For the second day in a row, the judge in the double-murder trial of Scott Peterson removed a juror from the panel deliberating the fate of the Modesto fertilizer salesman charged with killing his wife and their unborn child.
Judge Alfred A. Delucchi did not say Wednesday what prompted the removal of the jury's foreman, a doctor-lawyer who took copious notes throughout the trial. The judge appointed an alternate juror, a retired man in his sixties whose son-in-law worked briefly for Peterson and who now owns a San Luis Obispo restaurant that once belonged to Peterson and his wife, Laci. The juror said he never met Peterson.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos objected to the removal. Jurors sat grim-faced as the judge announced the decision and instructed them to start deliberations from scratch for a third time. "You must therefore set aside all past deliberations and begin deliberating anew," Delucchi said.
The removals this week have generated even more speculation about the next turn in a case that has riveted cable news audiences with the details of Peterson, 32, and the charges that he killed his pregnant wife on Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay when he was having an extramarital affair.
The foreman was the third juror to be removed. On Tuesday a female juror was removed for reportedly conducting independent research on the case. Another juror was removed in June after he was filmed talking to Laci Peterson's brother Brent Rocha while going through court security. Three alternate jurors remain.
"If we keep losing jurors at this rate, a mistrial will have to be declared. In California you have to have 12 sworn jurors in order to reach a verdict," legal analyst Paula Carney said. "You sequester a jury because you don't want to lose jurors, and in five days of deliberations we have lost two. It's unbelievable."
The removal of several jurors and the prospect of continuing to be sequestered could be wearing on jurors, trial observers said.
"This clearly shortens the fuses and the amount of time jurors are going to be willing to deliberate," said Stan Goldman, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "They don't want to spend another weekend in their hotel away from their families. You can only stand being sent to your room for so long."
Court is closed on Thursday for Veterans Day. The jury, which has been sequestered since the beginning of deliberations last week, will resume meeting Friday. Jurors have selected a new foreman, a firefighter-paramedic.
Despite recent upheavals in the makeup of the jury, it is too soon to say the case could end in a mistrial, Goldman said
"Just because jurors are getting kicked off doesn't mean they won't be able to agree," he said.