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Peterson Judge Removes Jury Foreman; Reason Not Given
For the second time in two days, the judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial today dismissed a juror, replacing the foreman who had taken copious notes during the 5½-month trial.
The dropped juror, who is both a doctor and a lawyer, was replaced as foreman by Juror No. 6, a firefighter. An alternate was put on the jury, which then resumed deliberations - again.
A grim-faced San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi sent the panel off with a terse: "You must therefore set aside all past deliberations and begin deliberating anew."
The action was the latest in a case which is increasingly taking on a frantic, circus-like atmosphere and which has already become a stable of cable television and courthouse speculation.
"I wouldn't say we have a runaway jury, yet," former prosecutor Jim Hammer said. "I am very surprised. I've never seen a case where two jurors were removed in two days.
"Excitement is bad for the prosecution. Prosecutors want a drama-free zone in the jury room. But there's a problem in there, and jurors are reaching outside for a solution."
The case took yet another twist late in the day when the judge and lawyers met in chambers with the chief investigator for the district attorney's office, triggering speculation that further problems were possible.
Peterson, 32, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the death of his pregnant wife, Laci, and could face the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors, in a case built on circumstantial evidence, contend he smothered or strangled Laci, then used a new boat to dump her body into San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.
Delucchi did not explain why the foreman, Juror No. 5, was taken off the panel. The man in his mid-40s originally was an alternate who replaced the first juror to be dropped, Justin Falconer, who left months ago.
On Tuesday, the judge replaced juror No. 7, Frances Gorman, who reportedly did her own research on the case.
Three alternate jurors remain.
"This is very messy," said Paula Canny, a legal analyst and attorney. "The whole reason the judge sequestered this jury was so that it wouldn't be messy. Now it is the messiest jury deliberation I've seen."
The fireworks continued outside the courtroom as well.
A boat, similar to the one the prosecution alleges Peterson used to dispose of Laci's body, was parked in a lot only a few blocks from the courtroom. In the boat was a headless dummy lying on the floor and clad in overalls. Attached to its arms and legs with yellow rope were cement anchors.
The boat was an unmistakable reference to an earlier dispute when jurors had visited Peterson's boat, and some of them climbed in and began rocking it, apparently testing whether it could be tipped. Defense attorneys called that a violation of state law barring jurors from experimenting with evidence. Delucchi disagreed and said the jurors' actions did not favor the defense or the prosecution.
The defense prepared a videotape of its experiments with a boat and a dummy showing that Peterson could not have thrown the body of his wife overboard without tipping the boat. The judge did not allow the video to be seen by the jury.
It was unknown who had put the boat on the street, but lawyers here immediately attacked.
Attorney Gloria Allred said she was concerned that word could reach the sequestered jury or Laci's relatives. Allred represented Amber Frey, Scott Peterson's mistress, who testified during the trial.
"I am appalled," said the attorney. "It is the height of disrespect for the victim's family to portray Laci as a dummy."
At about 3:50 p.m. Delucchi called lawyers into chambers along with Bill Cody, the chief investigator for the San Mateo County district attorney's office.
"Bill Cody investigates major crimes, this might be an issue of someone from outside trying to influence the jurors," said Chuck Smith, a former county prosecutor. "Or it might have to do with the uproar over the boat."
It was not clear whether jurors could catch a view of the boat while being shuttled to and from the courthouse in a county bus. Nonetheless, parking the craft created an uproar among lawyers and legal analysts.
Jurors will be sequestered Thursday for the holiday. No deliberations are scheduled.
There has been speculation that the jurors were not getting along. Feeding that fear was a report in today's Redwood City Daily News that implied that a fellow juror may have told court officials about Gorman and her research. Gorman had reportedly complained that the juror was inattentive and fell asleep during proceedings.
The report could not be independently confirmed.
No details have been given on why Gorman, a retired Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employee, was dismissed.
Legal experts suggested on Tuesday the shift in jury membership could tip the scale either way.
"I think there was one happy face in the courtroom - Mark Geragos' - because [Tuesday's courtroom activity] wasn't about a conviction," former prosecutor Hammer said.