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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Peterson Verdict to be Read 4 Eastern, 1 Pacific

Aired November 12, 2004 - 15:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I want to remind you that you will be hearing a live audio feed from the Redwood City Courthouse at 4:00, once again, 4:00. Just a little over a half-hour from now, we will have a verdict in the Scott Peterson murder trial.
I want to take you back to Redwood City, California, right now and bring in our legal analyst, Chuck Smith, and Ted Rowlands.

And, Ted, give us a bit of a reset of where we are now when the judge announced to the courtroom that a verdict was imminent.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was at 11:30 -- or 11:30 this morning. The judge at the end of a hearing that was a certification of a record, a very basic type of hearing, he just nonchalantly looked up into the courtroom and said, and for you folks in the media, the jury has come to a verdict. We'll read it at 1:00.

So he gave an hour and a half notice to the media. That's plenty of time for both families to get here. Mark Geragos, Peterson's defense attorney, was undoubtedly told before that. How long, we don't know. Whether or not he's on his way up from Southern California, we don't know. But the judge has given Pat Harris, his counsel, the authority to take the verdict,if you will, from this jury.

The jury right now, obviously, has made their decision, and they are probably back at the hotel gathering their items, because they've been in sequestration for a week now. And they are heading into this weekend. The families are on their way to the courthouse. Neither one of the families has made it here as of yet. But we assume that they will be here in the next few minutes.

Outside the courthouse here, a lot of people from the area have -- have just come here, stopped their day and made their way down to the courthouse and they are hanging out outside to see what this jury is going to deliver in terms of Scott Peterson's fate.

And, undoubtedly, for Scott Peterson, he's sitting in a holding cell right outside the courtroom, because he was in that hearing earlier this morning. Who knows what he is going through right now, but he can talk to his lawyer and I'm sure being comforted at this hour.

SMITH: That's right, Ted.

And the only clue we really had was the fact that James Braze lton, the elected DA of Stanislaus County, came into the courtroom late in the morning.

ROWLANDS: Right.

SMITH: We were all sitting there, like, what is he doing here? Elected DAs don't generally come in to sit around and wait for deliberations. So that was a clue.

But you are 100 percent right about Scott Peterson. He's dressed out. That is, he's got civilian clothes on. There's a holding cell on the second floor, which is where the courtroom is, about 25 or 30 yards down the corridor from Judge Delucchi's courtroom. He's undoubtedly all by himself. Pat Harris is probably in there with him.

Pat Harris will probably take the verdict, because it's unlikely that Mark Geragos, unless he's got a private jet, can get here from Southern California in time to be there. But that's no problem. I mean, there's nothing that a lawyer can do but sit and listen at this point. So Pat Harris is going to sit there and listen.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: OK, let's -- gentlemen, I just want to -- as we listen to you, I want to remind our viewers that we are keeping a very close eye on the clock.

It's 3:30 now here in the East and that, at 4:00, just a half- hour from now, we are going to have a live audio feed of the verdict in this case.

And, Chuck, let me go back to you.

Or, Ted, it might be a better question for you. Sort of give us a look around where you are, that area where you are. And now -- when we started talking to you a little over an hour ago, there wasn't a whole lot of activity, but now we can sort of audibly hear the buzz.

ROWLANDS: Yes.

There's a huge gathering of folks from the public that have gathered here. The media was camping out, as you can imagine, waiting for a verdict. So there's a large row of tents set up by media outlets from around the state of California. Los Angeles media has been covering this, along with San Francisco and Sacramento and, of course, the national media. So everyone is here in full force, and that's what's really filling this courthouse area.

These folks will not hear the verdict. It won't be transmitted. The audio won't be transmitted here outside the courthouse. However, of course, if they are right here they'll get the verdict in short order from the media outlets that are here.

The audio line is only going to a pool system which will be sent to the media covering this. And the reason for that is so that reporters don't physically get up and rush out of the courtroom as soon as a verdict is read. By having the audio feed, the judge can require anyone in that courtroom to stay in that courtroom. And that's what he's done. Reporters will not be able to just rush out. They will have to wait until the verdict has been completely read, the jury has left and the judge says it's OK for them to leave.

HARRIS: And Ted...

CHUCK SMITH, LEGAL ANALYST: Ted, I want to ask you...

