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Penalty phaseof Peterson trialbegins after delay

With searing comments directed at her former son-in-law, Laci Peterson’s mother took the stand Tuesday in the penalty phase of Scott Peterson’s murder trial.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Laci Peterson’s mother took the stand Tuesday in the penalty phase of Scott Peterson’s murder trial, rising out of her seat and screaming at her former son-in-law: “She wanted to be a mother. That was taken away from her.”

Her voice cracking, Sharon Rocha spoke directly to Peterson, who was convicted Nov. 12 of murdering his wife and the 8-month-old fetus she was carrying.

“Divorce was always an option — not murder,” Rocha said in an outburst that was loud enough to make several jurors jump.

Peterson watched her and had no visible reaction.

Rocha, wearing a gold heart-shaped pendant with a picture of her daughter in it, testified on the opening day of the penalty phase.

Jurors will consider whether the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman should be executed or get life in prison without parole for the 2002 murders.

Scott Peterson’s attorneys were scheduled to make their opening statements after the prosecution concludes calling witnesses.

Agony on Mother's Day
As Rocha spoke, prosecutors displayed photographs of Laci Peterson, including one from Mother’s Day 2002. Taken a week after Laci’s 27th birthday, her last, the picture showed three generations of women — Laci, her mother and her grandmother.

Mother’s Day, Sharon Rocha said, would never be the same.

“The first Mother’s Day (after her death) I laid on the floor and I cried most of the day because she should have been there,” she said.

Earlier, a prosecutor said Scott Peterson’s actions left the family with “a hole in their hearts that can never be repaired.”

“When the defendant dumped the bodies of his wife and unborn son into the bay, those ripples spread out and they touched many, many lives,” prosecutor Dave Harris said.

“Based on what you’re going to hear on the circumstances of this crime, the only appropriate and just punishment is death,” Harris said.

Prosecutors had argued at trial that Peterson strangled or smothered his wife in their Modesto home on or around Christmas Eve 2002, then dumped her body into San Francisco Bay. The remains were discovered four months later a few miles from where Scott Peterson claims to have been fishing the day his wife vanished.

“I miss her very much. I try to remember the good memories we have of each other, but they’re overshadowed all the time by how she died ... and maybe her knowing who did it,” said Laci Peterson’s older brother, Brent Rocha.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her be more excited than the day she called me up to tell me she was pregnant,” he said. “She was going to be a great mother.”

Bartender's claim delays proceedings
Earlier Tuesday, the proceedings were delayed briefly as attorneys for both sides met with the judge behind closed doors to talk about a bartender’s claim that he overheard a juror discussing the case in his bar, a defense source told The Associated Press.

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi did not excuse any jurors before the panel was called into court for the start of the penalty phase.

Courthouse administrator Peggy Thompson said the matter had been resolved. She declined to discuss the details, citing the judge’s gag order.