Peterson Penalty Phase Delayed

Times Staff Writer

The same jury that convicted Scott Peterson of murdering his pregnant wife will decide whether he should be executed, the judge in the case ruled this morning.

Deliberations in the penalty phase were delayed until Nov. 30 to allow more time for the parties to gather witnesses and to give jurors time to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The defense had sought to have another jury in a different county decide whether Peterson, 32, should be sentenced to death for killing his pregnant wife, Laci, around Christmas 2002.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos had argued that the community was prejudiced against Peterson. A crowd of more than 1,000 outside the courtroom cheered when the guilty verdicts were announced Nov. 12.

"This court knows the atmosphere surrounding the courthouse as the cheering section ... charitably described as a mob scene, obviously cheering the fact that the jury reached the verdict that they did," Geragos said in court this morning. "I fully expected people to start building the gallows somewhere in the parking lot across the street."

But Judge Alfred A. Delucchi rejected the defense's contentions. He spoke as the jurors returned to the San Mateo County courthouse to open the penalty phase of the celebrated murder trial.

"We're going to have to go with this jury," Delucchi said.

He also rejected a change of venue, saying no place was immune to the torrent of publicity, especially on television.

"Where could I send this case in the state of California that hasn't been inundated with the media coverage?" the judge asked.

He then sent the jury home for the holiday.

Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Laci and second-degree murder in the death of their unborn child. Laci's body and her fetus, with the umbilical cord still attached, washed up on the San Francisco Bay shoreline in the spring of 2003.

The penalty phase is similar to the trial. The prosecution and the defense will make opening statements, call witnesses and then the jury will be sequestered to consider Peterson's fate.

The jury could also recommend a life sentence without parole.

During the deliberations, the jury was sequestered while considering Peterson's fate.

The jury deliberated less than six hours before returning the guilty verdicts 10 days ago. But that followed days of debate and the expulsion of two jurors. Geragos also cited the juror dismissals to support his motion for a new jury.

Like the trial, which lasted 5 1/2 months and cost millions of dollars, the penalty proceedings will be closely watched by a gaggle of legal analysts and the cable networks, which helped elevate a domestic murder case into a national phenomenon.

Fueling that national audience was Amber Frey, Peterson's former mistress, who testified for the prosecution. Recorded calls between Peterson and Frey were played for the jurors.

Frey was not expected to testify in the penalty phase. However, the jury could hear from relatives of Laci and Scott Peterson.

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