REDWOOD CITY A judge affirmed Scott Peterson's death sentence Wednesday, moments after his victims' heartbroken yet furious family members denounced him with pained and poignant curses.
The 32-year-old Modesto man, dressed in a dark suit but with his wrists shackled to a belly chain, showed no emotion other than to slightly shake his head from side to side as his mother-in-law called him "a coward," "an evil murderer" and "a baby killer."
"You deserve to burn in hell for all eternity," Sharon Rocha, wracked with sobs, thundered at the unruffled defendant. The man she entrusted her daughter to when they married eight years ago no longer exists, Rocha said.
Judge Alfred Delucchi invited Scott Peterson to speak. After conferring with his defense team, Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos declined on Peterson's behalf.
Ten jurors who condemned Peterson to death, and two alternate jurors, attended Wednesday out of curiosity and in search of closure. Some praised the dramatic family statements.
Delucchi rejected a last-minute bid for a new trial by Peterson's lawyers, saying jurors acted within the law and came to the right conclusion. The judge said Peterson will be transferred to California's death row at San Quentin Prison within 10 days.
His parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson, did not hear many of the comments from Laci Peterson's family. Soon after the first Laci's brother, Brent Rocha launched into a scathing rebuke, Lee Peterson blurted from the gallery, "You're a liar." The judge sternly cautioned all members of the audience, after which Lee Peterson stalked from the room. His wife followed minutes later, and neither returned to hear Delucchi formally sentence their son to die for his crimes.
The two went to a cafe in the courthouse basement and refused to speak with The Bee.
The elder Petersons wouldn't have been allowed to plead for their son's life even if they had stayed. Statements at formal sentencings are reserved for members of victims' families.
Delucchi declined Geragos' request to let his client's parents speak as grandparents of the murdered Conner Peterson.
Scott Peterson murdered his 27-year-old pregnant wife and unborn son just before Christmas 2002 and dumped her body from a newly purchased boat into San Francisco Bay. He played golf and continued trying to romance his girlfriend as thousands scoured the bay, lakes and the countryside looking for Laci Peterson.
Jurors didn't believe her husband's fishing alibi or theory that someone put her body in the bay to frame him. They found him guilty Nov. 12, and decreed a death sentence Dec. 13.
"He's a jerk," juror Richelle Nice said outside the courthouse. "I think his reaction was horrible. Her family members were speaking to him and he couldn't even make eye contact. Justice won't be served till they put the needle in his arm."
Legal analyst Paula Canny said automatic appeals for death sentences all but guarantee more than a decade of waiting for the conclusion of the Peterson saga.
'He betrayed a trust,' judge says
In his ruling, Delucchi acknowledged that Peterson had no criminal past, has "aboveaverage intelligence," comes from "a caring family" and appeared to be a productive member of society. But he agreed with jurors that nothing positive in the defendant's persona overcomes the gravity of his crimes.
"The murders were cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous," Delucchi said, his voice wavering ever so slightly. "He betrayed a trust between the defendant and his wife, Laci, who was bearing his baby. Baby Conner was not even permitted to take a breath on this Earth."
All eyes in the crowded courtroom were riveted on Sharon Rocha as she role-played her daughter's envisioned reaction to an attack by the man who should have protected her.
"Scott, why are you killing me?" Rocha sobbed, putting herself in her daughter's place. "You know how much I love you. I trusted you, believed in you and you promised to take care of me. You're my partner, my best friend. I want to live."
With several family members and Laci Peterson's close friends breaking down in tears, Rocha pushed on, assuming the role of her tiny grandson.
"Daddy, why are you killing Mommy and me? Let us live long enough and I know you'll love me, too. Let me live and I promise I won't take her away from you. Daddy, please, please stop. We don't want to die."
Brother-in-law bought a gun
The heart-rending effusion capped others delivered by Laci Peterson's closest family members.
Brent Rocha called his brother-in-law "just a spoiled child living a delusional life," and said he suspected his guilt by Jan. 4, 2003. At that point, Rocha said, he bought a gun.
"I chose not to kill you myself for one reason, so you'd have to sweat it out," he said.
Brent Rocha reminded the crowd that no skull was found with his sister's remains. Also missing were her hands and lower legs, which authorities said were probably weighed down with Scott Peterson's homemade concrete anchors.
"Every time I go to the Bay Area, I think, 'Oh, my sister's head is probably floating around in the bay,'" he said.
His distraught father, Dennis Rocha, drew a warning from the judge when he used a vulgarity.
"Dennis is just the saddest person," juror Julie Zanartu said after the proceeding. "I feel so sorry for him."
Renee Garza said after the hearing that she and other close friends of Laci Peterson had braced for the family's painful, public statements.
"I knew it was coming," Garza said. "I knew their words were going to be tough." She added, "I have no comment about Scott."
His former girlfriend, Fresno massage therapist Amber Frey, was busy Wednesday giving TV interviews, said Gloria Allred, her attorney. Of Frey, Allred said, "I'm sure it's somewhat painful for her.
"I don't think any of us wants to trade places with Scott Peterson, where every day he'll have to think about how he killed his wife and baby," Allred said.
Now that the trial is over, she said, Frey likely will turn her attention to "being a great mother" and contributing to a CBS television movie about the case.
Geragos had served Allred with a subpoena to testify Wednesday, but Delucchi rejected it because information Geragos wanted revealed could violate attorney-client privilege.
'Scott got what he deserved'
Much of the buzz outside the courthouse revolved around the family's passionate statements.
Alternate juror Mike Church, who became opposed to the death penalty in the course of the trial, said he wasn't quite prepared for the intensity.
"It was more emotional than I thought it would be," Church said. "That was pretty emotional stuff."
Gwen Kemple said she was proud of the way her cousin, Sharon Rocha, handled herself at an unbelievably stressful moment.
"You bet, anybody would be (proud)," Kemple said. "She did a wonderful job. This was a long time coming."
One juror said the panelists are thinking about writing a book together. Others questioned whether attending Wednesday's formal sentencing will bring the closure they sought.
"I'm glad it's over," said juror Tom Marino. He paused and asked, "Is it over? It's over for me."
Outside the courthouse, Sharon Rocha's longtime companion, Ron Grantski, told reporters: "Our family's going to make it. We're stronger because of this. And Scott got what he deserved."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writers Julissa McKinnon and Jeff Jardine contributed to this report.