[Deathpenalty]death penalty news---CALIF., MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 6 15:46:58 CST 2004
Scott Peterson couldn't have murdered his wife, brother says
Pleading with jurors to spare Scott Peterson from death row, his older
half-brother took issue with the panel's guilty verdict, saying there was
"no way" the kind, loving man he knew could have killed his wife and
"I know him better than anyone, at least as well as my parents," Joe
Peterson said Friday, the fourth day of the capital trial's penalty phase.
"Can you reconcile the Scott Peterson you know with the person who could
have done this?" defense lawyer Pat Harris asked him.
"No way. Not my brother. Absolutely not," he said.
When jurors found Peterson guilty of the 2 murders November 12, they
rejected his claims of innocence. However, panelists are permitted to
consider any lingering doubts about his guilt as they decide whether he
should receive death or life in prison without parole for killing his
wife, Laci, and the son they planned to name Conner.
Much of Joe Peterson's testimony seemed designed to raise those doubts.
Asked how his brother's situation was affecting his teenage children, he
said, "They've taken it very hard."
"They ask, 'Why would somebody think he could do this?'" he said.
In addition to more standard penalty-phase testimony, such as praising his
brother's character and recalling their happy childhood together, Joe
Peterson made statements that could be interpreted as attacks on the
alleged motive and defenses of the alibi the jury rejected with their
Prosecutors contended in the guilt phase of the trial that Peterson killed
his wife because he wanted out of his marriage, but didn't want to be
burdened with alimony and child support.
Joe Peterson testified extensively about Lee Peterson's divorce from his
He described the end of the marriage -- which occurred before Lee Peterson
met his 2nd wife and Scott's mother, Jackie -- as amiable.
"Through the divorce, for us kids, they kept it low-key. There wasn't any
arguing or struggles that spilled over onto us kids," he said.
There was no shame or bitterness in the divorce, he said, adding, "Today
when [Lee and his first wife] see each other, they hug."
Joe Peterson appeared to attempt to bolster his brother's claim that he
was on a spur-of-the-moment fishing trip on Christmas Eve when his wife
went missing. The witness showed jurors snapshots of his brother with a
rod and reel as a young boy and agreed with Harris' description of the
defendant as a lifelong "unconventional fisherman."
"Yeah, he would bring a lot of different lures, lots of different setups,"
he said, adding that his brother often wandered further out in the surf
than anyone else and liked to take his own approach to angling.
Prosecutors ridiculed the fishing trip and said it was a cover story for
dumping his wife's body in the San Francisco Bay.
Joe Peterson was the sixth family member to take the stand for the
defendant. Like his relatives before him, the witness described the
Peterson household as happy and loving. He wiped away tears as he recalled
football games and tennis matches with Peterson, the baby of the family.
At the defense table, Peterson watched his brother intently and
occasionally smiled as he recalled incidents from their childhood. Jurors
regarded Joe Peterson impassively.
Also testifying Friday were Coni and Paul Fritz, the parents of Peterson's
high school friend, Aaron Fritz, who was a witness Thursday.
In brief turns on the stand, the Fritzes described Peterson as a
respectful, mature student who worked for several high school charities
and never hesitated to provide rides home from school for their son.
"He volunteered for a lot of activities and we trusted him to drive our
son around," Paul Fritz said. "All I can say is [he's] a first-class
His wife said that, despite Peterson's affluent parents, he was not
spoiled or snobby. "I'm sure arrogance is not a word he even knows how to
spell, because that's not who he is," Coni Fritz said. She looked at
Peterson throughout her testimony and blew him a kiss as she left the
Prosecutor Dave Harris opted not to cross-examine the witnesses.
Jurors were dismissed early Friday. Judge Alfred Delucchi told them they
will begin deliberations next week.
Outside the presence of the jury, Harris said he planned to put 20 more
witnesses on the stand, and their testimony will likely stretch into
Wednesday. The defense has called 14 so far.
Rage in the Courtroom
"The first Mother's Day, I laid on the floor and cried most of the day,"
the sobbing mother of Laci Peterson said last week. "She wanted to be a
Sharon Rocha, testifying during the penalty phase of her son-in-law's
murder trial, also recalled attending her daughter's funeral. "I knew she
was in the casket," she said. "I knew her baby was in there. I knew she
didn't have arms to hold him." (When Laci's body was found along the
Richmond, Calif., shoreline, it was without head or forearms.)
This is the hearing to determine whether Scott Peterson, already convicted
of murder by another jury, will serve life or be given the death penalty.
Listening to Rocha's gut-wrenching testimony made the choice -- in favor
of death -- seem absurdly easy.
So why on Earth am I a bit ambivalent about the process?
