[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., VA., KAN., S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Nov 2 09:47:41 CST 2004
Peterson Prosecutor Sums Up Case to Jury----Defendant is called a cheating
narcissist who killed his pregnant wife to be free of marriage.
Prosecutors in Scott Peterson's double-murder trial Monday portrayed the
fertilizer salesman as a philandering narcissist who murdered his pregnant
wife and dumped her body into San Francisco Bay as part of a plan to free
himself from a dull marriage.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor Rick Distaso attacked Peterson's
alibi that he had been fishing alone in the bay when his 27-year-old wife
was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002.
The bodies of Laci and her unborn fetus washed up on a rocky shore in
mid-April, a mile from where Peterson, 32, said he had taken his new
14-foot aluminum boat out for a maiden voyage on the day his wife
"The reason he killed Laci Peterson was Conner Peterson [the unborn son]
was on the way," prosecutor Rick Distaso told jurors. "Things were going
to change. No more of this running around, living this double-life thing.
He wants to live the rich, successful, freewheeling bachelor life. He
can't do that when he's paying child support, alimony and everything
In the crowded, tense courtroom, Distaso held up fishing lures that
Peterson bought for the 30- to 40-minute fishing trip he took 90 miles
from home. Holding up the lures for the jury to see, Distaso said, "Nobody
ever caught fish on lures that were still in the package."
Distaso said Peterson claimed that he returned home to find his wife
missing. He told a neighbor he played golf that day. He told police he
Throughout the four-hour closing, Distaso displayed timelines and played
video footage of Laci and tape-recorded telephone calls between Peterson
and his girlfriend, Amber Frey, to create a portrait of a lying murderer.
Peterson, he said, is a "bald-faced liar"who lives in two worlds, one
public and one private.
"He doesn't love anyone but himself," Distaso said. "He didn't want to be
tied to Laci the rest of his life, so he killed her. Easy as that."
A month before his wife disappeared, Peterson began a dalliance with Frey,
a Fresno massage therapist, who was led to believe that he was single and
in search of a serious relationship. To Peterson, Distaso said, Frey
represented "lust and freedom."
Just days after his wife vanished from their Modesto home, Peterson was
showering Frey with inexpensive, sentimental gifts, strawberries and
champagne, and romantic promises, even as he misled her with elaborate
deceptions, Distaso said.
On Dec. 31, 2002, Peterson called Frey from Modesto claiming to be in
France and watching a fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower, the
prosecutor said. Less than an hour later, Peterson's supporters held a
candlelight vigil for his missing wife.
A few days later, Peterson told Frey, "I'll think about you and feel your
lips" in a conversation that was among hundreds secretly taped by Frey,
who began working with authorities after she learned that he was married
and a suspect in his wife's disappearance.
Distaso was unable to tell the jury exactly how, when or why Peterson
allegedly killed his wife. "This is a circumstantial case," he said. "But
each piece fits. This man is guilty of murder."
Chuck Smith, a former San Mateo County prosecutor and now a defense
lawyer, was impressed by the passionate, detailed closing.
"Rick was like a preacher in church, bringing damnation and hellfire down
on Scott Peterson," he said.
"I think Mark Geragos has his work cut out for him," he said.
Defense attorney Geragos, who maintains that his client had nothing to do
with the killings, will give his final arguments today.
The jury is expected to begin weighing the case in sequestered
deliberations Wednesday after receiving special instructions from San
Mateo County Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi.
Peterson faces 2 counts of 1st-degree murder, which requires premeditation
and allows for the death penalty. Delucchi ruled Friday that the jury
would have the option of 2nd-degree murder charges, which could bring 2
sentences of 15 years to life in prison.
The lesser charges were regarded as a victory for prosecutors because it
would presumably make it easier for the jury to convict Peterson if they
cannot agree whether the killings were premeditated.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Prosecutor Tells Jury Peterson Killed Wife to Live a Fantasy
After nearly 5 months of testimony, the prosecution in the Scott Peterson
trial tried to connect all of the dots for jurors in closing arguments on
Monday, saying that Mr. Peterson had killed his wife to achieve freedom
and his fantasy of a jet-set lifestyle that he would never see as a
married father living in Modesto.
In a summation that relied heavily on photographs and audio tapes, Rick
Distaso, the senior deputy district attorney of Stanislaus County, urged
jurors to use common sense in analyzing the mostly circumstantial evidence
against Mr. Peterson, who has been charged with the murder of his wife,
Laci Peterson, and her fetus, whom the couple had planned to name Conner.
He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Mr. Distaso outlined Mr. Peterson's motive for murder and suggested that
the defendant had the murder in mind at least a month before Ms. Peterson
"He didn't want that dull married life," Mr. Distaso said. "He did not
want that baby. The reason he killed Laci Peterson was because Conner was
on the way."
