[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., FLA., UTAH, S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 3 10:03:13 CST 2004
Peterson Jury Is Asked to Put Aside Feelings for Defendant
The lead defense lawyer in the Scott Peterson murder trial, Mark Geragos,
urged jurors on Tuesday to put aside any hatred for his client's boorish
He told them instead to ponder the still unexplained death of Mr.
Peterson's wife, Laci, a killing for which he said there were no
witnesses, no evidence of a fatal struggle, no murder weapon and no
In his rapid-fire closing argument, Mr. Geragos summarized the case much
the way he had begun, conceding that Mr. Peterson, charged with killing
his wife and her fetus, could clearly be viewed as a "jerk" and a "liar."
"Do you all hate him?" Mr. Geragos asked. "If you hate him, then maybe
what they're asking you to do is just convict him."
But disdain is no basis for convicting a man of murder, he said.
Throughout the morning session of his summation, Mr. Geragos offered a
point-by-point response to the prosecution's emotional closing argument a
day earlier, using evidence and testimony from the early phases of the
trial to remind jurors that the police had received full cooperation from
Mr. Peterson and yet failed to investigate a string of leads or pursue
other potential suspects.
"If you presume this guy is guilty, you can put a sinister spin on
anything," said Mr. Geragos, later reminding jurors, "You must not be
influenced by sentiment, conjecture or passion."
The prosecution argued that Mr. Peterson killed his pregnant wife to
escape the drudgery of married life and fatherhood, all in an effort to
follow a fantasy to lead the life a wealthy jet-set bachelor, free to
travel the world seeking adventure.
But in his closing, Mr. Geragos sprinted through a series of other
explanations for all of Mr. Peterson's contradictory statements and
erratic behavior after his wife disappeared on or around Dec. 23, 2002.
For example, Mr. Geragos replayed the period around the time of Ms.
Peterson's disappearance. He pointed to little-discussed facts like
confiscated records on Internet activity the morning Ms. Peterson may have
disappeared, showing that someone had been looking at a Gap advertisement
and printing French toast recipes. Mr. Geragos argued that those facts
proved that Ms. Peterson was home and alive on Dec. 24, when Mr. Peterson
left for a brief fishing trip.
"The one rational explanation was that she was alive when Scott Peterson
left that morning," Mr. Geragos said. He said that meant, "You have only
one conclusion and that conclusion is that Scott Peterson is not guilty."
Mr. Geragos, offering an animated presentation punctuated by visual aids,
had some jurors shaking their heads in agreement as he discussed some of
the 41 points the prosecutors cited as evidence in its case, which posited
that Mr. Peterson killed his wife at home, used hand-made cement anchors
to weigh her body down and then dumped it in San Francisco Bay.
Mr. Geragos reminded jurors of court testimony indicating that Mr.
Peterson was eager to have a child and that the couple had been trying for
months. And he addressed Mr. Peterson's boating habits and affair with his
mistress, Amber Frey, and the prosecution's theory that Mr. Peterson stood
to inherit his wife's money.
"They called no less than 4 witnesses to suggest that there was a
financial motive," Mr. Geragos said, adding that Mr. Peterson clearly
stood to gain more if his wife remained alive. She was set to inherit
nearly $1 million, but Mr. Peterson was not 1st in line to receive that
money if she died.
"There was no motive for him to kill Laci and Conner whatsoever," Mr.
Geragos said. "In fact, on the contrary."
The defense will finish closing arguments early on Wednesday, followed by
a rebuttal by the prosecution. The jury will be sequestered during
deliberations, which are to begin later this week.
(source: New York Times)
Peterson Defense: Use Facts, Not Emotions
Scott Peterson's lawyer pleaded with the jury Tuesday not to convict
Peterson of murder just because prosecutors made him look like a "jerk and
Mark Geragos said in closing arguments that the evidence shows Peterson
did not murder his wife, Laci, and the fetus she carried, and that he had
no motive to do so.
Geragos suggested that the prosecutors had made the jury hate his client.
But he added: "You're not supposed to just decide this case on whether or
not you like Scott Peterson."
Geragos then accused authorities of waffling on their theory of the crime,
first claiming Peterson's affair with massage therapist Amber Frey was his
motive for murder, then raising financial issues and finally pointing to
Peterson's desire to be free from marriage.
"Clearly Amber was not the motive. Nobody was going to kill Laci Peterson
and her child for Amber Frey," Geragos said.
The jurors heard the prosecution's closing argument Monday and were
expected to begin deliberations as early as Wednesday. The trial began
with jury selection in March and opening statements in June.
