Automatic Motion for Modification of Death Verdict
March 16, 2005
Judge Delucchi: The court now is going to go through the weighing process pursuant to 190.4, and in this case the defendant was convicted by a jury verdict of a felony as alleged in Count 1 of the Information, to wit, murder, a violation of Section 187 of the Penal Code in that on or about the 24th day of December 2002 he murdered Laci Denise Peterson. The jury further fixed the degree of murder as that of the first degree. The defendant was further convicted by a jury verdict of a felony as alleged in Count 2 of the Information, to wit, murder, a violation of Section 187 of the Penal Code, in that on or about the 24th day of December 2002 he murdered Baby Conner Peterson, a fetus. The jury further found that the special circumstance as alleged, that is that the defendant committed more than one murder in the first or second degree in this proceeding is a special circumstance within the meaning of Penal Code Section 190.2(a)(3) to be true. The jury verdict in the guilt phase was returned on November the 12th, 2004. Thereafter on November 22nd, 2004, the penalty phase of the trial was begun before the same jury. On December 13, 2004 the jury rendered the following verdict: The People of the State of California versus Scott Lee Peterson: We, the jury, in the above entitled cause, fix the penalty at death. Dated September 13, 2004, signed by Foreperson, Juror number 6. The statutes of the State of California, under which this case was tried, provide that the defendant shall be deemed to have made an application for modification of said verdict. Penal Code Section 190.4(e) provides that in every case in which the trier of fact has returned a verdict imposing the death penalty, the defendant is deemed to have made an application for the modification of the verdict under Penal Code Section 1181.7. In this case, counsel for the defense has indeed filed a motion for a new trial, which has already been denied.
In conducting a hearing as to Penal Code Section 190.4(e), the court must review the evidence, consider, take into account and be guided by the mitigating and aggravating circumstances referred to in Section 190.3 of the Penal Code and make a determination as to whether the jury's findings that the aggravating circumstances are so substantial, when compared to the mitigating circumstances, are contrary to the law or to the evidence presented. The court has specifically not considered the probation report in ruling on the application for modification pursuant to 190.4 of the Penal Code and 1181.7 of the Penal Code. The court is only considering the evidence presented to the jury in this trial. It is the law of this state that the trial judge is required to make an independent determination whether imposition of the death penalty upon a defendant is appropriate in light of the relevant evidence and any applicable law.
The trial judge has the duty to review the evidence to determine whether, in his independent judgment, the weight of the evidence supports the jury verdict. If he decides it does not, the court has the power to reduce the penalty to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In determining whether, in his independent judgment, the weight of the evidence supports the verdict, the judge is required to assess the credibility of the witnesses, determine the probative force of the testimony, and to weigh the evidence. Further, the court shall set forth its reasons for its ruling on the application and direct that they be entered into the court's minutes.
In this case the court has reviewed the presence and absence of each aggravating and mitigating factor listed in Penal Code Section 190.3 and specifically agrees that the jury's finding that the circumstances in aggravation are so substantial, when compared to the circumstances in mitigation, that it's supported by the weight of the evidence; it is not contrary to the law. Further, the court finds that the evidence supporting the truth of the special circumstance that the defendant committed more than one murder in the first or second degree has been overwhelmingly, overwhelming and proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the jury's assessment that the evidence in aggravation is so substantial, when compared to the evidence in mitigation, so as to support the selection of the death penalty as the appropriate penalty is supported by the weight of the evidence.
In terms of credibility, this court agrees with the jury that the witnesses for the People were credible and believable. Penal Code Section 190.4 directs the judge to state on the record its reasons for its findings and its reasons for its ruling on this application and direct that they be entered into the court's minutes. The court has examined and reviewed all the evidence that was presented to the jury both in the guilt phase and in the penalty phase and, in making its determination as to the appropriate penalty, the court has examined the exhibits admitted into evidence, considered and taken into account the daily transcript of the proceedings, both in the guilty and in the penalty phase, the special circumstance issue, and the question of aggravating and mitigation circumstances concerning the selection of the appropriate penalty. The court has also reviewed its own personal notes relating to the evidence received as to both the guilt and penalty phase of the trial.
Judge Delucchi: From the evidence submitted at the guilt phase of the trial, the court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Scott Lee Peterson, is guilty of murder of the first degree as alleged in Count 1 of the Information, and the court is satisfied that the defendant is guilty of murder of the second degree as found by the jury in Count 2 of the Information, and that the special circumstance alleged therein is true beyond a reasonable doubt. The court has reviewed and independently taken into account and is guided by the following factors in aggravation and mitigation: The court has reviewed the circumstances of the crimes for which the defendant has been convicted and the existence of the special circumstance found to have been true by the jury, and the court independently finds and agrees with the jury that the circumstances surrounding the first degree murder of Dennis, of Laci Denise Peterson and Baby Conner Peterson were cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous. The court also finds that this murder, and the killing of Baby Conner Peterson, betrayed a trust between the defendant and the defendant's wife, Laci, who was bearing the defendant's son, Conner. The young boy Conner wasn't even permitted to take a breath of air on this earth.
Judge Delucchi: The court has further examined the evidence offered in the penalty phase by defendant and independently finds beyond a reasonable doubt there were no circumstances presented which extenuates the gravity of the crimes, whether or not it be a legal excuse. The court has reviewed and considered the testimony of the defendant's family members and other defense witnesses and has taken into consideration the fact that the defendant was a product of a loving, caring family and was well liked, was a hard worker, respected by his friends and relatives, has above average intelligence and is a productive member of society. The court is further aware that the defendant has no prior criminal record of any kind. However, the court does not independently find that these circumstances presented in mitigation extenuate the seriousness and gravity of the crimes.
The court further independently finds that the defendant's background is not a moral justification or an extenuating factor for his conduct. The court has also independently taken into consideration the age of the defendant at the time of the crimes and find that this is not a mitigating factor. The court has further taken into consideration any other circumstances which could extenuate the gravity of the crime, even though it not a legal excuse for the crime, and any sympathetic or other aspect of the defendant's character that the defendant has offered as a base for a sentence less than death whether or not related to the offense for which he is on trial, and finds that there are none which extenuates the gravity of the crime or mitigates the offenses accordingly and by independent review. The court further finds in evaluating the evidence in the penalty phase, in addition to the circumstances of the crimes for which the defendant was convicted, and considering the existence of the special circumstances found to be true and in consideration of the evidence offered by the defense in mitigation, that there are no factors in mitigation which will extenuate and mitigate the gravity of the crimes committed. Considering all of the evidence, and by independent review, the court's assessment is that the factors in aggravation are so substantial, when compared to the factors in mitigation, that death is warranted and not life without the possibility of protocol.
Therefore, the automatic motion for said modification of the verdict of death is denied. The court further orders a transcript be made of the court's reason for denying the automatic motion for modification of the jury's verdict of death and the reasons thereafter be entered on the court's minutes. Now, if there are any members of the victim's family who wishes to address the court, this is the time.