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Scott Peterson Jury to Deliver Verdict

Aired November 12, 2004 - 14:22   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the jury is back in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial. Deliberations resumed this morning after a break for Veterans Day. Now for the latest, let's bring in our Rusty Dornin.
And Rusty, is there some breaking news?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have just heard from inside the courtroom that the judge did announce that the jury has a verdict. Now, we've been told before that this -- they will take at least an hour to clear the courtroom out and start over again to allow only the credential media who are allowed to be in there at the time the verdict is delivered, as well as -- apparently now it's going to be announced at 4:00 Eastern that the jury in the Scott Peterson trial has a verdict. Scott Peterson is in the courtroom right now and did hear this announcement from the judge -- Tony.

HARRIS: Four o'clock this afternoon we'll get a verdict in the Peterson case, which means that for all of the talk of disharmony and difficulty, this jury has found a way to reach some common ground to the point where we are talking about a verdict.

DORNIN: Well, we also had heard that some of this -- some of the contentious problems might have involved the previous foreman of the jury, the doctor and lawyer who took such copious notes throughout the trial. There is the possibility that we have heard that there were a lot of problems on the jury and contention about this man.

The fact that he left and they elected the firefighter, juror number six, who apparently gets along with everyone, was sort of a peacemaker in the group, it might have been indicative that now they were able to talk, they were able to flow and they were able to take a vote. There was also some indication that this doctor-lawyer foreman was not allowing them to take a vote until they went methodically through every single piece of evidence.

HARRIS: So it seems as though that this -- this was a situation where perhaps this juror, this doctor-lawyer-foreperson was, in fact, the person that might have been causing the real difficulties here.

DORNIN: Apparently causing some difficulty among some of the jury members. But this new panel has only been deliberating for about four or five hours. They did about two-and-a-half hours on Wednesday afternoon. But apparently, when they did leave the courthouse on Wednesday, they had appreciably a different sense.

They were jovial, they were smiling, they were talking. Same thing when they came back into the court this morning. They were talking, they were laughing.

You know, it's not really that surprising, too, if they are getting along that they have come to a verdict today. Many of us here felt that this would happen.

They were sequestered all day yesterday for the holiday. They were looking forward to two more days in sequestration. It's not -- wasn't really a surprise to us that today would be the day.

HARRIS: All right. Rusty, let me bring Kyra in here as well, because this is really a shocking development after what we've been through the last couple of days.

Let me repeat it again. At 4:00, is that correct? Rusty, 4:00 this afternoon?

DORNIN: Four o'clock Eastern Time there will be an announcement of the verdict in the Scott Peterson trial. In the meantime, like I said, they are going to clear the courtroom out and start all over again, admitting the people that are only supposed to be in there for -- credential for that verdict. They are going to be bringing in the family members.

Interesting thing, too, is that defense attorney Mark Geragos is not here. He went to southern California apparently to work on some other cases and is not in Redwood City. It's unclear if he had been notified early enough whether he could get back on a plane and back here in time for the verdict. Of course, that's always a possibility. LA is not that far of a hop here, coming back to San Francisco.

HARRIS: And Rusty, you would think that he would be relatively close. He had to know that this was a possibility.

DORNIN: Well, he knew it was a possibility. He also has some other cases that are ongoing. And I had heard that he was leaving town.

And so when things did begin happening this morning, it was only his co-counsel, Pat Harris, that was involved. We figured something was up, too, though, when the district attorney for Modesto, Stanislaus County, was in the courtroom for this morning. And then one of the prosecutors came out, took him outside and talked to him for a while. And then the judge came in and did say that "We now have a verdict."

HARRIS: And Rusty, how encouraging was it today for the most part to be talking about not a side show, not the jury problems, but to be actually talking about jurors working through the deliberation process?

DORNIN: It's been a relief, because that's been something that's been going on, as you know. It's just been surprise after surprise of problems that have been going on outside the courtroom.

In fact, there was also a local chief investigator for the district attorney who had to look into an anonymous tip that was sent in by someone claiming that one of these jurors on this current panel had engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior. But apparently that investigator determined there was absolutely nothing to that and the deliberation should continue. And it was very shortly -- we only heard that about an hour and a half ago, and right after that came word that there is a verdict.

