updated 12/13/2004 1:50:02 PM ET 2004-12-13T18:50:02

Guest: Daniel Horowitz, Geoffrey Fieger, Paul Pfingst, Gail Shiffman,

Brian Bianco, Forester Sinclair, Vernell Crittenden

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up live from Redwood City, California.  We are waiting for a verdict in the penalty phase of Scott Peterson‘s trial.  The life or death decision could come at any moment.


ABRAMS (voice-over):  Jurors have been deliberating for more than eight hours.  Which way does that cut?  Does it mean they‘re agonizing over death?  We ask jurors who‘ve sentenced men to die but took days to do it.

And if Peterson is sentenced to death, will he ever be executed?  California has more prisoners on death row than any other state, but hasn‘t executed anyone in nearly three years.  And remember, the judge could just reject the jury‘s recommendation of death.

Plus, either way, Peterson is headed here to San Quentin.  His attorney, Mark Geragos says his life will be tough.  But just how bad will it be?  We‘ll ask a San Quentin official.

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  One topic on the docket today, the clock is ticking as we wait for the jury in the Scott Peterson case to come back.  Only two stark choices for them to choose from.  Send Peterson to spend the rest of his life in a tiny cell in one of California‘s notoriously tough state prisons or have him settle into an extended stay on death row with a short walk to the death chamber at the end of it.  The jury has been deliberating for around eight hours after hearing defense and prosecution closing arguments on Thursday.

“My Take”—I still believe there will be a verdict today.  But if there is not, it‘s really not that surprising.  They do have a man‘s life in their hands, but which side should take solace from the fact that jurors are taking more time.  Before we go to the guests, let me tell you this.  That apparently there are people heading into the courtroom, including some of the attorneys in the case.  We don‘t know exactly what they‘re going in there for but that‘s why we‘re here.  Because we will bring it to you as soon as we know anything about what is happening inside that courtroom.

Two criminal defense attorneys join me who‘ve spent a lot of time in the courtroom—Daniel Horowitz out here in California.  Gail Shiffman also in California.  Also joining us tonight is the great criminal defense attorney, among other things, Geoffrey Fieger and former San Diego County district attorney and MSNBC analyst Paul Pfingst.

All right.  Daniel Horowitz, let me start with you because you‘ve been here so much in this case and you‘ve also tried seven death penalty cases in California.  The longer they go, if they go, for example, let‘s say they don‘t reach a verdict by the end of the day today, who is going to be pleased about that over the weekend?

DANIEL HOROWITZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well, Dan, I think it leans towards death.  I think the prosecution will be pleased and here‘s why.  To me, the easy verdict is life without parole.  He‘s got a good family.  They would be hurt by his death.  Just get on with it.  You could have done that yesterday.  It looks like there‘s two sides battling.

And to me the people who are going to be worn down if we go beyond today are the people who say, well, I vote for life because of this fact or that fact.  You could take away those facts away from them and then they‘ve got no resistance left.  I think the angry people are getting stronger as time goes on.  That‘s just from my own experience, though.

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey Fieger, what do you think?  Which way does it cut the longer they deliberate?

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Yes, Daniel is absolutely right.  The easier verdict, if that was going to occur, would have been life.  The stronger people, if you will, the angrier people, it reminds you of “12 Angry Men” but believe me that‘s not unlike what‘s going on there in terms of the ones will really push the death penalty.  Obviously those people are the stronger of the two groups.  Obviously, there has to at least be some discussion going on, Dan with some people about life.  But I think inevitably, you‘re right.  There will be a verdict today, and Dan‘s right it tends towards death.

ABRAMS:  Sorry, Paul Pfingst, do you agree?

PAUL PFINGST, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Yes, Dan, I do.  Except I would point out that generally there‘s a higher percentage of hung juries in the penalty phase of a death penalty case in California than there are in the guilt phase of a trial.  So it‘s very difficult for jurors in the penalty phase who don‘t think death is the appropriate punishment to compromise.  They have no place to go.  That‘s a very personal decision.  So it‘s not at all unusual to find hung juries.  And that could be—we‘re all speculating—but that can be something to be watching out for if this goes past any time on Monday.

ABRAMS:  The courtroom is filling up.  The district attorney here, Jim Brazelton, is in the courtroom.  The clerk is back at her desk.  We don‘t know exactly what is going on inside that courtroom.  But one of the issues, Gail Shiffman, that may be at issue here is what Mark Geragos said in his closing argument, and this is number 29 on our lest here.  It‘s part of his closing argument.

