Peterson: Trial Stories

November 13, 2004

TV tunes in for the verdict, reaction

The Laci Peterson case had attracted swarms of TV cameras and pundits almost from the beginning. So the spotlight figured to be brighter than ever for Friday's verdict.

And it was.

Cable heavyweights CNN, Fox News and Court TV jumped in with everything they had, beginning continuous coverage just after 11 a.m. when word came that a verdict had been reached.

Among Sacramento's TV outlets, only KCRA Channel 3 stayed with the story from the first bulletin until 2:15 p.m., an hour after the verdict's reading.

The news broke during KXTV Channel 10's midday news program; the program ended at noon, and a soap opera came on.

KOVR Channel 13 stayed with a soap until the noon news, then showed another soap opera at 12:30 p.m.

Both came back at 1 p.m. to deliver live audio of the verdict's reading.

Channel 3, meanwhile, had been on the air with professors from the McGeorge School of Law, and people at capital malls and restaurants.

In the courtroom, Edie Lambert used her laptop computer to send instant messages -- and KCRA put them on television. She was among the first to tell the world that a juror had smiled and nodded reassuringly at Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother.

Outside the courthouse, as tension grew in advance of the verdict's reading, a CNN analyst worried about public despair and anger in the event of an acquittal.

A Fox expert predicted a not-guilty verdict.

Justin Falconer, removed from the jury in the trial's fourth week, also predicted not guilty. The original Juror No. 5 uttered what sounded like famous last words in a bad movie: "Scott Peterson was no criminal mastermind. He had no record. If he were guilty, there would be some evidence."

After the verdict, though, Falconer, like some other pundits, went into full retreat.

"I'm sure the jury reached the right verdict," Falconer said. "They saw everything, all the evidence."

After the fact, many of the networks' legal analysts suddenly found it clear all along that the jury didn't buy Mark Geragos' defense strategy.

Before the verdict, Court TV's legal panel praised the prosecution, particularly Rick Distaso's closing arguments.

Fox experts dismissed the popular notion that there needed to be a "CSI" or "Law and Order" moment when direct evidence fingered a killer. "When there's direct evidence, that's when you get a plea bargain," Greta Van Susteren said. "The circumstantial cases go to trial."

Experts explained on Fox and Court TV that "circumstantial" does not mean weak; rather, they said, it means that the prosecution must tell a compelling story.

The strongest medicine after the verdict came on Fox, where Peterson was no longer referred to by name. He became "that monster."

On the evening news, ABC, CBS and NBC put the verdict in fourth position behind Yasser Arafat, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's U.S. visit and the war in Iraq. Only CBS showed videotape shot Friday in Modesto; the scene showed a crowd cheering the verdict as relayed by television.

Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at 578-2311 or

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