HARRIS: OK. Let's recap this. We are expecting a jury decision, a verdict at 4:00 Eastern Time in the Scott Peterson murder case. Rusty Dornin, thank you.

DORNIN: You know, it's -- the one thing is that they've been here for five months hearing testimony. I mean, this has been going on for so long.

You know, we're hearing about all these problems in the jury room. But these folks have heard this testimony, you know, for the last five months. So this is the sixth or seventh day of deliberations. Excuse me, I can't remember which. But the new panel has only had it for about six hours, which is interesting.

HARRIS: Yes. OK. Rusty, let me have you stand by and send it to Kyra, who has got more information on this.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We've got Jeffrey Toobin on the line, our senior legal analyst. He, of course, has been following this for us for the five months of hearing testimony, and also following the new panel.

Jeffrey, let's look forward now into what could happen to Scott Peterson. Let's start with, if indeed he's convicted of first-degree murder, which he has pleaded not guilty -- if he is convicted of first-degree murder, what happens to Scott Peterson?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if they find special circumstances with first-degree murder, there would then be a penalty phase to determine whether he would get the death penalty. So, obviously, that is the worst result for him, but that would -- that would mean that the trial would continue.

The next possibility is the chance he would be convicted of second-degree murder. That was actually a hotly-disputed legal issue during the trial, at the end of it, where the judge is giving the jury a chance to essentially compromise and find him guilty, but not guilty of premeditated murder.

So that would be a sentence of 25 years to life, I believe. Then, of course, there is the possibility he'll be acquitted.

PHILLIPS: What is the possibility that he could be acquitted? I mean, there was talk for a time, and we did segments on this, Jeffrey, that that was a pretty big possibility. And it created a bit of an uproar among family members and within, of course, the town where Laci Peterson lived with Scott Peterson.

You are a lawyer. What's your gut?

TOOBIN: Kyra, I would like to go out on a limb here and say, I have absolutely no idea.


TOOBIN: I mean, you know, this case has been so peculiar. And the jury deliberations have been so astonishing in so many ways, including this now very quick verdict, having -- with a jury that's only been in place for a few hours as a unit of 12.

I mean, this is a completely shocking development. I mean, you know, I would say that, based on my, you know, life in the outside world, there's an overwhelming consensus among people following the case that Scott Peterson did this.

However, this is a case without an eyewitness, without a cause of death, without a murder weapon. It is not, on paper, a very strong case. So -- so I think the verdict could go either way.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CO-HOST: Interesting. Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst. We're going to ask you to stand by.

We've also got Rusty Dornin there on the outside of the courtroom.

Now, Ted Rowlands is our other CNN reporter working this story. It looks like, Ted, are you just outside of the courtroom, also?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kyra, just outside. I was inside the courtroom when the judge announced that there was a verdict in the case.

He started by convening the -- calling the court to order and did the clerk. They started by recertifying the record. It was very nonchalant. They took care of a couple of housekeeping things.

And then the judge paused and said, "Oh, and for you folks in the media, the jury has come to a verdict. We'll read it at 1 p.m.," and that was it. And everybody, as you can imagine, ran out of the courthouse.

Scott Peterson was there during this. So far now, he is going to most likely stay in a holding cell just outside of the courtroom until his fate is decided, until his fate is read at 1 p.m.

There will be an audio feed of the reading of the verdict. That had been set up a few weeks ago. The media wanted to bring a camera in. The judge said no to that.

The judge has said that he -- that there is a real fear of what he calls a meltdown of some sort from one of the family members because of the immense amount of emotion that comes along with this. These families have been through this now for almost two years.

Laci Peterson was reported missing on Christmas Eve of 2002, and since then, these families have been going through an emotional roller coaster, and it's going to be very emotional, obviously, today, when this verdict is read at 1 p.m. Pacific time here. And it will be an audio feed of that, the reading of that verdict.

So Peterson will stay here. The families are being summoned, undoubtedly, to the courthouse now. They will have enough time. Both families have stayed in the Redwood City area since the jury started its deliberations seven days ago.