He said if you decide, you deliberate.  You talk about it.  If you would have one vote, one vote is a lot, and if you‘re that one vote and you believe in life, in the sanctity of life and in this case, and if you want to stop all this killing, then all you have to do is push the button.  Call Jene.  Call Mike—the clerks—and that‘s it.  You‘re not forced to come to an unanimous decision.

And yet, while everyone has been saying the longer they go, the more likely it is for death, it seems none of them are coming out and automatically hitting that button and saying life, that‘s it, I‘m done.

GAIL SHIFFMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  That‘s true, although maybe that‘s what‘s just happened and we‘ll find out shortly in the courtroom.  But I have to say that I agree with all the panelists here today.  But one thing, you know, the decision to put someone to their death is something that you as a juror will have to live with for the rest of your life.  And though you may not be screaming and yelling save this man‘s life, save this man‘s life, I think if you are sitting in the jury room, voting for life, you understand that ultimately you can push that button and you can save this man‘s life.

And push comes to shove, this juror—this one juror potentially isn‘t going to make a decision and be a pushover for death, because to live with that would be so destructive internally.  And I don‘t think there‘s any juror sitting in the courtroom, sitting in a jury room now that‘s going to allow that to happen.

ABRAMS:  Let me play you one of the instructions the judge gave yesterday that could be at play here right now.


HON. ALFRED DELUCCHI, PETERSON TRIAL JUDGE:  Do not hesitate to change an opinion if you are convinced it is wrong.  However, do not decide any question in a particular way because the majority of the jurors, or any of them favor that decision.


ABRAMS:  And Jim Brazelton, the D.A., was confronted about the length of the deliberations just a few minutes ago outside of court.  Here‘s what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What does it say to you when a jury is taking more than 10 minutes to deliberate?



ABRAMS:  Doesn‘t mean a thing.  You know, look, I think he‘s got a point there.  Daniel Horowitz, do you have any idea why they might be gathering in that courtroom?

HOROWITZ:  No, Dan.  I‘ve just been thinking about it.  You know, it doesn‘t seem like a note from the jury.  It seems like this was the time, by the way, when I was saying maybe we‘ll get a verdict because otherwise they go home about 4:00.  They could stay later, but...

ABRAMS:  Daniel, are you saying...


ABRAMS:  Daniel, they‘re not going to stay later.  I mean that is to me absurd.  If this court will not stay open late to allow jurors deliberating a death penalty case who are supposed to be sequestered over the weekend to deliberate until whatever time they want to deliberate tonight.

HOROWITZ:  I think that—Dan, I think that Delucchi would let them do that, but—and that was an option.  The fact, though, that you gave us some news right now that something is happening and people are assembling in the courtroom, I said can it be one juror pushing that button as Gail said?  I thought no, that would take place in chambers.  What is it that calls everyone to the courtroom?  And my heart is pounding, Dan.  I hope it‘s not a verdict because I don‘t want a verdict because I fear death in this case and this case does not deserve death.

FIEGER:  Hey well Dan, didn‘t Delucchi promise to give everybody an hour if there‘s a verdict?


ABRAMS:  He did Geoffrey.  The problem is if it gets close to 4:00, there are concerns that maybe if they came in, you know, and again we‘re talking Pacific Time here—they were to come in at 3:30, 3:45, that he would say look, we need to get the court officials out of here and they might make it a shorter period of time.

Let me take a quick break here.  Again, the courtroom is filling up.  We don‘t know what‘s happening.  We are monitoring the courtroom and we‘re here.  And remember, when that verdict comes in we‘re going to be able to bring it to you live.  The audio feed will be live.

In the meantime, we go inside the jury room with California jurors who have sentenced men to death.  One says it took four days to sentence Polly Klaas‘ killer to death, even though all the jurors agreed from the start that he deserved to die.  What took so long?  We‘ll ask him.

And even if jurors decide Peterson should die, this man could say I don‘t buy it and sentence him to life instead.  It‘s happened in California before.  Plus, either way the jury decides, Peterson is headed to San Quentin after he‘s sentenced.  We‘ll go inside with an official who works there.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, the D.A. was just in the courtroom.  He has stepped out of the courtroom.  We‘re trying to figure out exactly what is going on there.  We have got our live coverage continuing in a moment.


ABRAMS:  This is the scene at the courthouse here at Redwood City.  A small crowd of people gathering outside the courthouse in anticipation of a possible verdict in the penalty phase of Scott Peterson‘s trial.  Remember that when the verdict in the guilt phase was read, there were cheers from outside here among members of the crowd when he was found guilty.

