Published January 14, 2015
The jury that convicted Scott Peterson (search) saw a man with two faces: in public, a loving father-to-be with a steady job and stable home, and in private a cheating husband who yearned for bachelorhood and was willing to kill for it. Convicted Friday of murdering his pregnant wife and her fetus, Peterson must now present a unified image on two fronts — he must convince jurors that his life is worth sparing while arguing to the courts that he was wrongly convicted.
Some experts said he might have a chance to win an appeal, given the dismissal of two jurors during deliberations. After his sentencing, defense investigators are likely to interview panelists, looking for any signs of misconduct.
"These jurors are about to go under the microscope," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.
Peterson faces life in prison or the death penalty (search) for the first-degree murder of his wife, Laci, and second-degree murder of the fetus.
While the first part of the trial focused on evidence, the penalty phase, beginning Nov. 22, will be laced with raw emotion as rules of evidence that prohibit inflaming jurors are cast aside.
Blockbuster testimony is expected from Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, who will testify about losing a 27-year-old daughter and the grandson she was waiting for.
"She's going to get up there and she's going to break down. Her voice is going to crack," said Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and regular trial observer.
Peterson is unlikely to take the stand and beg for mercy — doing that would require him to admit to the murders, and throw away any chance of arguing his innocence. Instead, testimony will likely include pleas from his parents to spare his life.
Jury consultant Ed Bronson said Peterson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos (search), will try to tap any lingering doubt over whether Peterson was a calculated killer. The defense is expected to remind jurors that the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman has no criminal record or history of violence.
"Are you so sure that you are willing to kill this man?" Bronson said.
But even if jurors unanimously vote for death, Peterson might not be executed for decades, if ever. Only 10 executions have been carried out since California brought back capital punishment in 1978. None of the 650 current condemned — some of whom have been awaiting death for decades — have completed their appeals.
"You're more likely to die of natural causes on death row than be executed," Levenson said.
On appeal, Peterson's attorneys will likely focus on two key issues during the jury's deliberations, said former San Francisco prosecutor and trial observer Jim Hammer.
"The biggest issue is juror removals," Hammer said. "Kicking someone off the jury is one of the riskiest things you can do in a trial. ... Two jurors in two days? I've never heard of that happening before."
One juror was ousted after performing her own research on the case outside of the evidence presented at trial. Violating the gag order, the juror said Friday night that she supported the verdict. Another, the jury foreman, was removed a day later. The reasons for his ousting remain sealed by the court.
The second point of appeal is the viewing of the boat prosecutors allege Peterson used to dump his wife's body into San Francisco Bay.
Jurors climbed inside the boat, parked in a garage near the courthouse, rocking it from side to side. Defense attorneys had argued it would have been nearly impossible for Peterson to have heaved his wife overboard without capsizing.
Geragos sought a mistrial after the viewing, claiming jurors violated the law by conducting an experiment. The motion was quickly denied.
"If the court of appeals finds that to be an experiment, that could lead to a reversal," Hammer said.
The judge said he expects the jury to begin deliberating Peterson's sentence by Nov 30. The jury then will be sequestered again while deciding Peterson's fate.
Regardless of any appeals, expected motions for a new trial, or the ultimate sentence, Peterson must prepare himself for prison. He remains in county jail until sentencing.
"It will be a hard time for him. Initially, he may be segregated. But life segregation can be difficult," Levenson said. "It's more likely he'll end up in general population. He's going to have to learn how to survive. As far as the inmates are concerned, he's a wife killer and a baby killer."