Peterson Death Sentence No Surprise
13 December 2004–Death. The jury recommends death. The Peterson verdict is no surprise to those of us who labor in the criminal justice system. The system is rigged. In all cases, excepting those in which an accused citizen faces the death penalty, the defendant has the right to a jury of his peers, as guaranteed in the 6th Amendment. Only those jurors who state that they are willing to apply the death penalty – if the circumstances warrant it – are permitted to sit on “death penalty” cases. When the system is hot after the accused, it allows no softies to interfere with its killing machine; if you’re not willing to unleash the government to kill your fellow man, you’re never even in the mix.
Needless to say, jurors who are willing to recommend death will very likely favor the prosecution, ignore police testilying and shenanigans, and apply the law without mercy. Essentially, the rule almost guarantees a jury of hard asses. For even the best criminal defense attorneys, these circumstances are incredibly hard to overcome.
Cambridge Criminal Lawyer: How Jury Selection Almost Guarantess a Conviction
Further, these jurors, no doubt, had one eye on the sentencing phase, and one on the book deals and television appearances. With the prurient interest in the case erupting, every juror was aware that there was money to be made. How much more exciting – and therefore profitable – to recommend death for Peterson? Reportedly, the jury reached its decision last week, but, to insure the greatest amount of exposure and television coverage, waited until Monday afternoon. Since the jury, when it returned its guilty verdicts, found the necessary “special circumstances” to impose the death penalty, it is absurd to believe that they had not already made up their minds to recommend death. After all, if they had been leaning toward sparing Peterson, why endure two more weeks of captivity and gut wrenching testimony?
And while this jury may have decided Peterson’s fate weeks ago, it was not impossible for criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos to reach them. Jurors reportedly wept and sobbed during the sentencing phase. One juror, following the verdict, spoke of an emotional “meltdown.” Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine just how much of what any juror in a high profile case says, these days, can be credited.
But, Geragos and Peterson remained defiant and refused to concede what every person on that jury well understood – that Scott Peterson killed his wife and unborn child. Since Peterson shed no tears for Laci or Connor, this jury would shed no tears for him.
Cambridge Criminal Defense Lawyer: Never Lie to a Jury
13 November 2004–Trial lawyers lie to jurors at their peril. Jurors are not easily fooled by prosecutors or criminal defense attorneys. Given how thoroughly the media covered the shenanigans of O.J. Simpson’s defense team, rational criminal defense lawyers anticipate that jurors will view with suspicion the statements they make on behalf of their client to the media, and the defense they present in court. Given the intense scrutiny that Attorney Mark Geragos had to expect, it is mind-boggling that he told the media that he was going to prove Scott Peterson “stone-cold innocent” and that the defense team would attempt to find the real killer.
Before the jury, Geragos floated bogeymen: homeless men in ragged clothing and Satanic cults. He cited untrustworthy witnesses who maintained that they had seen Laci walking the dog after Peterson had already left for his fishing trip. Relying on the meritless musings of a pathetically unreliable forensic gynecologist, Geragos arrogantly proclaimed that Peterson’s baby had died ten days later than Laci Peterson’s disappearance. In the end, Geragos forfeited all credibility before the jury.
With the overwhelming evidence that Peterson had been responsible for Laci’s death, it was irresponsible for Geragos not to level with the jury. Because forensic experts were unable to ascertain the cause of death from Laci’s badly decomposed body, the prosecution had no evidence that she had been murdered. There was scant evidence that Peterson had planned to murder Laci. At best, the prosecution could suggest no more than manslaughter – that Peterson had killed his wife during an argument that had escalated into a physical confrontation.
Had Geragos told the jury that Peterson had killed Laci by accident, there was no forensic evidence available from which the prosecution could prove otherwise. Unfortunately for Peterson, Geragos never disputed that someone had murdered Laci. Since the defense conceded that Laci had been murdered, the jury had no reason to question the manner of death.
Therefore, the jury was left only to determine who committed the murder. Could a seasoned trial lawyer really expect twelve jurors, not completely devoid of commonsense, to accept his assertion that homeless men or Satanic cult members had abducted Laci? Apparently, Geragos foresaw the jury rejecting his asinine defense; after preening before the cameras for months, Geragos was not with his client when the jury delivered their verdict. After abandoning his client’s best, and maybe only available defense, Geragos abandoned his client. It is this type of nonsense that gives the pubic reason to hold all criminal defense lawyers in disrepute.
Peterson Prosecution Short on Evidence
4 June 2004–The prosecution has spent months piecing together its case against Scott Peterson. Yet, Deputy District Attorney Rick Distasto’s opening statement not only lacked excitement, it lacked evidence. Any evidence.
Distasto, with his emotionally flat opening, committed the cardinal sin for a trial lawyer: he bored the jury. He bored the jury, despite trying a sensationalized case with a compelling story line. He bored the jury by trying too hard to integrate inane “inconsistencies” into his story line. That the cleaning lady says that she mopped the floor on December 23rd and Peterson says Laci was mopping the floor when he left the home on December 24th is one such inane “inconsistency.” Including something so trivial worked only to dilute his more compelling evidence: that Peterson, by his own admission, was out in a boat on the 24th in the very bay in which his wife and child weeks later washed ashore.