Now inside the courtroom, the jury is still deliberating.  We are waiting.  The jury is now in its ninth hour of deliberations.  The question, of course, is whether to put Peterson in prison for life or just long enough to be executed.  Weighing life or death for, you know, anyone is something most of us never have to face.  But my next guests have been there in two horrible murder cases.  The most notorious, Richard Allen Davis, the career criminal convicted for the 1993 kidnap/murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas.  And William Dennis convicted in 1988 of murdering his wife and unborn child with a machete.  An ugly case that some say resembles the Peterson trial.

Brian Bianco served on the jury that spent four days before giving the death penalty to Richard Allen Davis and Forester Sinclair served as foreman in the William Michael Dennis case.  Gentlemen, thanks for coming back on the program.  Both of them got the death penalty, we should say.  It took just three hours, though, in the other case.  All right, Mr.  Bianco, four days and yet you say that from the beginning there was a sense he was going to get the death penalty, so what took so long?

BRIAN BIANCO, JUROR IN DEATH PENALTY CASE:  Well, part of it was we had to—what I did in the beginning was I wanted not to take a vote right away, but I wanted instead for people just to talk about what their thoughts were, what their opinions and not force anybody into voting one way or the other until we spent some time.  And that‘s the same thing we did when we went through the guilt phase.

We reviewed evidence before we ever, you know, considered taking a vote.  And by the time people had a chance to talk about where they were, you could get a feel for where people were leaning.  But the key thing for me was really to make sure that the people who weren‘t sure one way or the other...


BIANCO:  ... didn‘t feel pressured to make a decision and that they had the appropriate amount of time that they needed to make a decision that they could live with.

ABRAMS:  I can understand that, but what exactly was it that was going on?  I mean you‘re saying that it was pretty clear he was going to get the death penalty.  What exactly were people saying, for example, on day three?  After all the evidence was in, it was clear he was guilty.  The only question was the punishment.  Were there people who still had reservations or was this just more cathartic?

BIANCO:  Well, I don‘t think, you know, it was—I would disagree a little bit in the sense that from the beginning I don‘t think it was clear that he would get the death penalty.  I mean I think...

ABRAMS:  OK.  Fair enough.

BIANCO:  ... you know, so part of it was for the people then as it sorted itself out and for people who looked at it and said well I‘m not sure, it was talking to them about OK, well, what is it that you‘re unsure about?  Should we review some testimony?  Should we review some evidence?  Should we talk about what a particular witness said?  That kind of thing.  And certainly for some people, it boiled down to either their personal beliefs or religious beliefs that sometimes stood as a barrier to them for them to decide what was the right decision that they could live with.

ABRAMS:  And please don‘t get me wrong.  I don‘t think anyone can be criticized for taking a long time when it comes to a life or death decision.  Mr. Sinclair, your jury took just three hours.  Why do you think that it was so clear to the jurors in your case that death was appropriate?

FORESTER SINCLAIR, JUROR IN DEATH PENALTY CASE:  Well, when we started deliberations, we took a vote right off the bat just to see where we were.  And I think it was something like 7-5.  And then we decided that we would just talk about it and discuss it and why some wanted death and some others felt that life was the better one.  And as the discussions would sort of die out, then we would take another vote.  And it kept getting closer and closer to unanimous.  It was I think 10-2 and I was the one that was one holdout.  And I did that because I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with their vote in the future...

ABRAMS:  Let me ask...


ABRAMS:  ... you this, Mr. Sinclair.  Do you think if the world was watching the way they‘re watching the Peterson case that your jury would have deliberated longer?  They would have said let‘s be extra careful and I don‘t want to walk out of there after three hours and people think we didn‘t take this seriously enough.

SINCLAIR:  No, I don‘t think so.  And it would be fine with me if the world could watch because I think we did a good job.  You got to remember that the viciousness (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the crime and the way the victim was murdered, we came to the conclusion because of that that William Michael Dennis needed to be removed from society permanently and we were not convinced that life in prison without possibility of parole really meant that.  So the only way we accomplished that was the death penalty.

And our conversations kept moving towards that until we came down to the 11-1 vote.  I was the one and I told them that I did that because I was willing to change it to death but I wanted to make sure everybody was absolutely comfortable with their vote.  And so that‘s the way it ended.

ABRAMS:  And Mr. Bianco, very quickly, was your concern also the future?  Meaning, you wanted to make sure that Richard Allen Davis could never walk out of that prison and this was the only way to ensure that?

BIANCO:  No, we really didn‘t look at—at least I didn‘t look at it that way because, you know, it‘s—we didn‘t sentence him to death because we were afraid if he got the other sentence he might get out someday.  We just looked at it and said, you know, looking at mitigating circumstances and all the people that we heard in court.  What‘s the right answer?  You know, does he deserve to die based on the way that California law is written or does he deserve life without parole?  But I certainly never took into account, well, what could happen if they changed a law or something like that.  That‘s certainly not something we should have considered.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Brian Bianco and Forester Sinclair, once again, thank you for taking the time to come back on the program and provide your insight.  We appreciate it.

