Salesman faces death for wife's murder in trial that gripped US

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The Independent US

Scott Peterson, the man at the centre of an only-in-America courtroom drama that has dominated and gripped the media, was yesterday found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife and throwing her body into San Francisco Bay.

Scott Peterson, the man at the centre of an only-in-America courtroom drama that has dominated and gripped the media, was yesterday found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife and throwing her body into San Francisco Bay.

Peterson, 32, sat staring straight ahead as the verdict was announced. The former fertiliser salesman was convicted of first degree murder for killing his wife, Laci, and one count of second degree murder for the death of their unborn son, Connor. He could face the death penalty.

During a five month trial, the prosecution portrayed Peterson as a cold-blooded killer who wanted to get rid of his wife and child in order to return to a bachelor life. When his wife first went missing, Peterson appeared on television to appeal for information about her whereabouts. At the time he was having an affair with a massage therapist.

That woman, Amber Frey, was among 174 witnesses presented by the prosecution as they sought to build a case for which they had no eyewitnesses, no weapon and not even a cause of death.

Peterson's wife, a 27-year-old substitute teacher, was eight months pregnant when she vanished on Christmas Eve 2002. Four months later, her headless body and the remains of her unborn baby were discovered washed up along the ocean shoreline around 90 miles from the couple's home in Modesto, California. It was close to where he said he had been, fishing by himself, on the day she went missing. Soon after her remains were found, Peterson was arrested close to San Diego, 400 miles to the south. He was carrying nearly $15,000 (£8,000) and had bleached his hair and beard. Police were never able to ascertain exactly how or where his wife was killed.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso told the jury that Peterson could not stand the thought of being trapped in a "dull, boring, married life with kids," and either strangled or smothered his wife and dumped her weighted-down body overboard from his fishing boat. "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," he said. "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."

Peterson never took the stand. His lawyers argued that he was the victim of a frame-up and that someone else - homeless people, sex offenders or suspicious-looking characters spotted in the neighbourhood abducted Laci while she walked the dog, then killed her.

Yesterday's verdict at the courthouse in Redwood, California, followed a tumultuous seven days of deliberations in which two jurors were removed for unspecified reasons and the judge twice told the panel to start their deliberations again. After the verdict was announced Peterson looked at each of the jurors as they were polled to confirm their decisions. None of the jurors looked back at Peterson.

The jury of six men and six women were told to return on 22 November to begin hearing testimony on whether Peterson should die by lethal injection or get life in prison without parole.

The case attracted wide media coverage, perhaps because many were taken by the story of a good-looking, white, all-American couple struck by tragedy. Photographs of a smiling Laci made the saga natural fodder for cable television. All San Francisco area stations interrupted regular programming - many of them pre-empting soap operas - starting more than an hour before the verdict was announced.

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