday.
While Delucchi didn't specify why he dismissed Falconer, outside court the juror said the judge told him the deciding factor was his televised exchange with the brother of Peterson's slain wife, Laci. A video camera recorded the juror joking with Brent Rocha inside the courthouse last week.
Falconer, a 28-year-old airport screener, summarized what the judge said was his reasoning: "It was just too much of a distraction." The transcript of the judge's questioning of Falconer before his dismissal was sealed.
The juror said he had discussed with his girlfriend media scrutiny of his exchange with Rocha, along with newspaper and TV reports that claimed he had interacted with Peterson and his lawyer. Falconer and Geragos denied any exchanges.
Prosecutors allege that Peterson, 31, murdered his pregnant wife in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002 — an affair his alleged motive. They charge he then dumped Laci Peterson's (search) body into San Francisco Bay, using a cover story that he went fishing.
Defense lawyers assert that someone abducted Laci Peterson that day, then framed her husband after hearing his widely publicized alibi.
Prosecutors are still calling witnesses and Peterson's lawyers have yet to mount his defense as the trial nears the end of its fourth week.
Last Thursday, Falconer briefly spoke with Rocha at a courthouse metal detector. Falconer appeared safe after Delucchi announced Monday that he did nothing wrong when he quipped that he was blocking television cameras from getting an unobstructed shot of Rocha — a story Rocha corroborated.
According to a transcript of a closed-door meeting the judge called Monday, Falconer said he hadn't discussed the Rocha incident. However, he added that he did discuss coverage of the case with his girlfriend.
The judge determined that he hadn't "done anything wrong," according to the transcript.
That all changed Wednesday when the judge dismissed him.
Legal analysts said that if Falconer reflects any of the sentiments in the jury room, the prosecution is in trouble.
"Best-case scenario for the prosecution is that he's one-of-a-kind," observed Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who regularly attends the Peterson trial.
Prosecutors are operating under a court-imposed gag order and cannot discuss the case publicly.
Meanwhile, Geragos continued his attack on the investigation, even getting the detective to admit he had made a mistake — Geragos has claimed all along that police bungled the case.
Peterson told police he and Laci had been watching a Martha Stewart show that referenced meringue on the morning he left for his fishing trip. In their opening statements, prosecutors said there was no mention of meringue on the Martha Stewart show that aired on Dec. 24, only on Dec. 23, implying Peterson had lied.
In his own opening remarks, however, Geragos showed that meringue was mentioned on both the Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 shows.
On Wednesday, he pointed to Brocchini's police report where the detective noted that no meringue was mentioned on the Dec. 24 show.
"That's what I wrote," Brocchini said. "But I was wrong."