BIANCO:  Sure.  You‘re welcome.

ABRAMS:  We are going to take a break here.  The jury continues its deliberations behind me.  They are in the ninth hour of deliberations.  Many still believe there will be a verdict tonight, so stick around.

And if Scott is sentenced to death he‘ll be one of more than 600 prisoners there, but only 10 have actually been executed in the last two decades.  So would a death penalty really mean Peterson has a date with the executioner?  And did you know the judge can ignore the jury‘s decision?  Might he do that?



DELUCCHI:  You are free to attach whatever moral or sympathetic value you deem appropriate to each and all of the various factors you are committed to consider.


ABRAMS:  That was the judge instructing the jury on the law.  And we just don‘t know which factors they are considering back there as the deliberations continue in the Peterson case.  We are gong to bring you that verdict live as soon as it happens.  And again, this is Friday, as callous as that sounds, this is a sequestered jury, and I‘ve seen it happen many, many times that on Friday afternoons we get a verdict because it‘s probably subconscious that the jurors just feel like it‘s time.  It‘s time to go in essence in the case.  I mean is that—Daniel Horowitz, I mean that‘s just a reality, isn‘t it?

HOROWITZ:  It‘s a human reality.  Plus Dan, this is a cohesive group.  They know each other and they worked together for a very quick verdict in the guilt phase.  So why can‘t they just put aside their petty differences, focus on the job and task to a particular timeframe like maybe right now in that courtroom.

ABRAMS:  Paul Pfingst, the—does the guilt phase deliberations provide a guide at all as to the time?  Meaning, there was a total of 30 hours.  The first panel deliberated about 17 hours.  Then a juror was dismissed.  They deliberated another four hours.  Another juror was dismissed.  And they deliberated seven hours.  I mean I think it is so misleading when people say oh the jury only deliberated seven hours the first time around.  But do you think this provides any guide?

PFINGST:  The only guide I‘ve seen over time, Dan, is that the death decision is shorter than the guilt decision.  And almost always they either come to a conclusion they can reach or not reach a verdict in a shorter time than it took them to decide whether or not the defendant was guilty or not guilty.  And your point about a Friday afternoon verdict, you‘re absolutely right.  The fact is that a weekend does focus the efficiency in the minds of jurors and you are more likely to get a verdict on a Friday than you are on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And Geoffrey look, you‘ve been covering and trying high profile cases for years.  You know, it just happens.

FIEGER:  Yes it does.  Unfortunately, though, I can tell you we‘ve had a trial going for the last seven weeks.  The jury went out today and at 4:30, the judge let them go.  Although they could have come back with a verdict so it doesn‘t always happen.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes, all right.  Let me take a...

HOROWITZ:  Dan, can I clarify one point?

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, yes.

HOROWITZ:  I talked to the lawyers around the case as a lawyer.  That foreperson, who was kicked off, was the gum in the works.  So my concern is that this cohesive group really didn‘t deliberate very long to get to guilt.  That‘s why I think it might carry over to penalty.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t understand.

HOROWITZ:  In other words, that foreperson who was finally kicked off, there was so much—so many hours spent with him as the leader, slowing everything down, reading through his notebooks, being a fly in the ointment that the jury really never got to do much in terms of voting.  Once he was gone...


HOROWITZ:  ... seven hours is not that long.

ABRAMS:  But Daniel, they don‘t need—they don‘t—oh come on, they don‘t need to vote.  The bottom line is if 11 of the 12 of them have been dealing with each other for hours and hours to suggest that it was a seven-hour deliberation is completely misleading.  It‘s technically accurate and contextually misleading, I mean period...

HOROWITZ:  I‘m not sure...

ABRAMS:  Let me take...

HOROWITZ:  What I‘m suggesting is that maybe it‘s not.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, come on.  Let me—all right, let me take a quick break.  The legal team is going to stick around.  Former San Diego D.A. Paul Pfingst who‘s on this program convinced jurors to give a death penalty to a murderer.  The judge overturned that decision and gave him life in California.  The question—could that happen here?  And if it doesn‘t happen, does a death sentence mean anything in a state that‘s only executed 10 people in the last 26 years?

Plus, you‘re looking at Scott Peterson‘s next stop in the California justice system, San Quentin.  Either way, we talk with a man who‘s worked there for years.  The jury is still deliberating.  We are going to bring you that verdict live when it happens...