Mr. Distaso presented a pictorial account of how he believed Mr. Peterson
killed his wife in December 2002. To start, he projected a large
photograph of Ms. Peterson on the wall across from the jury box.
"The defendant strangled or smothered Laci Peterson on the night of Dec.
23 or in the morning when she was getting dressed," Mr. Distaso said.
Mr. Peterson then wrapped his wife's body in a blue tarp, placed it in his
truck, then weighted the body and dumped it into San Francisco Bay, the
prosecutor told the jury.
Mr. Distaso showed jurors aerial photographs of the spot where Mr.
Peterson said he went fishing on Dec. 24, 2002, an area so far offshore no
one could have seen a body being dumped, he said. Then jurors were shown a
photograph of a spot not far away where the remains washed ashore in April
Mr. Peterson is the only person "we know without any doubt that was in the
exact location in the exact spot where Laci and Conner washed ashore," the
"That alone is proof beyond a reasonable doubt in this case," Mr. Distaso
said. "You can take that fact to the bank and you can convict this man of
Much of Mr. Distaso's closing argument centered around tying up loose
ends, giving details of what he called a long list of lies the defendant
told to friends, family members, the police and his girlfriend, Amber
Mr. Distaso suggested that Ms. Frey represented the life of freedom Mr.
Peterson so coveted.
Citing photographs, taped telephone conversations and other evidence, he
argued that Mr. Peterson was living a double life: the life of the devoted
and grieving husband and that of a carefree playboy.
The defense, which is scheduled to deliver its closing argument Tuesday,
has argued that Ms. Peterson was abducted by strangers, possibly for
money, and then killed.
(source: Associated Press)
Sometimes, Jurors Have to Take a Stand and Say, 'No, Not in Our Name'
Picture this: On trial in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles is a woman
accused of 20 felony counts of mail fraud stemming from the alleged theft
of $17,000 from the Social Security Administration. If convicted of all 20
counts, she faces a maximum penalty of 100 years in prison. The
prosecution's witnesses describe how the woman repeatedly made false
claims that she was not receiving her disability checks in order to get
replacement checks and cash them along with the originals.
The defense attorney then calls his client to the stand. Under oath, she
tells the jury that she is guilty as charged. The judge instructs the
jurors to follow the law and sends them off to deliberate. But the woman
is not convicted. Instead, the jury cannot reach a verdict on any of the
felony counts because four of its 12 members will not vote for conviction.
A mistrial is declared, and the woman walks away.
That is what happened in a case that went to trial recently.
Those 4 jurors chose to nullify - to vote, that is, according to their gut
sense of right and wrong rather than according to the strict letter of the
law, a traditional right that dates back to the Magna Carta and that was
strongly defended by this nation's founding fathers.
Though at first blush the story may sound bizarre, even perverse, I
believe it is an example of why the jury system works. It wasn't just the
woman on trial who had behaved badly, it was also those prosecuting her.
"Jury lawlessness," one distinguished legal commentator wrote nearly a
century ago, "is the greatest corrective of law in its actual
administration." In our legal system, a juror's refusal to convict can't
be punished or reversed. For that reason, a jury may apply the law
according to the judge's instructions or choose to nullify.
Jury nullification has been used to acquit defendants charged with
seditious libel for speaking out against the government, abolitionists who
defied the Fugitive Slave Act and determined drinkers who chose to
purchase and consume alcohol during Prohibition. Nullification is not a
tool to be used lightly; it would be a mistake for juries to ignore
well-thought-out laws on a regular basis.
Occasionally, jury nullification creates a terrible injustice, most
infamously during the civil rights era when bigoted juries acquitted
clearly guilty white defendants of lynching African Americans. But it is
appropriate when a prosecutor or a judge uses a good law for a bad
purpose, seeking to punish an individual in a manner that is excessive,
vindictive or morally repugnant. In that rare instance, the 12 citizens
called upon to endorse that abuse of prosecutorial power can and should
refuse to go along.
Our country was founded by people who fled a tyrannical monarchy. Having
suffered the evils of a centralized and unchecked ruling class, they were
determined to create a government with limited powers - a government
accountable to all of its citizens. Nullification is the last resort for
those who believe that common sense and decency should win out over the
letter of the law. It is what happens when the people call their
government to account by standing up and saying, "No, not in our name."
That is what those 4 jurors did Oct. 13. They refused to convict the woman
on trial, even after she confessed to the crimes, because the prosecutors
who brought the case against her abused the power that had been entrusted
The woman, the jury learned, was disabled and nearly deaf. Years earlier,
when confronted with her theft, she had agreed to a reduction in her
disability checks, which were then garnished by the Social Security
Administration to repay the money that she had taken.
