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Judge rejects Peterson’s bid for new jury

The judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial denied defense motions Monday for a new jury and a new venue, and rescheduled the penalty phase of the case to begin Nov. 30.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial denied defense motions Monday for a new jury and a new venue and rescheduled the penalty phase of the case to begin Nov. 30.

After hearing arguments, Judge Alfred Delucchi rejected the bid by defense attorney Mark Geragos to shift the location of the trial for a second time.

Geragos had argued that publicity surrounding the high-profile case prevented Peterson from getting a fair trial in San Mateo County, where the case was shifted from Peterson’s hometown of Modesto. Geragos wanted to move the trial again and to seat a new jury to impose a sentence on his client.

Delucchi also postponed the beginning of the penalty phase of the case for eight days to give Peterson's defense time to appeal his ruling on the change-of-venue motion and to resolve discovery issues.

The judge's ruling came 10 days after Peterson was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and second-degree murder for killing her fetus.

Jurors will choose between a life sentence and execution. They are expected to hear testimony much more laden with emotion than was presented during the five-month guilt phase of his trial.

The penalty phase is like a miniature trial, absent most of the typical rules of evidence. Unlike the guilt phase of a trial, it allows jurors to hear pleas for leniency and heartfelt recollections of the victim.

Family, friends to testify
This phase will begin with opening statements from both sides, followed by testimony from friends and family members and closing arguments, before the jurors are once again sequestered for deliberations.

“Witnesses are pretty much allowed to say whatever they want,” said Robert Talbot, a University of San Francisco School of Law professor who has observed the trial. “Laci’s family will be talking about the impact on their lives without Laci there and not having a grandchild. The Petersons are going to attempt to show there is something of value in him that shouldn’t be destroyed by the death penalty.”

Talbot said defense lawyers also are allowed to “argue lingering doubt,” playing to jurors who may still be somewhat uncertain about the prosecution’s case.

The Peterson penalty phase wasn’t forecast to be like most murder trials, where the convicted person has a history of violence, anti-social behavior or a childhood marred with abuse.

‘A pretty good childhood’
“You’re not going to have any of that here because there isn’t poverty in his background and there isn’t parental abuse or a criminal record. He seemed to have a pretty good childhood,” Talbot said.

No testimony was expected from one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, Peterson’s former mistress, Amber Frey. Wiretapped telephone calls between Peterson and Frey played for jurors portrayed the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman as a habitual liar and a cad.

Speculation that Frey would be a defense witness because of her apparent opposition to the death penalty is unfounded, said Frey’s attorney, Gloria Allred. “I think that would be ridiculous,” said Allred..