ABRAMS:  Coming up live from Redwood City, California, where a jury is still deliberating whether Scott Peterson should live or die, some of the lawyers now back in the courtroom.  We‘ll certainly bring you that decision live when it happens.  What if they choose death and the judge disagrees?  It happened before in California, but first the headlines.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  We‘re live outside the courthouse in Redwood City, still waiting for a verdict in the sentencing phase of Scott Peterson‘s case.  The jurors now deciding again between life in prison and the death penalty for Peterson.  There‘s a good chance that even if they do vote for death, it‘s going to be a long time before Peterson is strapped into the death chamber, if he makes it there at all.

California has the largest number of inmates on death row in the country -- 641 are waiting to be executed there -- 15 women, 626 men.  But only 10 people sentenced to death in California have actually been executed there since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978.  The last execution was in 2002 and that inmate had been on death row for over 20 years.  And even if jurors decided to give Peterson a death sentence, there is a chance the judge in the case could overrule the verdict when the sentence is finalized in February.

“My Take”—even so, it matter whether he gets the death penalty.  It is not irrelevant, as some suggest.  In addition to changing where he would be housed and the appellate process, that statement from the jury is not something to be taken lightly.  Paul Pfingst, you had a case where the jury came back and voted for death and then the judge effectively overruled, basically dismissed the verdict and decided for life instead.

PFINGST:  Yes, that‘s right Dan.  We had a homeless man who lived down by the river here.  He was set upon by the defendant who beat him pretty badly with a rock, but the guy lived through that.  But then the defendant took lighter fluid and spread it all over the homeless guy and set him afire and watched him burn, laughing all the time saying it smelt like frying hot dogs.  And the jury came in.  They found him guilty.  They voted for death and ultimately it went to the judge on the day of the sentence and the judge said I‘m setting aside the death recommendation and sentencing him to life without parole and I have to tell you candidly the jury was pretty upset.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I‘ll bet...

PFINGST:  And this—Dan, this...

ABRAMS:  Daniel Horowitz...

PFINGST:  ... this was no...

ABRAMS:  Go ahead Paul...

PFINGST:  ... liberal judge.  This was a law a order judge.  So this is not something where somebody who you could say was an aberration judge.  This judge handed out lots of heavy sentences over a career.  He‘s a very well respected judge.  But it just didn‘t strike him that this case was a death case and that‘s why he made the call that he under California law, and he alone, can make.

ABRAMS:  Daniel Horowitz, you know this judge well.  Any chance that he would say life even if this jury comes back with a death verdict?

HOROWITZ:  Dan, my quick answer is no, but I‘ll hedge it a little bit.  Judge Delucchi is a Catholic and he believes in his religion.  He cares about what the Pope thinks and yet he still favors the death penalty to be in existence.  He‘s not rabid at having every single person killed who‘s done a capital crime.  He tends to be soft on who should get the death penalty.  But you know the reason I think he wouldn‘t vote to set this one aside is the reason that many judges don‘t like to do it.  They don‘t want the moral...


HOROWITZ:  ... or ethical responsibility of judging each case.

ABRAMS:  Let me interrupt you for one second Daniel.  The judge is on the bench in the courtroom.  We don‘t know yet what has happened but he—people with passes are being asked to go into the courtroom.  The judge is on the bench in this case.  Now, again, they have generally been ending at about 4:00 Pacific Time, which would be about, you know, 20, 25 minutes from now.  So it‘s a little early for the judge to be simply announcing that they‘re going to be done for the day.  Of course, it‘s possible he would be dealing with some logistic issues.  Gail Shiffman, any thoughts on what might be happening?

SHIFFMAN:  We‘d only be guessing.  I wish we knew for sure.  You know, it is possible that there‘s a verdict.  I think, you know, the judge could be assembling everybody in the courtroom, aside from the jury so that he can pass on a message to everyone to get them in place so that things can proceed fairly quickly.  And it‘s only speculation as to what really might be happening.

ABRAMS:  And remember, we will be able to bring you that verdict live, via an audio feed when it happens, so, you know, we could know within moments what is going on inside that—the jury is—do we know that for certain?  OK.  I‘m just trying to get a little bit more information here.  There is going to be no verdict tonight.  No verdict tonight.

We are just told there will be no verdict.  They are coming back on Monday.  Sequestered for the weekend in this case.  Well, that is certainly an interesting development.  All right.  Geoffrey Fieger, what are they doing sequestering jurors for the weekend in a hotel in a death penalty case and not letting them deliberate at all on the weekend?