Prosecutors claim Peterson strangled or smothered his wife on Dec. 23 or
24, 2002, then dumped her weighted body into San Francisco Bay. Defense
lawyers claim someone else abducted and killed Laci.
Peterson is charged with two counts of 1st-degree murder and could get the
death penalty. The jury will also be allowed to consider second-degree
murder, which does not require evidence of premeditation and carries 15
years to life in prison.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors made their case for premeditation,
contending each bit of evidence is like a piece of a puzzle that convicts
the former fertilizer salesman.
But Geragos said pieces are missing in that puzzle, such as the fact that
Peterson paid a bill for Laci's health insurance the day before she
In addition, he said, "Maybe the logical explanation for the fact that we
have no evidence of her struggling in that house, dying in that house is
because it didn't happen in that house."
Also, Geragos said police found that someone had used a computer in the
Petersons' home on the morning Laci vanished -- after authorities contend
Peterson had already killed Laci -- to search Web sites for a fleece scarf
and a sunflower-motif umbrella stand.
He suggested the user was actually Laci because the schoolteacher had a
tattoo of a sunflower on her ankle.
Geragos said police never tried to determine who the computer user was
"because they didn't want to know the answer."
He also tried to cast doubt on prosecutors' contention that Peterson had a
financial motive for the killing, noting that Laci was set to inherit
nearly $1 million.
"And yesterday for the first time you hear a new theory ... that he didn't
want to pay child support," he added, noting that payments would have been
minimal once Laci received her inheritance.
"She meant more to him alive than dead," Geragos said.
(source: Associated Press)
Peterson Attorney Scoffs at Case - In his closing argument, Geragos tells
jurors that authorities tailored facts and evidence to fit their theory
that the salesman killed his pregnant wife.
A defense attorney in Scott Peterson's murder trial began his closing
remarks Tuesday by telling jurors that although they may loathe his client
they should not presume that he is guilty of killing his pregnant wife.
In closing arguments Tuesday, attorney Mark Geragos accused homicide
investigators and prosecutors of tailoring facts and suspicions to fit
their theory that Peterson masterminded a plot to free himself from his
wife and live out a fantasy of being a playboy.
"If you hate him, then maybe what [prosecutors] are asking you to do is
just convict [him] . don't bother with 5 months of evidence," Geragos
said. "Don't bother with the fact that the evidence clearly shows that he
didn't do this, and absolutely had no motive to do this."
Prosecutors believe that the 32-year-old fertilizer salesman killed his
wife to break free of a bad job and dull marriage with a baby on the way.
A month before Laci Peterson was reported missing, he started an affair
with Amber Frey, a Fresno massage therapist, who later became a star
Geragos blamed prosecutors for failing to thoroughly investigate the
possibility that Laci had been kidnapped by someone else.
He also speculated that Laci was killed "by more than one person."
Geragos offered alternative explanations for circumstantial evidence that
allegedly showed that Peterson's wife had been smothered or strangled on
Dec. 23 or Christmas Eve, 2002, and then, attached to concrete weights
that Peterson had molded on a workbench, had been dumped into San
"They have this theory that if there is no evidence - no blood, poisoning,
knife with blood on it - you've got to come up with the theory of a soft
kill . suffocation or something like that," Geragos told the jury.
However, he added, "she didn't struggle in that house, or die in that
house because there is no evidence of it."
If anything, he said, evidence such as a hair curling iron on a bathroom
counter and home computer records showing that someone had perused
advertisements for brightly colored umbrellas indicated that Laci was
alive on Christmas Eve.
"A reasonable interpretation is that she mopped the floor and went outside
to take the dog for a walk," he said. "Laci Peterson was alive on the 24th
and something happened to her when Scott left" their Modesto home to go
He scoffed at the prosecution's contention that Laci was dumped into the
bay in the same location where Peterson went fishing in a new boat on
Christmas Eve. If Peterson was the killer, Geragos said, he would have
taken the corpse to 1 of several Modesto-area lakes that are far deeper.
Overall, Geragos' remarks were spirited and effective, criminal trial
"I thought this has been, if nothing else, an effective, workmanlike
defense," said Trent Copeland, a defense attorney who has followed the
case. "However, it didn't have the passion or urgency the prosecution had
in its closing arguments. It seemed to lose steam in the afternoon, when
it was often rambling and monotonous."
Legal analyst Dean Johnson gave a more generous appraisal.