Naturally one wants to be sure that the right person was convicted of this
awful crime. In the absence of either witnesses or a confession, there's
always the possibility that Peterson is nothing worse than a contemptible
But my misgivings run in another direction as well: What role should the
grief and visceral rage of Laci's parents play in the sentencing of her
Reporters at the hearing say that Rocha wasn't so much testifying as
confronting her daughter's killer. Her remarks were directed at him, as
when she faced him and shouted: "Laci always had motion sickness . . . and
you knew that, and you put her in the bay. You knew she'd be sick for the
rest of eternity and you did that to her anyway."
Well, you say, weren't her parents victims, too? No, not in any legal
sense of the word. Laci and her unborn child were the victims. The case
against the husband wasn't called Rocha Family v. Peterson. It was called
The People of the State of California v. Scott Lee Peterson. The Rochas,
distraught loved ones and grieving friends are, under the law, reduced to
the role of mere witnesses. Theoretically, the purpose of their testimony
is to give the jury information regarding the character of the convicted
Scott and the impact of his crime. It is not to avenge their loss.
My mind goes back to the 1988 presidential campaign debate in which CNN's
Bernard Shaw asked the anti-death-penalty Michael Dukakis whether, "if
Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered," he would change his mind and
"favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer."
Dukakis thought he had been trapped into two awful choices: to come off as
inhumanly cold or confess inconsistency. He chose the former.
There was, however, a third choice. He might have said that the sort of
scenario laid out by Shaw is the very reason we leave these matters to
trained judges and strangers, and not to the emotions of bereft families.
It is the difference, he might have said, between a calm deliberation and
an angry mob. (And who has never, ever wished an outraged public would
substitute its will for that of a court overly bound by crippling
The problem is that while we don't want a system with the mindlessness of
a mob, neither do we want one with the heartlessness of a law-school text.
That, very likely, is why California and other jurisdictions make at least
a little room for the expression of pure, unbridled emotion. Maybe the
introduction into a courtroom of Sharon Rocha's palpable despair will give
the rest of us a little more faith in the system.
Maybe that's what it's meant to do.
(source: Op-Ed; William Raspberry, Washington Post)
Jury options focus of high court review
About a half dozen inmates on Mississippi's death row could be spared if
the Supreme Court agrees with one of them that juries should not have had
to choose between sentencing them to death and setting them free.
Lawyers for Marlon Howell, one of 70 Mississippi death row prisoners, told
the court that the Union County jury that sentenced Howell to death for
capital murder should have been given the option of finding him guilty of
a lesser offense.
The court is expected to reach a decision in the case sometime next year.
Howell, 22, was convicted of killing retired postal worker Hugh David
Pernell as Pernell delivered newspapers at dawn on May 15, 2000, in New
Albany. Howell was accused of walking up to Pernell's car and fatally
shooting him through an open window during a robbery.
A slaying committed in conjunction with another crime is a capital murder
punishable by death in Mississippi. But Howell's attorneys argue that the
jury that convicted him should have had the option of convicting him of
simple murder, which carries a maximum life sentence, or of manslaughter,
punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Howell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing his appeal to
Mississippi's Supreme Court on Oct. 23, 2003.
In oral arguments in the case on Nov. 29, Mississippi Attorney General Jim
Hood, who tried Howell's case in Union County as a district attorney, told
the Supreme court justices that Howell's conviction and sentence should
In court documents, Hood said the evidence in Howell's case didn't support
offering his jury the option of convicting him of a lesser offense.
"If the evidence had warranted the (jury) instructions Howell proposed,
there is nothing in Mississippi's law that would have prevented Howell
from receiving them," Hood argued in his brief to the court.
He and other prosecutors said Howell shot Pernell as part of a robbery
because Howell faced a deadline that day for paying money to his probation
officer. Missing the payment would have meant going to jail.
Howell's friends said he told them the day before the murder that he
"needed to make a sting" and was looking for "an easy lick."
Howell denied shooting Pernell and said he didn't plan to rob him. He also
said Pernell sprayed Mace at his face when he approached his car.
Hood also argued that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the case
because Howell's attorneys failed to argue before the Mississippi Supreme
Court that the jury instructions violated federal law.
Defense attorney Ronnie Mitchell argued the court does have jurisdiction
and told the justices that Howell deserves a new trial.
"The death sentence in this case is plainly unconstitutional in that the
jury was given only two options - guilty of capital murder or acquittal,"
Howell's petition to the Supreme Court said.
Mitchell's partner, attorney Billy Richardson from Fayetteville, N.C.,
said he took Howell's case after his daughter, Caroline, proved to him
that a key witness could not have identified Howell because the murder
occurred just before daybreak when there was not enough daylight to see
"She called me outside at 5 a.m. (on the anniversary of the murder), and I
couldn't make out her face," he said.
Richardson is the subject of a movie and book because of his success in
proving the innocence of a death row inmate in North Carolina.
(source: Jackson Clarion-Ledger)
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