updated 12/14/2004 5:59:05 AM ET 2004-12-14T10:59:05

Dozens of people in Laci Peterson’s hometown who were donating blood in her memory applauded when they heard a jury’s decision to execute Scott Peterson for the murder of his pregnant wife.

As much as the case took on a life of its own far from Modesto, this central California town just east of San Francisco has always been the epicenter of the story.

It is where the college sweethearts returned after running a restaurant on the coast; where they bought a house and decorated a nursery for a baby they planned to name Conner; and where prosecutors said Laci Peterson was murdered shortly before Christmas two years ago.

On Monday, at a blood drive held in the memory of Laci and her unborn fetus, about two dozen people gathered around a television to hear the verdict.

One woman, Deantha Myers, started clapping as she heard the word “death” on TV. Soon, others did the same — listening closely while the judge questioned each juror to confirm the decision in the penalty phase of the highly-publicized murder trial.

“He shouldn’t be able to live in a prison, you know, getting three meals a day, having a bed to sleep in, while she’s dead with her son,” said 24-year-old Lisa Hedrick, a volunteer student at the blood drive.

To others, the elation seemed incongruous.

“Here we are giving blood, giving the gift of life and people are cheering for the death penalty,” said Rodney Cordova, a 39-year-old BMW salesman. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Celebrations, however, were more subdued than a month earlier when drivers honked horns and bystanders cheered as Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife.

Outside the home the couple once shared, a neighbor, Scott Maxwell, gave a thumb’s up sign from the window of his pickup truck as the death sentence aired on the radio.

Mishelle Dean showed up later with three children and a sign reading, “Sweet Laci and innocent Conner may you now rest in peace!” They then joined hands in prayer.

Gone, however, were the overflowing displays of flowers, stuffed animals and candles that at times have transformed the street into a sideshow.

In Redwood City, where the case was moved because of extensive publicity close to home, about 300 bystanders cheered. Hundreds more had showed up Nov. 12 when the 32-year-old fertilizer salesman was convicted of first-degree murder for Laci Peterson’s death and second-degree murder for the death of her fetus.

“Today, a chill went through my body,” said Steve Chapman, standing outside the courthouse. “The death penalty is too good for him. He’d be worse off in a cell for 50 years.”

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