But as Jeffrey mentioned, this is really only two days, not even two days with this new jury and the new foreman that they've had this case. And you mentioned earlier, Kyra, you were asking if there's any way that this jury could come back with a not guilty.

And I've got to tell you, after sitting through this and seeing this jury and seeing what has transpired here, that it is such a quick verdict, I would say there is a very good chance that they will come back not guilty. Of course, who knows what they are thinking?

But the way that this jury has reacted and specifically juror No. 6, who is now the foreman, and the introduction of this other alternate, the alternate No. 1, which replaced No. 5. I just -- it is very difficult to see -- very difficult to predict, obviously, but I can tell, there's a real chance it could be a not guilty verdict. Could really be anything. We'll just have to wait and see.

PHILLIPS: I've got to tell you, Ted, I remember covering the O.J. Simpson trial, you know, and how quickly a decision was made, and it shocked, of course, the nation.

You say it's very possible there could be a not guilty verdict. I'm just curious, because you've been working this story, you've been working the sources. Do you think it's because of what Jeffrey Toobin was saying in the fact that anything is possible, just because of the issue of lack of evidence?

ROWLANDS: Definitely. Lack of evidence and I base it on the fact that this jury has only been together for such a short period of time.

They convened yesterday in midmorning here. They brought in another member of this jury. A new foreman took over. And now, after just a few hours this morning of deliberation, they've come to a verdict.

For it to be a guilty verdict, especially with special circumstances, you're talking about putting a guy to death after four to five hours of deliberation for a couple of these jurors.

Is it possible? Sure, it's possible, if there was this overwhelming sense that he was guilty. But because of the circumstantial evidence in the case, I'd be hard pressed to think that it would definitely be leaning towards a guilty verdict.

Who knows what it is? But when you asked, is there any chance of a not guilty? Sure, there's a very good chance of a not guilty verdict.

PHILLIPS: Interesting. I want to get Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in again, our senior legal analyst.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

PHILLIPS: He's still with us on the phone. Ted, stay there with us.

What do you think about what Ted just said, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: You know what? It broke up there just for a second. Could you just give me a hint?

PHILLIPS: Sure. He basically was saying he would not be surprised at all that a not guilty verdict would come forward, just because of how quickly this new jury came to a decision.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, as you said earlier, Kyra, the -- the very quick verdict in the O.J. Simpson case was a -- was an acquittal.

Quick verdicts, you know, I wish I would give you some sort of rule, but there really isn't one. Sometimes quick verdicts are acquittals. Sometimes they're convictions. You know, for every example, there are counter examples.

The fact that there is an absence of the kind of direct evidence that juries really like or insist on, does suggest that an acquittal is possible.

However, it is worth remembering that, you know, this is a woman who was discovered, whose body was discovered 80 miles from her home at the precise location in the San Francisco Bay where her husband was fishing, oddly, on Christmas Eve. That is an extremely, extremely incriminating fact. It's the heart of this case.

We sometimes lose the forest through the trees, I think, in evaluating the facts of this case. That in and of itself doesn't prove Scott Peterson guilty, but it's certainly -- it is the core fact in this case. And if he is convicted, I suspect that's the reason he's going to be.

PHILLIPS: But you know, back to the O.J. Simpson verdict, you know, that I brought up from awhile back.

I guess all of us covering that trial, we were so shocked because of all the evidence that was laid out and all the testimony and the deliberations. I think that's probably why the world was so stunned because they really were expecting a guilty verdict. And like you said, it could go just the other way.

But in this case, it's very different because there's been so much controversy about the evidence factor.

TOOBIN: Right. I think it is safe to say that the O.J. Simpson case, there was a lot more evidence against the defendant than there was against Scott Peterson.

One of the things that I expect will be second guessed, if there is an acquittal in this case was the enormous length of this trial, given that absence of evidence. A hundred and seventy witnesses is simply an extraordinary number of witnesses to call, dragging this trial out to really extravagant lengths. And I think that, regardless of how the verdict turns out, is something that could really be questioned.

