A jury recommended yesterday that Scott Peterson be put to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, in the soap-opera case of adultery and deception that has captured the nation's...

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — A jury recommended yesterday that Scott Peterson be put to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, in the soap-opera case of adultery and deception that has captured the nation’s attention.

As the verdict was announced, at least one juror broke into tears while hundreds of onlookers gathered outside the courthouse cheered and exchanged high-fives. It was a scene similar to the one that played out Nov. 12, when Peterson was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife, 27, and the second-degree murder of their near-term son.

Peterson showed no emotion, staring straight ahead as the jurors filed out.

At a news conference later, three jurors said they were unnerved by the methodical nature of Peterson’s crime and the cool stoicism he showed throughout the six-month trial.

“This wasn’t an act [in which] he flipped out and went and did something,” Greg Beratlis said. “I could have understood that, but this was planned.”

Laci Peterson was killed in December 2002.
San Mateo Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi can reject the jury’s recommendation for death and sentence Peterson to life in prison instead. Delucchi will sentence him on Feb. 25.

The jury spent 2-1/2 days deliberating over Peterson’s fate, longer than it spent last month determining his guilt. In deciding whether he deserved execution, jurors had to grapple with the dueling portraits of the 32-year-old fertilizer salesman from Modesto, Calif., that also fueled much of the national fascination with the case.

Peterson had dozens of friends to vouch for his charitable nature and no record of crime or violence before his wife was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002. Yet courtroom testimony in recent days showed a man who misled his family about his whereabouts, who sneaked away from the search for his wife to place phone calls to an unwitting girlfriend.

Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris called him “the worst kind of monster.”

“Scott Peterson is the worst of the worst, because he’s the kind of person … you trust, who’s manipulative,” Harris said during closing arguments last week. “No one ever sees it coming.”

Harris argued that Peterson purposefully deceived everyone in his life to escape a lackluster marriage and return to a carefree bachelor lifestyle. The prosecutor alluded graphically to the way investigators believe Peterson disposed of his wife’s body — by wrapping her body with concrete weights and dumping her in San Francisco Bay.

“Laci was an anchor around his neck, so he put one around hers,” Harris said.

Laci Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, delivered testimony that brought several jurors to tears.

“Every morning when I get up I cry,” she told jurors. “… I miss her. I want to know my grandson. I want Laci to be a mother. I want to hear her called mom.”

Rocha would later rise halfway out of her seat and scream at her son-in-law: “Divorce was always an option — not murder!”

If sentenced to death, Peterson will be sent to San Quentin State Prison. His execution probably would not occur for several years as he works through a lengthy appeals process.

Stan Goldman, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles, said the Peterson case “is an appellate lawyer’s petri dish,” offering a variety of issues on which to build future appeals. Among them, he said, are the circumstances that led two jurors to be dismissed during deliberations and the judge’s refusal to instruct the jury to consider manslaughter charges.

Sharon Rocha’s testimony was provided by The Associated Press.