HARRIS: Go ahead, Chuck.

SMITH: I want to test Ted's skills as a reporter, knowing what's going to happen. What kind of reaction do you think we'll have out here on the plaza? This is where the people will be.

The people will not be in the courthouse because there's not enough room and there's not -- they won't hear it if they are on the second floor outside the courtroom. But people will probably gather here. What kind of reaction do you think we'll get depending upon the verdict?

ROWLANDS: You know, I don't know, Chuck. I think it all depends where people's mindset is. I think the majority of the public thinks that Scott Peterson is guilty.

SMITH: Yes.

ROWLANDS: And I think if this jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, there is going to be a sense of despair and anger from folks that have watched this trial sort of on the outside but haven't sat in the courtroom. And they are looking at it from a perspective of, "Did this man kill his wife?" Well, yes, these people believe that he did.

Jurors are looking at it at a different set. They are focusing on whether or not the state proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt. And that distinction may create a lot of disagreement with this jury if they come back not guilty.

SMITH: And Tony -- Tony...

HARRIS: Yes, go ahead.

SMITH: Tony, the scene in the courtroom will be as follows. The courtroom, we only have I think 27 or 28 public seats, and they are generally in the back. The two families will be in the first few rows behind the respective sides. That is, the Peterson family will be behind Scott Peterson, at the defense table; the Rocha family will be behind the prosecutor and the prosecution team. The rest of it will be media, and there's a lot of media.

Now, they have run that courtroom with an iron hand. The bailiffs, you know, "Be quiet no talking." And I'm sure that they are going to lecture everyone who is in there that there are to be no outbursts, no exclamations, just sit and listen.

That's virtually impossible to do. There will be some outbursts.

HARRIS: Yes.

SMITH: But we all remember from the great movies about trials, like "Inherit the Wind" or "12 Angry Men." You know, the packed courtroom, the scenes in the South. It won't exactly be like that, but it will be the closest we ever come to something like that.

HARRIS: Well, Chuck, let me ask you, to put us all on the ground there in Redwood City, you mentioned earlier that that is your courthouse. We know that trials, big trials, big cases can sort of consume the community to the extent that it has in Redwood City. Describe that for us.

SMITH: Oh, without question it has, Tony. I mean, it's the buzz around town. It's what everybody talks about all the time.

Our downtown area here over my left shoulder is only about three or four blocks. And it's not that big. We have a nice thriving town, a good local economy. But this is all everybody is talking about.

And certainly they see Ted. And now that I've been identified with -- as an analyst, people stop and talk to me. Over the weekend somebody stopped their bicycle and, you know, starts asking me things. It's just -- it's an unbelievable scene. And this is going to reverberate through the whole community when the verdict is announced. And I imagine this town's not going to get back to normal.

HARRIS: OK. Well, then let me sort of have you -- let me put you on standby. Stay right where you are.

You are sort of leading us up to the top of the hour and this verdict. And we will have a live audio feed of that verdict at 4:00.

Kyra, take it away.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: December 24, 2002, this story broke. Laci Peterson, the pregnant woman from Modesto, California, was missing. Everybody was wondering what happened. Scott Peterson eventually charge with murder.

Rusty Dornin takes us back and tells us how it all began.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pregnant mother with the thousand-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 are 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 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, HAD AFFAIR WITH SCOTT PETERSON: We did have a romantic relationship.

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

BRENT ROCHA, LACI PETERSON'S BROTHER: Since Scott is no longer communicate with anyone in Laci's family and because we have so many questions that he has not answered, I am no longer supporting him.

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

SCOTT PETERSON, DEFENDANT: I had nothing 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 IDs 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 familiarly 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. The 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 admit he's 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.

SMITH: It 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 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 whatstsoever. And mark is bringing that all together very concisely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: As you heard Rusty say, Mark Geragos poking holes in the investigation. As you know, the police department there in Modesto has taken a lot of hits since this case began on how it conducted its investigation and where this case has led to right now.

Mike Brooks, our law enforcement analyst, correspondent for us, also former law enforcement official, and also working with the FBI, let's go back. Let's talk about how these holes have been poked in the investigation. From the very beginning, what do you remember from the police reports?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the first thing, did they poke any holes in the investigation? This is not "CSI." Everyone expects a nice little neatly-wrapped case using all kinds of technology. But you're going to have some stumbles and some trips along the way as investigators.