But the prosecutors and police, they can't make up evidence. They can only come up with what's there, and they had to go with what they had. It may be enough. It may not be.

Phillips: Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst. Thanks so much, Jeffrey -- Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CO-HOST: Kyra, let's go to Chuck Smith, a legal analyst who is outside of the courthouse in Redwood City, California.

And Chuck, give me a sense of what you're thinking, your reaction to the news that this jury is going to return a verdict in a little less than an hour and a half.

CHUCK SMITH, LEGAL ANALYST: You know, my first reaction is the reaction that many people have around here, that their legs and their knees become weak.

I mean, just imagine that in a little bit over two hours, Scott Peterson is going to find out whether he's going home in a few hours or in the alternative, at best, he's going to spend the rest of his life in a hellhole of a California prison. I mean, it's just almost incomprehensible what must be going through his mind.

I disagree with Jeffrey in terms of quick verdicts and what do they generally mean. Out here, quick verdicts are generally prosecution verdicts. That's the conventional wisdom. I mean, the longer they deliberate, the more likely it is they're founding some doubt and there's some disagreement.

Now is this one going to be an anomaly like the O.J. Simpson case? Who knows? I mean, there was much stronger evidence in O.J., and they acquitted him.

The evidence here, I agree with Jeffrey, was much more circumstantial, but the point that Jeffrey made about the location of the body, that fact may overwhelm every other fact in this case and may cause 12 people to find him guilty.

I mean, this is truly one that I don't know. Nobody knows. It's just unbelievable.

HARRIS: That fact that you just mentioned, is it just too bizarre a coincidence in your mind for a jury to ignore?

SMITH: Sure, it is.

And as the prosecution argued to believe that someone else did it, they would have to believe that, you know, the real killers, who abducted her and killed her someplace 90 miles away, held on to the body for some reason. That makes no sense.

And then, when they heard about all the reports of Scott Peterson being fishing, they decided that they were going to frame -- what Rick Distaso said in his closing argument, frame this unsuccessful Modesto fertilizer salesman. And they took the chance of going to this bay, which was just being combed by police, divers, et cetera and plant the bodies there.

That's what they have to accept to find him not guilty. It's a bit of a stretch.

HARRIS: And Ted Rowlands, let me bring you in on this, as well. I mean, I know you're right there. And I guess, I'm not trying to frame a real debate here, or perhaps maybe I am, but you have kind of a different opinion of this than Chuck does.

Give me a sense of what you have heard in the testimony that would lead you to disagree with Chuck's conclusions.

ROWLANDS: Well, I don't necessarily disagree with Chuck. What I was trying to point out is Kyra, when she asked, is there a chance of a not guilty verdict.

And Chuck, I'm sure we'll agree, sure there's a very good chance in this case of a not guilty verdict. If you look at a murder trial, a double murder trial, especially one that the state is seeking the death penalty in, typically there is overwhelming evidence.

And if you cover that trial, you walk away thinking there is no way that this jury will come back not guilty. And every now and then they do come back not guilty.

That is not the case in this one. You don't have the feeling that, "Boy, this jury, if they come back not guilty, they're the 12 dumbest people on the face of this earth."

If they come back not guilty, they would have a legitimate reason why they decided that way. They could blame it on the System. They could say that it is overwhelming doubt and there was lingering doubt. Or beyond a reasonable doubt. And I think that that -- that is the clarification there.

The bottom line is after five-plus months, 184 witnesses, it's too tough to call...

HARRIS: Yes, yes.

ROWLANDS: ... and that's what makes it so emotional right now and what Chuck was talking about.

SMITH: Yes, I agree. Don't put me in the guilty camp either, because I'm not predicting. I would not predict.

I agree with my friend, Ted, that this is so close. It really could go either way. I mean, a reasonable jury could conclude they just haven't proven it, you know? And certainly, the way we saw this case unfold early on, where the prosecution threw up theories that just Mark Geragos tore apart, someone early on could have concluded, "You know what? They just don't have it here."

I mean, this one really could go either way.

HARRIS: And Chuck, let me ask you about what's going to happen here. Audio only on the verdict. What's that about?