The jury, it seemed, saw the case for what it was. Interestingly, its
judgment was originally shared by the prosecutor, who had at first seen
fit to charge the woman with a single misdemeanor theft offense, carrying
a maximum penalty of one year in prison, on the condition that she ask to
be sentenced to 500 hours of community service "to aid in defendant's
rehabilitation." When the woman would not agree to the condition because
of its patronizing language and the difficulty of fulfilling the 500-hour
requirement given her physical condition, the response from the U.S.
attorney's office was swift and vengeful. Within days, a new indictment
was brought, and what had been one misdemeanor count of theft ballooned
into 20 felony counts of mail fraud.
But the ultimate power, the defense attorney made clear, rested with the
jury. It was up to the 12 of them to decide whether the woman would be
branded a felon 20 times over in their name.
The answer from four of those jurors, a resounding no, was a victory not
just for the defendant but for our legal system.
(source: Commentary, Lara Bazelon, Lara Bazelon is a deputy federal public
defender in Los Angeles; Los Angeles Times)
Lawyers for Moussaoui to Seek Delays
Lawyers for terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui said Monday they plan
to seek further delays in bringing the case to trial while they appeal
pretrial issues to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers, in a written motion, said they'll ask the trial judge to
postpone all proceedings until they've exhausted appeals for Moussaoui --
the only U.S. defendant charged with a terrorism conspiracy that included
the Sept. 11 attacks.
The lawyers have been trying to gain direct access to three al-Qaida
prisoners who might aid Moussaoui's defense and to bar the government from
seeking the death penalty.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered that summaries of
interrogation statements of the prisoners be made available to Moussaoui
-- but not direct access. The court also allowed the government to seek
Moussaoui's execution if he's convicted.
The government has requested that opening statements begin in the case on
May 31. Moussaoui was indicted in December 2001, charged in part with
participating in a broad al-Qaida terrorism conspiracy that included the
Sept. 11 attacks.
Moussaoui, who was in custody on immigration violations by September 2001,
has acknowledged his loyalty to al-Qaida but said he was never to be part
of the airplane hijackings.
(source: Associated Press)
Man Who Was Freed Convicted in Slaying
In Wichita, a jury convicted a truck driver Monday of killing and
decapitating a housekeeper nearly a dozen years after he was mistakenly
freed in a rape case due to mislabeled evidence.
Douglas S. Belt, 42, was convicted of capital murder, attempted rape and
aggravated arson for the slaying of 43-year-old Lucille Gallegos. Belt
faces a possible death sentence when the trial's penalty phase begins
Prosecutors said Belt had a pattern of violent behavior that began in the
late 1980s and ended with Gallegos' slaying in the Wichita apartment where
she worked in June2002.
Last year, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation admitted that Belt was
mistakenly cleared of a 1991 rape when another person's DNA sample was
accidentally labeled with his name in an agency lab. His own sample had
been labeled "unknown."
The mistake was discovered after Belt's arrest for the housekeeper's death
when a DNA sample matched the blood evidence from the 1991 case, as well
as several other rape cases. Bureau director Larry Welch later apologized,
saying the mistake allowed Belt "to remain free and to continue criminal
Belt has been charged with 7 other rapes between 1989 and 1994 in Kansas,
as well as 3 counts of aggravated sexual assault in Illinois.
(source: Associated Press)
Death sentence upheld for man convicted of murder
The S.C. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the second death sentence of
York's Bobby Lee Holmes for killing 86-year-old Mary Stewart in 1989.
Holmes was sentenced to die in 2001 for the second time after he was
convicted of murder, rape and robbery. A 1993 conviction and death penalty
sentence was overturned.
Holmes' appeals lawyers argued that the judge in the case, John C. Hayes
III, should have allowed evidence that another man committed the crime --
called third-party guilt -- into the 2001 trial. Four of the five high
court judges upheld the conviction, with only Judge Costa Pleicones
Before the second trial in 2001, Holmes' lawyers tried to say a 2nd man
confessed to the crime. However, DNA evidence in the 2001 trial showed a
match of Stewart's body fluids to samples found on Holmes' clothing, the
Supreme Court ruling states. Further, the 2nd man's DNA did not match
samples from the crime, the ruling states.
The four justices who agreed Holmes' conviction should stand ruled that
"given the overwhelming evidence ... the circuit court did not err by
excluding the evidence of 3rd party guilt."
Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Tommy Pope successfully convicted Holmes
A jailhouse informant claimed during the 2001 case that prosecutors told
him evidence was manufactured against Holmes. Prosecutors denied those
allegations then and now, Pope said.
Pleicones wrote in his dissent that allegations of mishandled evidence,
allegations of manufactured evidence and witnesses who saw the other
possible defendant should have merited a new trial.
"Particularly in the York community, they can take some comfort in the
fact that justice was served," Pope said Monday after reading the Supreme
Court ruling. "It was frustrating for law enforcement, and has taken
perseverance from a number of different parties."
(source: The Herald)
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