FIEGER:  I don‘t know.  I can‘t understand it either.  If they‘re sequestered, let them deliberate.  Perhaps there‘s some unique quality of the California civil servants that prevent Delucchi from having them work later than 4:00 or into the weekend.  But I‘ve been in a lot of states that wouldn‘t happen.


HOROWITZ:  Geoffrey, there‘s a statute...

ABRAMS:  And as...

HOROWITZ:  ... in California that you can‘t do business—court business on Saturday noon until Sunday midnight.  So there is a statute.

ABRAMS:  But aren‘t there exceptions, Daniel?  I thought that there were some exceptions to that.

HOROWITZ:  There‘s a case that says they can deliberate all sorts of odd hours, but that case never addressed this statute.  So I think Delucchi would really be in dangerous grounds if he did that.

ABRAMS:  But Daniel, there‘s something—there is something unseemly in my mind, Gail Shiffman, about basically having bankers hours when you have a sequestered jury.  Meaning, you‘re getting in, you know, they‘re starting in the morning, they get these—you know, a lot of the time today they just took an hour, but about an hour, you know, and a half sometimes for lunch.  And they‘re deliberating a man‘s fate.  It‘s life or death and they have to stay at a hotel for the weekend.  Isn‘t there something unseemly about that?

SHIFFMAN:  I absolutely agree with you.  I mean it‘s not even dark here in California.  People don‘t stop working at 20 minutes to 4:00.  We work hard in California.  This is an important decision, you know, and nobody is talking about what‘s going on with Scott Peterson right now.  And I‘ll tell you, you know, he is sitting in a jail cell concerned about his life, concerned about his future, probably crying, probably full of anxiety.  His lawyers, his family, you know, Laci‘s family.  People are ready for a decision to be made.  And there‘s no reason, and there‘s no California law that prohibits...

ABRAMS:  Paul...

SHIFFMAN:  ... that from happening until 11:58 tomorrow morning.  So they certainly have plenty of time that they can spend...

FIEGER:  Wait a sec.  I got news for you...

ABRAMS:  Paul...

FIEGER:  ... if you ask...

ABRAMS:  Hang on...

FIEGER:  If you ask Peterson‘s lawyers, they‘ll say let him wait until Monday.  They‘re not going to force a verdict because a forced verdict will be a death penalty.

ABRAMS:  No of course not.  Of course not, but Paul Pfingst, you‘ve tried a lot of these death penalty cases.  Have you never—I mean are your hours in San Diego, when you were the D.A. there, did you end at 4:00 in the afternoon and never have jurors deliberating on weekends?

PFINGST:  I tried cases in New York City and Brooklyn when I was a prosecutor there and in California.  And in New York City, as many people know, you can work late into the night and you can work over weekends.  In California, the culture is very different.  They do cut out at 4:00 or 4:30 and say OK we‘re just going to come back on Monday.  That‘s just part of the legal culture in this state.

ABRAMS:  It‘s just—that‘s an outrage in my mind.  It really is.  It is an outrage to have a death penalty case, to have a jury staying away from their family, thinking about a person‘s fate as to whether they‘re going to live or die and be forced to not talk about it for two days.  If these jurors came in and said it‘s Sunday, it‘s a religious day, I don‘t want to deliberate, fine.  I have no qualms with that.

But the idea that they don‘t even ask them is just—I mean—

because as Daniel Horowitz points out, I‘m not blaming the judge except for

the fact that I think they should be deliberating later.  But this is just

·         this is nuts.  The jury is gone for the day.  It‘s 20 to 4:00 and they‘re—you know, all right.  Let me take a break here.

When we come back—everyone is going to stick around.  Because coming up, the next stop for Peterson, San Francisco Bay.  No matter what happens, the same bay where prosecutors say he dumped his wife‘s body.  He‘s going to be going back there.  This time, though, it‘ll be in a cell at San Quentin.  His attorney says it would be awful, but just how bad can it get?  We‘re going to talk with a man who‘s worked there for three decades.

And I get a lot of grief about how much attention we‘ve paid to the Peterson case since it began.  It will not change the world, but there is a reason we do it.  And it‘s my “Closing Argument”.



SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON‘S MOTHER:  I can only hope that the sound of Laci‘s voice begging for her life and begging for the life of her unborn child is heard over and over and over again in the mind of that person every day for the rest of his life.


ABRAMS:  Laci‘s mother Sharon Rocha wished just days after Scott Peterson was arrested.  Whether jurors give him the death penalty or life without parole, there‘s no doubt Peterson will be spending the rest of his life in a California prison, assuming he doesn‘t when any of his appeals.  And his defense attorney Mark Geragos tried to tell the jurors in his closing argument yesterday prison is not necessarily a great option.  It‘s a pretty horrible place.