SMITH: Well, you know, the judge went back and forth on the issue of whether or not there would be cameras in the courtroom. He at one point was going to admit it, before just simply the verdict. Now it's just audio.

You know, this -- this place is coming alive, though. I mean, I've never seen Redwood City, I've never seen a courthouse -- people as I walked over here from my office, which is only a couple of blocks away, people are flocking here. Cars are making illegal u-turns, you know, and trying to find parking places. It's remarkable.

But I imagine -- We're going to hear the audio feed out here, right, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Yes. We'll hear it over our ear.


ROWLANDS: It won't be broadcast for the public, but the judge, in an attempt to reduce the amount of illegal u-turns, if you will, inside the courthouse, has allowed for this audio feed.

Both families, both attorneys did not want that to happen. But from a logistical standpoint it was the only way to do it, because of the amount of media covering it.

SMITH: But that moment, you know, the way these things are read, in the superior court of the state of California, in and for the county of Stanislaus, people of the state of California versus Scott Lee -- Scott Lee Peterson, verdict, we the jury in the above entitled case find the defendant, Scott Lee Peterson -- I mean, everyone is going to be, "Oh, my God, what is it going to be?"

And we're either going to hear the word "guilty" or "not guilty," and then we're going to hear, if it's guilty, whether it's first or second. The jury is allowed to fill it in in this case.


SMITH: It's going to be an extraordinary moment. There's just nothing like it.

HARRIS: Ted, and then Chuck, you can both take a swipe at this. Give me a sense, as two people who have watched this case so closely, of what you think -- I know I'm asking you to speculate a little bit here -- as to what has transpired over the last two days with this jury that we would come to this point where we're going to get a verdict in a little over an hour or so.

ROWLANDS: I think clearly that the foreman replacement is the key factor here.

SMITH: Absolutely.

ROWLANDS: The lawyer/doctor that was on the jury and acting as the foreman, sources have told us this, did not want the jury to go ahead and take a vote. He wanted to go through the evidence piece by piece as the law prescribes.

But I think that it was going at such a slow pace that jurors were becoming frustrated and getting into their camps. And the replacement of the foreman really, obviously is the reason that this jury has come back, and they're also looking at another weekend of sequestration...

SMITH: Right.

ROWLANDS: ... right around the corner.

SMITH: Ted is absolutely correct. I mean, this -- the former foreperson was a divisive influence. I mean, he really was. That's very clear at this point.

The new foreperson was someone everybody liked, easy going, didn't get too upset. And these people were anxious to come to a -- come to a verdict. And he just kind of brought them all together.

And, you know, at the beginning -- we talked about at the beginning, what happens at the beginning when juries go in? It's one of two things. They either start going around the room and saying to each other, do you think he did it? Yes. Do you? Yes. Do you think he did it? Yes. Let's have a show of hands. That's the way this jury wanted to do it.

The lawyer/doctor said, "No, no, no, no, we can't do that. We have to sit here and deliberate and go through my 19 notebooks." And they rebelled against him clearly, and they got somebody in there who allowed them to do it their way, which probably was, you think he did it? Yes. Do you? Yes. Anybody disagree? No.

Or do you think they've proven it? No. Everybody agree? Yes.

ROWLANDS: The only thing that leaves me to believe that it may not be a guilty verdict, as you believe will be, because of the short deliberation. They have not only the question of guilt but then have to go through the question of first degree, second degree and special circumstances, three very important things.

They're talking about potentially executing someone. That will come in a penalty phase, of course, after the first degree. But for that reason, that's a lot on a jury's plate for just two days.

HARRIS: Doesn't that sound like they were very far along? Doesn't that sound like they were very far along in this process? ROWLANDS: And then maybe bringing the next two in, really one new member in yesterday. They sort of took that person's pulse, and if that person was in agreement, they pulled the trigger, I guess.

SMITH: But, Ted, I disagree with you a little bit, that yes, sure, the consideration of second degree was in there. But they may have -- the way this case was tried, the theory that was propounded by both sides, this is all or nothing. Either it's guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, because clearly the fetus is a human being in the eyes of the law, or it's not guilty.

And so they probably didn't spend much time worried about second degree.