When you go back to the report, right after he was booked, after he was arrested in San Diego, outside the Torrey Pines Golf Course, he was driven back by Modesto detectives. He was booked with his blonde hair, his -- the third face of Scott Peterson we'd seen.

PHILLIPS: But this is when he had taken off to San Diego with the money.

BROOKS: Exactly, right.

PHILLIPS: He was found with the money and the new look and his passport.

BROOKS: And his brother's ID and all this, yes. They brought him back and they booked him.

Well, they made some reports available to us. And I was going through the reports, and one of the things I noticed that I thought was very odd -- and we were the first to report this -- was that the law -- the booking documents said it had placed... PHILLIPS: Mike, hold that thought just a second. The Peterson family, live pictures right now obviously outside the courtroom. Watching the Peterson family enter into the courtroom.

A number of people. The verdict being read at 4:00. So all, of course, the essential people within this case could be called in. And then, of course, all the attorneys, the family members, to get things in order to hear this verdict.

So as we monitor these live pictures, we'll let you know who arriving at the courthouse.

But back to the police report, something you noticed when you were flipping through them almost two years ago?

BROOKS: In the booking report it said -- had had "place of offense." And they in their report had the place of offense as 523 Covina Avenue, Modesto, the house. So initially, early on, they believed that the murder took place in the house there in Modesto.

PHILLIPS: So without hesitation, they put in these police reports they thought Laci Peterson was murdered in that house?

BROOKS: By the time they had arrested Scott, they feel that they had enough to say, yes, the murder occurred in the house. But then we look at a couple other things that Geragos was trying to poke holes in the case with, saying that they -- they were bungling detectives. That one detective left his notebook in this boat during -- during a search of the house, of the shed there, his work shed where the boat was kept.

You know, is that a big deal? To some people, they may say, "Oh, this detective left his notebook there. That means if he mishandled his own notebook and notes of the case, he's going to mishandle evidence."

Then we go and look at the hair evidence. There was that hair in the pair of pliers that was found in the boat. We remember pictures of that, we see that, we've heard about that all the way through, especially during the preliminary hearing dealing with DNA.

We go back to that, and one of the things that did bother me a little bit, one of the little blips that I thought with the detectives, one of the detectives had gone and gotten the hair that was in apparently a little envelope, a little plastic bag. He got that and he took it out.

Well, the one hair now was two. Did that hair break in half during a handling or during the storage? They put it into evidence, they got it out of evidence. One detective was discussing the case with another one and now all of a sudden they had two hairs.

So that was one piece that Geragos was really kind of hammering, well, they mishandled evidence. Was this one hair, was it two?

PHILLIPS: Do we know if it, indeed, was Laci Peterson's hair? BROOKS: During the preliminary hearing experts came in and said that if you take the hair and you put it back together, they felt it was one hair that was accidentally or through handling of the evidence broke it in two. So that's another piece.

Then, you know, again, anything of reasonable doubt. So that's exactly what we've heard from Chuck and we've heard from Ted and we've heard from Jeffrey Toobin earlier.

PHILLIPS: Even the former juror, Justin Falconer, was saying., "Look, there were a lot of things that I learned that gave me evidence to doubt this case."

BROOKS: Right. Did they have any direct evidence? Most of it was circumstantial. But was it enough to make a case? I think it was. From my -- from my 26 years in law enforcement -- and I retired as a detective -- I think it was enough to go ahead with a case.

PHILLIPS: Why?

BROOKS: If you look at circumstantial evidence and you look at everything, just because he's -- but, again, going back, and we don't know what's in the mind of the jury. We don't think, well, just because he's a liar is he -- does that make him guilty? No it does not.

But if you look at everything sequentially, I think it -- they had enough to go to case. Whether or not they had enough to convict, we'll find that out in less than a half an hour.

PHILLIPS: All right. Mike Brooks, we're going to check in with you.

Of course we have our legal analysts, our correspondents, our law enforcement analysts. We're work this story from all sides.

We are a little more than 15 minutes away from a verdict in the Scott Peterson trial. We will finally find out what happens to this man with regard to the murder of his wife and unborn child.

Stay with us. Our breaking news continues after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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