FILE PHOTO: GERAGOS, PETERSON.
MSNBC
Defense attorney Mark Geragos, left, consults with defendant Scott Peterson last month during his trial.
updated 11/1/2004 3:07:01 PM ET 2004-11-01T20:07:01

Prosecutors urged jurors Monday to convict Scott Peterson of murdering his pregnant wife, saying his own statement that he was out fishing near where her body later turned up is a fact “you can take ... to the bank.”

After hearing 174 witnesses for the prosecution and 14 for the defense, jurors may be deliberating the Peterson’s fate by midweek.

Getting his closing argument under way, Prosecutor Rick Distaso showed jurors an aerial photograph of the San Francisco Bay, pointing to the rocky beach where the bodies of Laci Peterson and her fetus were found, and the area a few miles away where Scott Peterson says he took a solo fishing trip the day his wife disappeared.

Prosecutors are seeking two murder convictions, for Laci and the fetus she carried, a boy the couple planned to name Conner.

“The only person that we know without any doubt that was in the exact location in the exact spot where Laci and Conner washed ashore ... is sitting right there. ... That alone is proof beyond a reasonable doubt in this case,” Distaso said. “You can take that fact to the bank and you can convict this man of murder.”

Deliberations could begin Wednesday
The prosecution argument was to be followed by the defense and then a prosecution rebuttal. Jurors, who have heard from 174 witnesses for the prosecution and 14 for the defense since opening statements began on June 1, were expected to receive instructions from the judge on Wednesday and then begin deliberations.

Prosecutors claim Peterson killed his wife shortly before Christmas 2002, then dumped the weighted body into San Francisco Bay. The remains of Laci Peterson and her fetus were discovered along a rocky shoreline about four months later, a few miles from where Scott Peterson claims to have gone fishing alone the day his wife vanished.

Prosecutors put together a detailed web of circumstantial evidence to cast suspicion on Peterson, 32, but couldn’t point to a murder weapon, a crime scene or even a cause of death.

In his closing arguments, Distaso said Peterson strangled or smothered Laci the night of Dec. 23, 2002, or the following morning. While he couldn’t say exactly how or when Peterson committed the murder, he said he didn’t have to, “I only have to prove that he did it.”

Freedom is what he wanted’
Scott developed a plan to get out of that “dull, boring married life with kids. ... Freedom is what he wanted,” Distaso said. He cited a comment Peterson allegedly made that he thought he had a soul mate “but I lost her.”

“Laci Peterson was dead to Scott Peterson a long time before he killed her,” Distaso told the jury.

Distaso flashed a split-screen image from late 2002, with one side showing Laci sitting alone at a Christmas party and the other side showing Scott and his mistress, Amber Frey, embracing at a different party that same night.

Defense lawyers claim someone else abducted and killed Laci.

In a victory for the prosecution, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi ruled Friday that jurors will be allowed to consider a lesser murder charge that would spare Peterson a possible death sentence if convicted

The jury must first believe Peterson planned the killing in advance in order to convict him on the first-degree murder charges. He faces the death penalty or life without parole, if convicted on those charges.

Ruling a victory for prosecution
Convictions on the second-degree charges would mean jurors believed Peterson killed his wife but it wasn’t premeditated. Second- degree murder carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

“The jury could say, ’Well, we think that Mr. Peterson killed Laci Peterson but we’re not persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that there was premeditation,”’ Delucchi said in his ruling — part of instructions that will be given to jurors this week.

Defense attorneys vehemently objected to the inclusion of the lesser charges.

Most legal experts agreed the judge’s ruling bodes well for prosecution.

“For the most part, it gives jurors a real option to convince or convert any holdouts who aren’t so sure about premeditation but may still think he killed his wife,” said Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman, a regular trial observer. “The most difficult thing in this case for prosecutors to prove has been premeditation.”

Prosecutors have built their entire case on premeditation, that Peterson planned for weeks to kill his eight-months pregnant wife, Laci, and had even devised a way to dispose of the body by purchasing a boat.

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