The Scott Peterson Trial

Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder

Scott Peterson flanked by his lawyers in court

Pool / Getty Images

Scott Peterson was charged with the murder of his pregnant wife Laci Denise Peterson and their unborn son Conner Peterson, who disappeared sometime between Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, 2002. The badly decomposed remains of Laci and the couple's fetus washed ashore in April 2003, not far from where Peterson said he went on a solo fishing trip the day she vanished. Peterson was arrested April 18, 2003, in San Diego, the day that the remains of Laci and Conner were officially identified.

The Prosecution's Theory

The prosecution believed that Peterson meticulously planned the murder of his pregnant wife because he did not want to give up his lifestyle and be tied down to a wife and baby. The problem for the prosecution was the lack of direct evidence that proved Peterson committed murder or disposed of a body.

Prosecutors believed that he purchased his 14-foot Gamefisher fishing boat two weeks before Laci's disappearance for the sole purpose of using it to dispose of her body. They also believed that Peterson originally planned to use a golf outing as his alibi. For some reason, however, dumping her into the San Francisco Bay took longer than planned, and he was stuck with the fishing trip as his alibi.

Because there was no direct evidence, the case was completely constructed on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury that Peterson used an 80-pound bag of cement he purchased to anchor Laci's body to the bottom of the bay. He showed jurors photographs of five round impressions in cement dust on the floor of Peterson's warehouse. Only one anchor was found in the boat.

Peterson's Defense

Defense attorney Mark Geragos promised the jury in his opening statement that he would present evidence showing that Peterson was innocent of the charges. He relied mostly on witness testimony to offer the jury alternative explanations for the state's circumstantial theories. Ultimately, however, the defense failed to produce any direct evidence that pointed to another suspect.

Geragos brought the defendant's father to the stand to explain that Peterson had been an avid fisherman since an early age, and that "bragging" about major purchases like the fishing boat would have been unusual. The defense also offered testimony that indicated that Peterson used the remainder of the 80-pound bag of cement to repair his driveway. They tried to attribute his client's erratic behavior after Laci's disappearance to being hounded by the media, rather than trying to elude or deceive police.

The case for the defense hit a major setback when an expert witness—who testified that Conner was still alive after December 23—did not stand up to cross-examination, which implied huge assumptions in his calculations and called his credibility into question. Still, many courtroom observers, even those with backgrounds in criminal prosecution, agreed that Geragos did an excellent job poking holes in almost every aspect of the prosecution's circumstantial evidence.

Jury Deliberations

In the end, the jury decided that the prosecution proved that Peterson premeditated the murder of his pregnant wife. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Laci and second-degree murder in the death of his unborn son Conner. They reached a verdict on the seventh day of deliberations, after three jurors were replaced during the trial, including the first foreman. First, Judge Delucchi replaced juror No. 7, who reportedly did her own independent research or investigation into the case, contrary to court rules.

The judge told the jury to "start over" in their deliberations. They responded by electing a new foreman, juror No. 6, a male alternate who was a firefighter and paramedic. The following day, Delucchi dismissed juror No. 5, the former foreman of the jury, who reportedly asked to be removed from the case and had been replaced. The verdict came only eight hours of deliberations after the judge dismissed the first foreman.

The jury deliberated all day Wednesday with the new foreman in place, took Thursday off for Veterans Day, and deliberated only a few hours on Friday before announcing they had a verdict. Total deliberations lasted almost 44 hours, after a trial that had lasted five months and presented testimony from 184 witnesses.

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Montaldo, Charles. "The Scott Peterson Trial." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Montaldo, Charles. (2020, August 28). The Scott Peterson Trial. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Scott Peterson Trial." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 18, 2021).