The prosecution claims that it will take six months for it to complete its case. Given the lack of evidence that Peterson murdered his wife, no responsible prosecutor would need more than a few weeks to try this case. Punishing the jury with six months of mind numbing minutia might drive a few jurors to consider flinging themselves off the courthouse roof, but not into convicting Peterson.
It appears from Distasto’s opening that the prosecution possesses no evidence whatsoever that Scott murdered Laci or that she even died within the home. Given the forensic techniques available to the investigators combing the Peterson home for evidence of a shooting, stabbing or violent struggle (or attempts to conceal such evidence), it is difficult to believe that Peterson murdered his wife within the home. The thoroughness of the investigation almost exonerates Peterson.
Catching Peterson within a stone’s throw of the Mexican border with a bad dye job and a fist full of cash is not proof of murder; it is not even compelling evidence of a consciousness of guilt – for an innocent man is more likely to flee in a panic than a cold blooded killer. Peterson’s statement placing him at the bay on the day of the disappearance is strong evidence that he attempted to cover-up the death; but, it is not proof of murder. If Peterson’s lawyer Mark Geragos can restrain himself from claiming that Laci was abducted and murdered by Satanic cults, homeless men in ragged clothing, or gremlins, the jury should acquit Peterson.
Scott Peterson Retains Mark Geragos
Lawyer’s Thirst for Publicity Jeopardizes Peterson Case
2 May 2003–Scott Peterson has retained “celebrity” criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos – who has represented Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Gary Condit. Before arraignment, Peterson was represented by Attorney McAllister, who quickly and wisely collared Peterson, who with his near constant appearances on national television had made geniuses of Modesto police detectives gambling on the “give ‘em enough rope” strategy. Attorney McAllister himself made few comments to the press. Despite Modesto police department’s largely successful efforts to bury Peterson in an avalanche of bad press – for which Peterson bore some responsibility – McAllister held back, perhaps wanting to examine the evidence before making comments he would later be forced to retract.
Unfortunately, media darling Geragos – who spent the months preceding Peterson’s arrest commenting on the case for CNN – is far more interested in seeing himself quoted in the news than in thoughtfully and responsibly defending his client. Without having examined the evidence gathered by the police, or meeting extensively with Peterson, Geragos rushed before the cameras. “He really wants to find out what happened to his wife and child,” intoned Geragos. Given that most everyone realizes that Geragos was just retained, few will believe that Geragos made these statements after more than a brief meeting with his client and a cursory review of the known evidence. Unlike the statements from a District Attorney – who is perceived to have some objectivity and, therefore, legitimacy – statements made by a criminal defense attorney on behalf of a man accused of killing his wife are always viewed with suspicion. That is particularly true with Geragos, because the known evidence against his client, at least at first blush, appears to demonstrate that Peterson is directly connected to the killings.
Cambridge Criminal Attorney: Credibility is Everything for Trial Lawyer
Adding that he decided to take the case after the “convincing case” Peterson’s parents made to him, damages Geragos’ credibility even further. The parents, not unexpectedly, love their son, believe his protestations of innocence, and are doing their best to defend him against a barrage of brutal press coverage. During their own television appearances, they appear emotional and overwhelmed. Such parents will plead with their attorney to accept that their child is innocent. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the Modesto police have not given Peterson’s parents access to the evidence. Neither parent, from their statements to the media, appear to be experts in criminal defense, forensic evidence, or law enforcement. No seasoned criminal defense attorney would blindly accept parental passion over hard evidence. No thinking person believes Geragos is persuaded by the arguments advanced by the parents. Geragos took the case because of the publicity with which he is intoxicated. Geragos’ statements do nothing to advance the interests of his client.
Forfeiting his credibility this early in the case is irresponsible and will haunt Geragos and, therefore, Peterson at any trial. There is no more important commodity for a trial lawyer than credibility. Jurors reject compelling arguments from lawyers they distrust. Skillful cross-examinations, eloquent oratory, and charm are non-starters absent trust.
Cambridge Trial Attorney’s Opinion: Conviction Almost Certain
If the District Attorney’s Office has substantive proof that Laci Peterson died in her home, Scott Peterson is going to be found responsible for that death. But, the prosecution may not be able to prove the cause of death. Extracting useful forensic clues from the bloated, decomposing, headless body of Laci Peterson or the almost as distressed body of the baby may be impossible for the medical examiner. Without convincing proof that she died of a stab wound, a gun shot wound, strangulation or repeated blunt force trauma, the prosecution will have the near impossible task of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not die as the result of an accident or a struggle. That Peterson dumped the (possibly decapitated) body of his wife into the bay is not strong proof that he deliberately murdered her; it is only compelling evidence that he attempted to cover up a death for which he felt responsible and for which he believed could be prosecuted. In the end, Geragos will be forced – faced as he will be with his client’s extramarital affair, “alibi,” and numerous conflicting statements to the media – to abandon the “we’re busy looking for the real murderers” defense in favor a defense of accident or, at worst, manslaughter. And when Geragos stands before the jury during his opening statement and claims that Peterson accidentally killed his wife during a physical struggle, the jurors will remember how Geragos originally said that Peterson wanted to find out what happened to his wife and child (a statement reminiscent of the thoroughly discredited OJ Simpson lawyers). Since there is no realistic way Geragos can put Peterson on the stand, Geragos’ own credibility is paramount and, unfortunately, tarnished.