Peterson Defense Begins Fight for Life

Times Staff Writer

The defense launched its effort today to save the life of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, with relatives, friends and colleagues testifying on his behalf.

This morning's session contrasted with that on Tuesday, when Sharon Rocha cried and screamed at Peterson during her testimony about the death of her daughter, Peterson's wife, Laci.

"We've dealt with five months of this man's life," defense lawyer Pat Harris told the jury. "Now we're going to show you the 30 years that preceded it. You will see that it's a life worth saving."

"You don't know who Scott Peterson is, and it's going to be our job to show you," Harris said.

The witnesses, he added, will create themes that will be "repeated over and over again," Harris (who is not related to prosecutor David Harris) said. Among those themes is that "this is a man who constantly put others first."

The defense strategy is to call more than a dozen witnesses, including relatives, friends, coworkers, employers, teachers and neighbors to humanize Peterson — a man prosecutors have vilified as a liar, philanderer and murderer.

The jury on Nov. 12 convicted Peterson, 32, of first-degree murder in Laci's death and second-degree murder for killing the couple's unborn son. The phase of the trial to decide whether Peterson should be executed or sent to prison for life without parole began Tuesday.

"Clearly the verdict you came back with is not something we agree with," Harris said.

His first witness was Lee Peterson, Scott's father, who owns a successful custom shipping crate company in San Diego. In the 90 minutes that the elder Peterson testified this morning, he told, among other things, the story of his ancestors' arrival in the United States.

Not one juror took notes during the testimony, and some jurors fidgeted.

In contrast to Scott Peterson's seemingly contented and well adjusted upper middle class family life, his mother's life was filled with tragedy, according to testimony by the second defense witness.

Joanne Farmer, a lifelong friend of Jackie Peterson, Scott's mother, said on the stand that Jackie's father was murdered when she was 3 years old. She then spent the next 10 years living in an orphanage because her mother was an invalid.

The testimony Tuesday had at least eight jurors wiping away tears at moments such as when Rocha testified: "I miss her. I want to know my grandson. I want Laci to be a mother. I want to hear her called 'Mom.' "

"I think the defense is trying to put as much time as possible between the retelling of this horrific crime and yesterday's testimony," legal expert Jim Hammer said.

In any case, Harris apologized to the jurors for the length of what they were about to hear and said several times, "Please be patient with us."

Later in his testimony, Peterson was asked to describe his relationship with his son. "I love him very much. I have great respect for him," he said.

With regard to all that has occurred, he said, "Losing someone we loved and now having our son in jeopardy is beyond belief."

He described Scott as a good student and hard worker who dreamed of becoming a tournament golfer.

The father was to continue his testimony this afternoon.

Jurors had been expected to begin deliberating as early as Friday. That now seems unlikely as the defense presentation could take a week.

Laci Peterson, 27, disappeared Dec. 24, 2002, about a month after her husband began an affair with Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey.

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