By Brian Skoloff, The Associated Press
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) -- Scott Peterson was convicted Friday of murdering his pregnant wife and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay. Prosecutors in the made-for-cable-TV case portrayed it as a cold-blooded attempt to escape marriage and fatherhood for the pleasures of the bachelor life.
Jurors found the former fertilizer salesman guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Laci Peterson, and guilty of second-degree murder in the death of the fetus she carried.
Peterson stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, then looked at each of the jurors as they were polled to confirm their decisions. The jurors were serious and unsmiling, and none appeared to look back.
Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, sobbed, and her son, Brent Rocha, wrapped his arm tightly around her. Laci's friends in the gallery cried, their arms around each other, and loud sighs could be heard across the courtroom.
"You can go home now, this part of the trial is over," Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the jurors.
Peterson, 32, now faces a possible death by lethal injection or life in prison. The six-man, six-woman jury agreed on the "special circumstance" making him eligible for death _ killing another person while committing a felony _ because the fetus died while he intentionally killed his wife.
The penalty phase will begin Nov. 22, when jurors will hear testimony from witnesses for the defense and prosecution. It will continue through the 24, with a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. The judge said he expects finish testimony by Nov. 29 and turn the penalty phase over to the jury for deliberations by Nov 30.
All the parties in the case remain under a gag order until Peterson's sentence is determined.
The verdict came after about eight hours of deliberation by the final 12 jurors, following a five-month trial that was an endless source of fascination to the tabloids and cable networks with its story of an attractive, radiant young couple awaiting the birth of their first child, a cheating husband, and a slaying for which prosecutors had no eyewitnesses, no weapon, not even a cause of death.
The last week was chaotic: The judge removed one juror who apparently violated his order only to consider evidence presented at trial, and another _ the foreman _ for reasons that remain unclear.
A huge crowd had massed outside the San Mateo County courthouse, where the trial was moved because of pretrial publicity in Laci Peterson's hometown of Modesto, and that crowd roared twice _ once for each verdict. In Modesto, horns honked as the news reached car radios, and in a Mexican restaurant, customer Amy Tran shouted "Yes!"
"He acted like a guilty person," Tran said. "If you love somebody, you're not going to sell their personal belongings."
As the courtroom emptied, throngs of well-wishers clapped and cheered Laci's Peterson's family. Gwendolyn Kemple, a distant relative of Sharon Rocha, was crying and shaking, saying "We're just elated."
Someone in the crowd booed Jackie Peterson, Scott's mother, as the family was rushed away by police. Someone else shouted "SHE didn't kill her!"
"He's a sicko. He needs to fry," said Bob Johnston, 42, of San Jose, who was among those cheering outside the courthouse. "I wanted to see that justice was served."
The morning Redwood City Daily News printed 10,000 copies of an 8-page extra edition with the banner headline, "Guilty: Crowds Cheer Verdict," minutes after it was announced, and distributed free copies outside the courthouse, where people cheered and waving the papers over their heads. The afternoon San Mateo County Times came out quickly with an edition topped with the headline "Verdict: Scott Killed Laci."
The 27-year-old substitute teacher was eight months pregnant when she vanished on Christmas Eve 2002. Four months later, her remains and those of her fetus washed up about 90 miles from the couple's Modesto home _ not far from where Peterson claims he was fishing alone the day of her disappearance.
Peterson was then arrested in the San Diego area, more than 400 miles from home, carrying nearly $15,000, his hair and goatee bleached blond.
Police never were able to establish exactly when, how or where Laci died.
At trial, prosecutors presented 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence, from wiretapped phone calls to videotaped police interrogations, depicting Peterson as liar and a philanderer who was sweet-talking his girlfriend, massage therapist Amber Frey, while trying to show the world he was pining for his missing wife.
Prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury that Peterson couldn't stand the thought of being trapped in a "dull, boring, married life with kids," and either strangled or smothered his wife before dumping her weighted-down body from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay.
"He wants to live the rich, successful, freewheeling bachelor life. He can't do that when he's paying child support, alimony and everything else," Distaso told jurors. "He didn't want to be tied to this kid the rest of his life. He didn't want to be tied to Laci for the rest of his life. So he killed her."
The jury heard how Peterson had bought a two-day ocean-fishing license days before Laci disappeared, yet claimed his fishing trip was a last-minute substitution for golf because of blustery weather. Prosecutors also offered evidence suggesting he poured concrete anchors and used them to sink his wife's body in the bay.
Peterson never took the stand. His lawyers offered testimony that the fetus lived beyond the day Laci vanished, and they suggested that someone else abducted and killed Laci while she walked the dog, then framed her husband after learning of his fishing-trip alibi.
They explained his lies and inconsistent statements about his affair and his activities around the time of Laci's disappearance as the mutterings of a man in the midst of a breakdown over his missing wife.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos, who was in Los Angeles when the verdict was announced, acknowledged that jurors probably hated Peterson, and pleaded with them not to convict the man simply because the prosecution had made him look like a "jerk and a liar."
"You're not supposed to just decide this case on whether or not you like Scott Peterson," Geragos said.
The story proved irresistible to the cable networks, which almost every night brought in talking heads to pick apart the two sides' legal strategies and expound on some of the soap opera aspects of the case, which included hours of secretly taped calls in which Peterson spun out elaborate tales to Frey.
Frey herself testified, saying that Peterson told her while they were dating that he had "lost his wife." Two weeks later, Laci vanished. But Frey also said that in all their recorded conversations, Peterson repeatedly professed his love for his wife and never said anything to incriminate himself in her slaying.
"I don't think the jury could ever have looked at Scott Peterson the same way after they heard those tape recordings. Lie after lie after lie," said Frey's attorney, Gloria Allred, who spoke with her client after the verdict. She said Frey's "feelings are very complicated," but that she's always said that "God would be the ultimate judge."