On Wednesday, for the second time in two days, the judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial dismissed a juror, replacing the foreman who had taken copious notes during the 5 1/2 -month trial.
The dropped juror, who is a doctor and a lawyer, was replaced as foreman by Juror No. 6, a firefighter in his early 30s who has taken relatively few notes, legal analysts said.
An alternate, whose daughter is engaged to a man who used to work for Scott and Laci Peterson, was put on the jury.
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 that has increasingly taken on a frantic, circus-like atmosphere -- and that has become a staple of cable television and courthouse speculation.
“Excitement is bad for the prosecution,” former prosecutor and trial analyst Jim Hammer said. “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 another twist late in the day, when the judge and lawyers met in chambers with the chief investigator for the San Mateo County district attorney’s office, triggering speculation that further problems were imminent.
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 that he smothered or strangled Laci, then used his new boat to dump her body in 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 who was dropped in June. 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 turmoil continued outside the courtroom.
A boat similar to the one the prosecution alleges Peterson used to dispose of Laci’s body was parked in a lot a few blocks from the courtroom. In the boat was a headless dummy lying on the floor, clad in overalls. Attached to its arms and legs with yellow rope were cement anchors.
The boat was a reference to an earlier dispute over a visit by the jury to Peterson’s boat. Some of the jurors had climbed in and rocked it, testing its stability.
Defense attorneys said they violated a state law that bars jurors from experimenting with evidence. Delucchi disagreed and said the jurors’ actions did not favor the defense or the prosecution.
It was unknown who put the boat in the parking lot, but defense lawyers were accused of trying to send some kind of cruel message.
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 girlfriend, 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.”
Later, locals began filling the boat with flowers and candles in a tribute to Laci and her unborn son. 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. It was not clear why the veteran investigator was summoned by the judge.
Jurors will be sequestered today for the Veterans Day holiday. No deliberations are scheduled.
By day’s end, legal experts struggled to find the words to describe the intense debate swirling around the downtown courthouse in this otherwise quiet waterfront community of about 80,000 people.
Standing beside a small village of tents crammed with coils of wire, television monitors, lights and stages erected just beyond the courthouse steps, former prosector Dean Johnson shook his head. “This is the first big trial of the 21st century,” he said. “The coverage is incomparable to anything we’ve seen before.”