REDWOOD CITY -- Buzz that a verdict was coming traveled fast and by 1 p.m. hundreds of people from near and far had gathered in front of the San Mateo County Courthouse to hear the news.
They came out of restaurants, left their desks and stopped their errands.
"It's like rubberneckers watching a car crash," said Mark Davies, 52 of Redwood City, one of the few to express doubt about whether Peterson received a fair trial.
Many in the crowd talked on cell phones, ready to let friends or loved ones know the verdict in the five-month trial.
Reese Wilder, 63, of Redwood City said she had watched the trial religiously. She staked out a spot in front of the courthouse a half-hour before the verdict was to be read.
"I was shaking like a leaf," said Wilder, who believed Peterson was guilty. When the verdict was announced, she said, "I could hardly speak."
Not so for many in the crowd. People cheered. They clapped. They jumped for joy.
"Yeah!" said 57-year-old Howard Kutzly, clapping loudly and then hushing those around him so he could hear the rest of the verdict on his headphones.
"Justice, finally," he shouted.
Kutzly lives a few blocks away. When the announcement of an imminent verdict interrupted his TV movie, he ran down to the courthouse.
"I might as well," he said. "It's history."
Like an excited crowd at the Oscars, people burst into hoots and hollers when anyone emerged from the courthouse, even if they didn't know who the people were.
David and Brett Miller brought four of their seven children to witness the spectacle.
"I don't know if it's a civic lesson, but it's certainly a lesson in how much influence the media has," David Miller said. "We live in this city, and we were interested. We were talking about the possibilities -- 30 years, death or walking away. It was a horrific crime -- a pretty young lady, a small town, middle-class."
Some spectators arrived from Pacifica, San Jose and Davis.
"I didn't want to hear the verdict alone," explained Kaaren Miller, 52, of Pacifica, who said she followed the trial closely. "I wanted to be around people who thought, if he was found guilty, justice was served."
Claire Dobransky, 21, and her roommate Jennie Nicol, also 21, came from Davis. "It's Laci's day," Dobransky said. "It's a good day."
Scott Peterson supporters seemed scarce in the crowd, though some expressed sympathy for his family.
Hours after the verdict, the crowd had thinned. As TV cameras captured the scene, some of the lingerers held up special Peterson editions produced by local newspapers.
Erica Kleebauer, 25, who works nearby and ate her burrito lunch in the courthouse area, hoped for a glimpse of Laci Peterson's family.
"So I could give them two thumbs up, a congratulations or something," she said.
Bee staff writer Elizabeth Johnson can be reached at 578-2385 or email@example.com.
Bee columnist Jeff Jardine and staff writer Garth Stapley contributed to this report.