He said—quote—“Prison is an awful, awful place.  Scott Peterson, if you spare his life, will be placed into a small cell for the rest of his life.  Scott Peterson in that cell will have a bed, a cold metal toilet, and he will share that cell with a cellmate and he will stay in that cell every single day until he dies.”

Whatever that verdict, Peterson‘s first stop is here at San Quentin where he‘ll be processed and placed in the California prison system.  And if he gets the death penalty, he‘ll stay there on death row.

KCRA‘s Edie Lambert takes a look at what he‘d face.


EDIE LAMBERT, KCRA REPORTER (voice-over):  This is where all California inmates are locked up when they‘re sentence to die.  San Quentin‘s state prison houses California‘s only death row and it‘s overcrowded.  Six hundred and twenty-nine men are divided into three sections, depending in part on how dangerous they are.  An inmate like Scott Peterson would likely get some extra protection.

DON HELLER, AUTHOR, “DEATH PENALTY INITIATIVE”:  Scott Peterson, because he‘s convicted of murdering a baby, is at the next to the bottom wrung in the prison system among prisoners.

LAMBERT:  If Peterson were housed with the better behaved inmates he would be allowed to spend many hours a day outside his cell.

TERRY THORNTON, CA DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS:  They associate with each other during yard time, play chess or play cards or go to the yard and you know, walk and exercise.

LAMBERT:  He would be allowed a special prison TV if he could pay for it, but no computer.  And like all inmates, he‘d have unlimited access to research materials for his case.  The death penalty itself happens in this chamber.  Inmates are killed by a series of poisonous shots.  Sacramento attorney Don Heller wrote California‘s “Death Penalty Initiative”, but he now opposes it in part because he believes it‘s unfairly applied to the poor and minorities.  But he points out that in this case that could work to Peterson‘s advantage.

HELLER:  He‘s pretty, white and middle class, upper middle class.  He has an advantage going in for that reason.  Statistically, people like Scott Peterson don‘t end up with a death penalty.


ABRAMS:  KCRA‘s Edie Lambert there reporting.

Vernell Crittenden has worked at San Quentin for three decades.  He‘s now the public information officer there and he joins us now.  Thanks for coming back on the program Mr. Crittenden...


ABRAMS:  If he gets the death penalty as a practical matter, what happens when he arrives?

VERNELL CRITTENDEN, SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON (via phone):  Well, as soon as he arrives here, he will then be processed into what we refer to as our adjustment center and he will be placed in a cell alone.  He‘ll eat all of his meals alone.  He‘ll be allowed to go out and exercise alone.  And that will occur for 10 to 20 days as we identify a compatible group of inmates that he will be able to go out and exercise with that are on death row and that he will be able to go to religious programming in a—with that compatible group.

ABRAMS:  And what if he gets life?  What would happen then when he would arrive at San Quentin?

CRITTENDEN:  Well when—then when he arrives here at San Quentin under that life without the possibility of parole, one of the first things we‘ll be making an assessment on is the safety concerns with this high notoriety case.  It immediately brings to rise a potential safety concern, due to the fact that he has taken the life of an unborn child.  With that in mind, we will probably place him on administrative segregation, and house him in one of our administrative segregation units where he would be single celled.  He would eat all of his meals in his cell and would have limited exercise opportunities.

ABRAMS:  Vernell Crittenden...

CRITTENDEN:  That would probably...

ABRAMS:  ... thank you...

CRITTENDEN:  ... go on for about 60 days.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Thank you very much.  We‘re going to have you back on when we‘re able to see you.  Thanks again for joining us on the phone, though.  We really appreciate it.  Daniel Horowitz, Gail Shiffman, Geoffrey Fieger and Paul Pfingst, thanks a lot.

Coming up, you may think the outcome of the Peterson trial has nothing to do with your life, but there‘s a lot I say we can all learn from this case.  It is my “Closing Argument”.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, I‘ve been on this case from the beginning, nearly two years now, and I get a lot of complaints.  People asking why do we cover the Peterson case?  Well I‘ll answer that question of why in my “Closing Argument”.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why we‘ve covered the Peterson case so much and so often.  It‘s a question I get nearly every day and my answer will be unsatisfying to some news purists who would argue that only the most important news should be covered—only the news that affects the future of nations or life or death for the most people.  The outcome of the Peterson case will not impact international nuclear proliferation nor lead to peace in the Middle East.

Anyone who tells you we are covering one of the more important stories of the day is a liar, but it is a fascinating story—more news magazine than pure news, an insight into both our legal system and into the darkest sides of humanity.  So many can see something in themselves, in either Laci or even Scott.  They were where so many couples had been or strive to be, young and relatively successful.