ROWLANDS: Mark Geragos is in southern California right now. As an attorney, what's he going through, especially being so far away?

SMITH: It's just -- You know, Gerry Spence, the famous cowboy lawyer, in his book, "Gunning for Justice," he said this perfectly for us trial lawyers.

That moment when the jury reads the verdict, for a lawyer, if they decide in your favor, it is an acceptance of you as a human being. Your existence is validated. If you lose, it's a rejection of your existence.

You know, that's the way he said it, and those of us who do this for a living, that's what we truly believe. No such depth as the depth of losing.

HARRIS: And Chuck and Ted, hang on for just a few more minutes. There's much more to talk about as we approach this verdict.

Kyra, take it away.

PHILLIPS: Just a quick recap. Is Scott Peterson going home? Will he face the death penalty? Will he face life in prison? It took a long time to get to this point, and at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, we will know what will happen to Scott Peterson.

As we said, though, it took awhile to get to this point. Rusty Dornin has the tick tock.


DORNIN (voice-over): The pregnant mother with the 1,000-watt smile. Laci Peterson disappears Christmas Eve 2002. Family and friends launch a campaign that quickly makes national headlines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Laci Denise, if you're hearing Dad, we love you very much and we want you home.

DORNIN: Her husband Scott says he went fishing in San Francisco Bay that day. Her family supports him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know he's a good man. He's always treated our daughter like -- like a lady.

DORNIN: But it seems police aren't so sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not been ruled out as a suspect, but he hasn't been ruled in as a suspect.

DORNIN: Peterson refuses to do interviews and will only say he wants the focus to remain on the community's search for his wife.

Then on January 24, a dramatic development. Amber Frey steps up to the microphones.

AMBER FREY, SCOTT PETERSON'S FORMER MISTRESS: We did have a romantic relationship.

DORNIN: Stunned, the missing woman's family changes their minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Scott is no longer communicating with anyone in Laci's family and as we have so many questions that he has not answered, I am not -- no longer supporting him.

DORNIN: A few days later, Peterson does four television interviews.

SCOTT PETERSON, ON TRIAL FOR WIFE AND SON'S MURDER: I had nothing to do with her disappearance, but people still accuse me of it.

DORNIN: Then, in mid-April, two bodies wash ashore in San Francisco Bay. They are identified as Laci Peterson and her unborn son.

Scott Peterson is tracked down and arrested in San Diego. He has $15,000 in cash, two different I.D.s and has changed his hair color.

That day, Laci Peterson's mother describes months of haunting nightmares.

SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON'S MOTHER: In my mind I keep hearing Laci say to me, "Mom, please find me and Conner and bring us home. I'm scared."

DORNIN: Police search for more evidence in the bay, but turn up nothing.

Scott Peterson's family hires celebrity attorney Mark Geragos.

Over a year later, the trial starts. All eyes are on the prosecution's star witness Amber Frey. Jurors hear tapes of phone calls secretly recorded between Frey and Scott Peterson. In several calls Peterson lies to her and pretends to be a jet-setting bachelor just days following his wife's disappearance.

PETERSON: It's pretty awesome. Fireworks here and the Eiffel Tower. DORNIN: A lead investigator tells the jury that police have 41 reasons to suspect Scott Peterson. Their strongest argument, Peterson admits he went fishing where his wife and unborn son washed ashore.

Prosecutors say Peterson was a liar, a cheat and a man who would murder his wife to avoid the responsibility of a child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly gave the jury enough that if the jury is inclined to convict, they certainly can convict.

DORNIN: Defense attorney Mark Geragos tries to poke holes in the investigation, accusing police of not following up on other leads or other suspects.

No murder weapon, no evidence of a crime scene, no cause of death. Geragos says there was no evidence Peterson murdered his wife and unborn child and had no motive to do so.

He urges jurors not to convict Peterson just because they hate him. Reasonable doubt, he tells them, is their only option.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five months of really no evidence, no evidence whatsoever, and Mark is bringing that all together very concisely.


PHILLIPS: What happens to Scott Peterson now? We're going to know in about an hour and 10 minutes. More LIVE FROM right after a quick break.



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