"I think it was an excellent closing," he said. "Basically, he told the
jury that normally, the evidence drives the suspect. Here, it's the
suspect driving the evidence. In other words, everything looks suspicious
if you presume he's guilty."
Geragos is expected to complete his final arguments today, after which
prosecutor Rick Distaso will present his rebuttal.
The jury is expected to begin sequestered deliberations Thursday morning.
Peterson is facing two counts of 1st-degree murder, and prosecutors are
seeking the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
However, the jury also has the option of convicting him on 2nd-degree
murder charges, which could result in 2 sentences of 15 years to life in
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Orlando Jury Says Strangler Should Get Death Penalty
Orange County jurors recommend the death penalty for a man accused of
strangling 2 people.
David Sylvester Frances and his younger brother, Elvis, were charged with
strangling Helen Mills and her teenage niece Jo Anna Charles in their
Orlando home almost four years ago.
The brothers strangled the women with their hands and an electrical cord.
Elvis Frances was sentenced to life two years ago. He wasn't eligible for
the death penalty because he was 16-year-old at the time of the killings.
The jury found David Frances guilty of the murders on Friday. He was 20
years old at the time of the killings.
9 of the 12 jurors said Tuesday he should be put to death for killing
Mills, and 10 said he should die for killing Charles.
An Orange Circuit Judge will have the final say on his sentence.
(source: Associated Press)
Hearing for Death Row Inmate Postponed
A Utah Supreme Court hearing set for Thursday for Elroy Tillman, Utah's
oldest and longest serving death row inmate, has been postponed until Dec.
A hearing is postponed for Utah's oldest and longest serving death row
The court is to hear oral arguments on the state's challenge to a district
court decision to vacate the death sentence of Tillman, 68, who convicted
in the 1982 beating death of Mark Schoenfeld, 28.
The hearing was postponed because defense attorney Loni F. DeLand was
going to be out of the country this week.
A June 24, 2001, execution date was pushed back after DeLand suffered a
heart attack during a 3-day commutation hearing before the state Board of
Pardons and Parole.
During that time, defense attorneys presented new evidence they said
showed that during Tillman's trial, prosecutors failed to turn over
partial transcripts of a polygraph interview between a Salt Lake police
officer and Tillman's girlfriend, Carla Sagers, who was Tillman's alleged
accomplice and turned state's witness against him.
Third District Judge Leslie Lewis ruled last year that Tillman's rights to
due process were violated by the withholding of evidence, which took 18
years to surface. Lewis found that the transcripts would have been enough
to make at least one juror question the extent of Tillman's involvement in
Lewis vacated Tillman's death sentence but not his conviction and ordered
a new sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors allege that Tillman, driven by jealousy, struck the sleeping
man in the head several times with an ax handle and then set his bed on
fire while Schoenfeld was still alive.
Schoenfeld had been dating Tillman's former girlfriend. Sagers, Tillman's
girlfriend at the time, said she accompanied and helped Tillman.
In its brief to the Utah Supreme Court, the Utah Attorney General's Office
argued that the missing evidence could be barred because Tillman could
have raised the issue in prior state petitions.
The state also argued that Tillman would have to prove that the addition
of the evidence would have resulted in a reasonable probability that
Tillman would have received a more favorable sentencing.
Supreme Court Justice Ronald Nehring has recused himself from the case
because he ruled previously on a judicial assignment for Tillman. A judge
from another court will take Nehring's place during the Dec. 1 hearing.
(source: Associated Press)
Escaped S.C. Convict Gets Death Sentence
A federal jury sentenced an escaped convict to death Tuesday in the
kidnapping and killing of a South Carolina woman who was taken from a
The jury deliberated about 6 hours before giving the death penalty to
Branden Basham. He and co-defendant Chadrick Fulks were convicted earlier
of charges including kidnapping resulting in death and carjacking
resulting in death.
Fulks received a death sentence in June.
Victim Alice Donovan was abducted from a parking lot in Conway in November
2002, days after the men escaped from a Kentucky jail. They also are
charged with abducting a West Virginia college student. Neither woman's
body has been found.
The defense had argued that Basham did not intend to kill Donovan and
suggested Fulks was to blame.
"We were hoping for a life sentence," said Basham's lawyer, Jack Swerling.
"But we also understood the practicality -- 2 abductions, 2 women."
The prosecution expressed satisfaction with the verdict. "We believed from
the outset that this was a heinous crime," said Assistant U.S. Attorney
Basham faces a formal sentencing hearing in the next 2 months.
(source: Associated Press)
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