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Jurors: Peterson's stoicism was the final straw

Upon learning of his death sentence, Scott Peterson sat  still and tight-jawed, the same vacant expression he wore throughout his murder trial. And to hear the jurors tell it, his lack of visible emotion was the final piece that doomed him.
People read the San Francisco Examiner with the headline 'Death' in Redwood City
People read the San Francisco Examiner with the headline "Death" over pictures of Scott Peterson and his wife Laci outside Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Monday, minutes after the death sentence recommendation was delivered. Kimberly White / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Upon learning of his death sentence, Scott Peterson sat defiantly still and tight-jawed, the same vacant expression he wore throughout a murder trial in which he never spoke. And to hear the jurors tell it, Peterson’s apparent lack of emotion — from the day his wife disappeared through the last day of testimony two years later — was the final piece that doomed him.

The jury had been told that Peterson did not wear his emotions on his sleeve. But juror Richelle Nice told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that she noticed Peterson becoming emotional during the penalty phase of his trial.

“Is it just that he doesn’t show emotion for Laci and Conner?” she asked.

She said her thoughts were with Laci Peterson and the fetus she carried.

‘Justice was done’
“They can rest in peace,” she said. “Justice was done.”

A cheer went up outside the courthouse Monday as the jury announced its decision after 11½ hours of deliberations over three days. The same six men and six women who convicted Peterson of murdering his pregnant wife recommended that he be sent to death row at San Quentin State Prison outside San Francisco, the infamous lockup overlooking the bay where Laci Peterson’s body was discarded.

Inside, Laci Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, cried quietly — her lips quivering after the verdict was read. Scott Peterson’s mother, Jackie, showed no apparent emotion.

Three jurors said at a press conference afterward that they couldn’t let go of the fact that the bodies of Laci Peterson and her fetus had washed ashore a few miles from where Scott Peterson claimed he went fishing the day she disappeared.

Juror Greg Beratlis said the jury was convinced of Peterson’s guilt by “many, many things,” but added: “Those bodies were found in the same place. That played in my mind, over and over.”

Most unsettling, the jurors seemed to agree, was Peterson’s dispassionate demeanor.

“He has no remorse,” juror Michael Belmessieri said Tuesday on CBS’ “The Early Show.”

‘It didn't seem to faze him’
“He lost his wife and his child — it didn’t seem to faze him,” said juror Steve Cardosi. “And while that was going on ... he is romancing a girlfriend. That doesn’t make sense to me. At all.”

Peterson did not testify during the six-month trial.

“Anything — a plea for his life, or just his opinion on everything that went on in the last two years. ... I would have liked to have heard his voice on that,” Beratlis said.

Nice even took issue with Peterson’s manner Monday in the moments before the sentence was read, chatting casually with his attorneys. “Today — the giggles at the table,” she said. “Loud and clear.”

Peterson was convicted Nov. 12 of one count of first-degree murder in the death of Laci, and one count of second-degree murder for the killing of her eight-month old fetus. The jury had two options in deciding the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman’s fate: life in prison without parole or death by injection.

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi will formally sentence Peterson on Feb. 25. The judge will have the option of reducing the sentence to life, but such a move is highly unlikely.

But Peterson still might not be executed for decades — if ever — and it can take years for even the first phase of the appeals process to begin. Since California brought back capital punishment in 1978, only 10 executions have been carried out. The state’s clogged death row houses 641 prisoners.

In a brief news conference after the verdict, defense attorney Mark Geragos said he was “very disappointed.” “Obviously, we plan on pursuing every and all appeals, motions for a new trial and everything else,” he said.

A tabloid frenzy
The tale of adultery and murder set off a tabloid frenzy as suspicion began to swirl around Scott Peterson in the days and weeks after Laci’s disappearance. The heat was turned up when Amber Frey, the massage therapist who Scott Peterson was romancing on the side, came forward.

The jury’s decision followed seven days of tearful testimony in the penalty phase. In arguing for death last week, prosecutors called Peterson “the worst kind of monster” and said he was undeserving of sympathy. Geragos begged of jurors: “Just don’t kill him. That’s all I am asking of you. End this cycle.”

Prosecutors spent months portraying Peterson as a cheating husband and cold-blooded killer who wanted to murder Laci to escape marriage and fatherhood for the pleasures of the freewheeling bachelor life.

“They had no reason to doubt it was Scott who did what he did,” said Laci Peterson’s stepfather, Ron Grantski, the only member of her family to speak to reporters. “He got what he deserved.”

Defense attorneys argued during the trial’s guilt phase that Peterson was framed and that the real killers dumped Laci’s body in the water after learning of Peterson’s widely publicized alibi. The defense fought hard to save Peterson’s life, calling 39 witnesses over seven days in the penalty phase.

When the time came for a verdict and sentence recommendation, jurors were convinced Peterson desperately wanted out of the married life.

“I don’t think divorce was an option,” Beratlis said. “I think it was freedom.”

Heather Richardson, the maid of honor at Scott and Laci Peterson’s wedding, said she thought jurors were right to think Scott Peterson killed his pregnant wife because he wanted freedom.

“The child was the turning point for him,” she told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday. “He would have never divorced her.”