Jury finds Peterson guilty of 2 counts of murder

Saturday, November 13, 2004

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- A jury convicted Scott Peterson on Friday of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and now will decide whether the philandering husband whose lurid trial became a TV and tabloid sensation should pay with his life.

Peterson, 32, was convicted of one count of first-degree murder for killing his wife and one count of second-degree murder in the death of the son she was carrying -- crimes that prosecutors said were part of a cold-blooded plot to escape marriage and fatherhood.

Cheers broke out among the hundreds of onlookers who gathered outside the courthouse -- some of them pumping their fists in celebration upon hearing the news on the radio. They cheered Laci Peterson's family and booed Scott's as they left court.

"He's a sicko. He needs to fry. I wanted to see that justice was served," Bob Johnston said outside court.

The verdict capped seven days of deliberations in which two jurors were removed for unspecified reasons and the judge twice told the panel to start over. The final jury deliberated for about seven hours Wednesday and Friday before reaching its verdict.

The same jury of six men and six women will return Nov. 22 to begin hearing testimony on whether Peterson should die by lethal injection or get life in prison without parole. The former fertilizer salesman faces the death penalty because he was convicted of multiple murders.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and close family members remain under a gag order that prevents them from commenting.

The Laci Peterson saga began nearly two years ago, when the 27-year-old substitute teacher, who was eight months pregnant, vanished around Christmas Eve 2002. Four months later, her headless body and the remains of her fetus were discovered along the shoreline about 90 miles from the couple's Modesto home -- not far from where her husband claims he was fishing alone the day of her disappearance.

Police never were able to establish exactly when, how or where Laci died.

At trial, prosecutors presented 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence, from wiretapped phone calls to videotaped police interrogations, depicting Peterson as a liar and a cheat who was sweet-talking his girlfriend, massage therapist Amber Frey, at the same time he was trying to show the world he was pining for his missing wife.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury that Peterson could not stand the thought of being trapped in a "dull, boring, married life with kids," and either strangled or smothered his wife and dumped her weighted-down body overboard from his fishing boat.

Peterson never took the stand in the case. His attorneys argued that he was the victim of a set-up. They suggested that someone else -- perhaps homeless people, sex offenders or suspicious-looking characters spotted in the neighborhood -- abducted Laci Peterson while she walked the dog, then killed her and dumped the body in the water after learning of Peterson's fishing-trip alibi.

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