Judge Rejects Peterson’s Bid for Mistrial

Times Staff Writer

The judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial called jurors into the courtroom today and reread them instructions urging them to set aside passion, prejudice and opinion in their deliberations.

The action, coming on the third full day of deliberations, led to speculation among court trial analysts that the jury was not getting along and needed a nudge.

“The people and the defendant are entitled to the individual opinion of each juror,” Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the jury. “Do not hesitate to change your opinion for the purpose of reaching a verdict if you can do so.

“The attitude and conduct of jurors at all times is very important,” he said. “It is rarely helpful for a juror at the beginning of deliberations to express an emphatic opinion on the case.”

Peterson is accused of two counts of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Laci, and the fetus she carried. The prosecution argued that Peterson killed Laci around Dec. 24, 2002, then sunk the weighted body in San Francisco Bay.

The remains washed ashore in mid-April, about a mile from where Peterson, a fertilizer salesman, claimed to have gone fishing alone the day his wife vanished.

If convicted, Peterson, 32, could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The jury could also decide to convict on the lesser charge of second-degree murder which carries a 15 years-to-life sentence.

After the judge’s admonition, the jury asked for evidence including an anchor, tidal charts, life insurance policy and transcripts of Peterson’s call to his mistress. Some observers said this seemed to indicate the jury was back to deliberating the merits of the case.

In the late afternoon, jurors went back to a local hotel where they are sequestered.

Earlier, the judge denied a defense motion for a mistrial.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos had asked for the mistrial after jurors visited a key piece of evidence, the 14-foot aluminum boat that the prosecution maintains that Peterson used to dispose of the 150-pound body of his wife, Laci.

During the visit this morning, two jurors entered the boat and at least one rocked it back and forth. Geragos argued that the action could hurt his client because the boat was on a trailer and not in the water. The action, he contended, broke California law which prohibits jurors with “experimenting with evidence.”

In rejecting the defense request, Delucchi said he reminded jurors to keep in mind that the boat is not on the water.

Deliberations began Wednesday afternoon. Jurors did not deliberate over the weekend.

So far, the San Mateo County jury has asked to see three photographs and today’s examination of the boat.

Defense attorneys have argued that Laci Peterson may have been kidnapped, perhaps by members of a satanic cult. However, the defense did not call any witnesses to support that theory.

“The entire defense was based on hearsay,” prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury last week. “It is not reasonable that anybody put those bodies in the bay to frame him. It’s not reasonable and you must reject it.”

Distaso countered defense attorney Geragos’ contention in his summation last week that there wasn’t a mark on Peterson consistent with him strangling or smothering his wife, as alleged by the prosecutor. Distaso played a televised interview of the defendant showing some cuts on his knuckles that he said occurred Christmas Eve.

“You can’t tell me there’s no marks on him,” Distaso told the jury. “You’ve got your hands around her neck. She reaches up and scratches him.”

Geragos, in his closing remarks, repeatedly asked the jury not to prejudge his client because the evidence showed him to be a chronic liar who started an affair with a Fresno massage therapist a month before his wife disappeared.

Meanwhile, Presiding Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum denied media petitions to place a still camera near the second-floor courtroom door. The media argued that the camera was needed to get family reaction after a verdict.

Both the prosecution and the defense argued against the camera in order to protect the families.

The judge did allow still and television cameras to be reinstalled on the first floor of the building and cameras have been used outside the building.

Special correspondent Robert Hollis contributed from Redwood City; Times staff writer Michael Muskal handled rewrite in Los Angeles.