Peterson: Trial Stories

November 13, 2004

This wipes that smirk off his face

REDWOOD CITY -- For the past year, Mark Geragos represented a study in cockiness, arrogance and showmanship.

This big-city lawyer smirked at Stanislaus County prosecutors as they prepared to try Scott Peterson for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

He mocked the Modesto police investigation, saying detectives focused so quickly on Peterson that they missed the real killers.

He scoffed during jury selection, claiming it didn't matter whether a juror would vote for the death penalty. The prosecution's case, Geragos said, was so weak it would never reach the penalty phase.

Now, Geragos -- so confident, so full of swagger -- must go before the same jurors who proclaimed his client a killer and beg them to spare Peterson's life.

He must look into the faces of those who know that Peterson told lie after lie to his girlfriend, and to investigators.

He must try to explain why his client refuses to take responsibility for his actions, acting as if the investigation into his wife's disappearance and death were an imposition on his golf game.

Finally, Geragos must look at 12 people who, by virtue of their verdict, said they didn't believe him.

And why should they?

He came through with none of the promises he made in June, when he claimed he would destroy the prosecution's case.

The end came so suddenly Friday that Geragos couldn't get to Redwood City from Los Angeles in time for the verdict -- which you can bet was not lost on the jury.

Peterson and Geragos lost so badly, law Professor Robert Talbot said, that he's not sure if Geragos shouldn't turn the next stage over to co-counsel Pat Harris or someone else.

"Would you want Geragos arguing for you in the penalty phase?" asked Talbot, who teaches at the University of San Francisco. "Obviously, the jury didn't buy his act at all."

Former San Mateo County prosecutor Chuck Smith disagreed.

"Mark should do it and will do it," Smith said. "He has to try to save his client's life."

Geragos' credibility is damaged enough by the conviction, Smith said. The penalty phase won't affect him.

"He'll introduce some brutally emotional testimony from Peterson's mother, brother, sister and friends," Smith said. "Mark won't ask any questions of the prosecution's witnesses. It will be all victim input, the Rocha family telling us about Laci. 'Here's what we lost.'"

Geragos can only point to the fact that, until convicted of these murders, Peterson had no criminal past.

"Anything that shows he's a good guy, and right now, that's going to be pretty tough to do," Talbot said. "You'd try to tout abuse as a child, or a mental disorder. But this guy had a happy life. He played golf and went fishing."

All of this leaves Geragos with no doubt the toughest argument of his career.

The jury's in. His client is a murderer whose own life rests in their hands.

The swagger, the smugness -- that won't play well this time around.

Bee local columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or

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