REDWOOD CITY, Calif., Nov. 12 -- A jury found Scott Peterson guilty Friday of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn child in the saga of suburban adultery and betrayal that transfixed much of the nation for nearly two years.
Peterson, a 32-year-old fertilizer salesman from Modesto, showed no emotion, staring stonily at the jury box as the foreman announced a finding of first-degree murder in the death of Laci and second-degree murder in the death of their near-term son, whom the couple had named Conner. Laci Peterson's parents wept in their courtroom seats, while outside the building, hundreds of onlookers cheered and pumped their fists when word of the verdict emerged.
Gloria Allred, an attorney for Amber Frey, Peterson's admitted mistress, leaves the Redwood City, Calif., courthouse yesterday after Peterson was found guilty of murdering his wife and unborn son.
(Pool Photo David Paul Morris)
The jury will reconvene Nov. 22 to decide whether to sentence Peterson to life in prison or give him the death penalty.
The verdict's arrival early Friday afternoon surprised the throngs of courthouse observers and media commentators who had expected more protracted deliberations after five months of testimony and a tumultuous week in which two jurors were replaced.
Prosecutors had portrayed Peterson as a selfish narcissist who they said killed his wife and dumped her weighted body into San Francisco Bay to escape a lackluster marriage and the impending pressures of fatherhood. They focused much of their testimony on Peterson's patterns of deceit, noting his affair with a Fresno massage therapist who believed he was single and the conflicting stories he gave police and relatives after his wife's disappearance.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, suggested Laci was a victim of random violence and Scott the victim of a frame-up.
The reconstituted jury spent only a few hours deliberating after returning from a Veterans Day holiday before announcing it had reached a conclusion. The two alternates added to the panel had not been part of the deliberations.
"What the first-degree murder means is that the jury completely accepted the prosecution theory and completely rejected the defense theory," said Paula Canny, a former prosecutor who followed the trial.
She predicted the defense would face long odds in the sentencing. "These 12 people hate Scott Peterson," she said.
California's last execution was in January 2002, when Stephen Wayne Anderson was put to death by lethal injection for the 1980 murder of an 81-year-old retired piano teacher during a burglary.
About 1,200 women are killed in the United States each year by their husbands or boyfriends. None in recent years has drawn as much attention as Laci -- an attractive 27-year-old brunette whose disappearance on Christmas Eve 2002, just a month before her baby was due, triggered national media coverage, particularly on cable news stations.
What began as a missing-woman story evolved into a full-blown soap opera as rumors of Scott Peterson's infidelity were picked up by supermarket tabloids. Peterson gave a tearful interview to ABC's Diane Sawyer, claiming his wife knew about his affair and that they were working out their problems.
"It wasn't anything that would break us apart," he said.
Three months later, the remains of Laci and the fetus washed ashore near the spot, about 90 miles from their home, where Peterson had told police he had gone fishing the day his wife vanished.