For some women, Scott Peterson represents the epitome of everything wrong with certain men.  And yet he just seems, well, perfect, a seemingly loving, handsome husband who appeared so normal except not in that picture.  But in reality was nothing of the sort.  Disgusted by his burgeoning wife, he was out soliciting dates while she fended for herself and her soon-to-be baby at home.  And then at the time when so many women feel so vulnerable, seven and a half months pregnant, a jury believes he killed her.  It is at least as intriguing psychologically as it is legally, leading so many who have followed this case to question their own choices.

Could my Harry or Doug be anything like him?  It‘s led me to wonder whether I could have seen in it someone like him?  I doubt it.  Do I know anyone who‘s that deceptive?  It‘s a study in psychology.  Everyone wants to understand Scott.  At even the most intellectual of events where I‘m speaking about the Middle East or the Supreme Court, people always come up afterwards and almost shamefully want to know more about the Peterson case.  There shouldn‘t be shame.

There‘s nothing wrong with following a fascinating story or reading a compelling book for that matter.  Particularly one that also teaches so much about how our legal system works.  There‘s a place for it at the news dinner table.  And while this is serious stuff, as a news matter, maybe it‘s dessert.  But as long as you only eat or serve sweets, some of the time, I see it as an entirely defensible part of the diet and so for some of the time I have no qualms about being the pastry chef.

I‘ve had my say.  “Your Rebuttal” is coming up in 60 seconds along with a new way to solve crime.  A hint—it involves hairy toes.


ABRAMS:  We are back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night one of my guests, Geoffrey Fieger, suggested that Scott Peterson might have been involved in a disappearance of another woman before Laci.  I cut him off because I said there‘s no evidence to back that claim up.  Many of you upset.

Sheila P. Burleson in Charlotte, North Carolina writes, “You know, I have thought from the beginning that Laci was not Scott‘s first murder.  Just a creepy feeling I had.  Wish you had let Geoffrey tell the viewing audience about that.”

From Virginia Beach, Virginia, Grace writes, “Thank you Geoffrey Fieger.  I definitely agree that this is not Scott‘s first offense.”  All right.  Look, I cut him off because police investigated and have found no evidence, zero, that Scott may have been connected to another murder, and I just don‘t want to discuss non-issues on the program.

Trish Good in Pasadena, Texas.  “I was impressed how you strongly objected to this ridiculous inflammatory statement and I applaud you.”  Thank you.

Finally, in last night‘s edition of “Legal Lites”, we told you about a fast food worker who was jailed for spitting in a police officer‘s burger.  The officer noticed only after he started eating it.  Many of you were eating dinner during that segment.  I‘m sorry about that.

Kathy Carlson in Anderson, Indiana seemed to not mind really.  “The topic of the “Legal Lite” today was some guy hocking up a loogie on some police officer‘s hamburger.  It‘s kind of bad because I eat my dinner while watching your show, but it‘s also kind of good because I‘m on a diet.  Could you possibly find a case where someone hocked a loogie on a plate of fries or a big bowl of chocolate ice cream?”  Thank you Kathy.

We are taking a break from our Peterson trial coverage for our new segment “Legal Lites” where you‘ll hear about America‘s strangest crimes, dumbest lawyers and weirdest lawsuits.  As we‘ve been saying all week, while we love the segment, we‘re not happy with the name so we‘re asking to you take part in a contest to come up with something better.  You have until Sunday night to come up with a name for the segment.  The winner will be the envy of the neighborhood with a spanking new package of MSNBC merchandise and of course, credit on the air.  More on that after our “Legal Lite”, which starts today with a warning for America‘s peeping toms.  Keep an eye on your toes.

The story comes from Jamestown, North Carolina; a conservative part of the country where women who shower at the local YMCA expect their privacy will be respected and protected.  Police say it was not by 43-year-old David Herbert Witham.  He‘s been charged with six counts of secretly peeping in the room of females after he was found hiding in a stall using a small mirror to spy on women rinsing off.  How did he get busted?  In the words of Police Sergeant J.D. Church, one of the victims saw his feet and they were hairy.  Witham is now in jail on a $3,000 bond.  No word on whether he has booked a pedicure or toe wax once he is released.

Back to the contest—to enter, go to our Web site, abramsreport.msnbc.com.  All the rules are there.  So is the entry form.  You come up with the name; you get the bag of goodies.  We find the stories.  Get those entries in by Sunday.

Thanks for watching.  Chris Matthews up next.  I‘ll be back here next week as we wait for the jurors to make up their minds as to whether Scott Peterson lives or dies.  See you next week.



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