Evidence Becomes Shrine To Laci
Deliberations Set To Resume Friday
POSTED: 11:47 am PST November 11,
UPDATED: 6:11 pm PST November 11, 2004
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- A publicity stunt by Scott Peterson's attorney apparently intended to sway public opinion in favor of Peterson's innocence backfired when it became a focal point of sympathy for the victims, experts said Thursday.
While deliberations went on this week, the drama shifted from the courtroom to a parking lot a few blocks away where attorney Mark Geragos parked a boat the defense had hoped to use to persuade jurors that Peterson couldn't have dumped his wife's body overboard into San Francisco Bay without capsizing.
The boat and its contents -- coveralls stuffed with weights representing Laci Peterson's corpse with concrete anchors tied to the arms and legs -- quickly became a makeshift shrine, with candles, flowers and hand-lettered signs reading "Rot in Prison" and "Justice for Laci and Conner." Hordes of onlookers gathered around, some even kneeling, praying and weeping before the boat was towed away Wednesday night.
"The last thing he would have wanted is to make people think of Laci when they see that boat," said Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School and a regular trial observer.
The boat was placed there Monday after jurors viewed the actual boat prosecutors allege Peterson used to dump his wife's body. After the viewing, Geragos sought a mistrial, claiming jurors violated the judge's order by doing "a juror experiment" when several of the panelists got inside the boat and rocked it from side to side. The judge quickly denied the motion.
As an alternative, Geragos asked the judge to be allowed to show jurors a videotaped experiment performed by the defense during which the replica boat apparently filled with water.
Defense lawyers have argued it would have been nearly impossible for Peterson to have heaved his wife's 153-pound body over the edge of the boat, as prosecutors contend, without tipping.
The judge would not allow jurors to view the tape.
An engineer from the company that makes the 14-foot Gamefisher boat testified in July that the vessel doesn't capsize easily and passed all U.S. Coast Guard tests.
However, David Weber, vice president of engineering for Missouri-based Lowe Boats, acknowledged under cross-examination that standard buoyancy tests weren't performed under the exact conditions under which prosecutors allege Peterson dumped the body.
In an apparent attempt to skirt the court-imposed gag order, Geragos parked the replica boat in the lot of a nearby office building he owns, directly across the street from where many network television station crews are camped for the trial.
It was yet another bizarre twist to the case that has seen two jurors dismissed this week during deliberations.
Legal experts said the move clearly backfired. And apparently, Geragos got the picture because the boat was removed. The shrine, however, continued to grow in its place. By Thursday morning, flowers had been positioned on the ground to spell out "SO GUILTY."
Several hours later, nothing remained in the lot but a few scattered yellow rose petals, half-burnt candles and a soggy red and blue bow. The flowers had been tossed in a trash bin on the lot.
"The message of the boat was supposed to be that Scott didn't do it and to reach the community by showing this evidence that wasn't allowed at trial and trying to get community sympathy for Scott," said Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who has observed the trial. "What it brought up was how strongly people feel about Laci's death and how, generally, the community feels like Scott did it.
"It sure did backfire," Talbot added.
Goldman, who once taught Geragos at Loyola, speculated the flamboyantly outspoken attorney was simply expressing frustration.
"Mark likes to throw tantrums and that might be what he's doing because the judge wouldn't allow him to show jurors the tape," Goldman said. "It could have been crucial to his case."
Neither Talbot nor Goldman thought the stunt would have much affect on the jury, given that they are sequestered and tightly guarded. However, the judge could view it as a violation of the gag order.
"The gag order has to do with speech but there are many forms of speech. Even dancing can be considered speech," Talbot said.
"And this definitely could be interpreted as a form of speech and a violation of the order not to talk about the case."
The judge could find Geragos in contempt of court if he thinks he violated the gag order. Such a charge could bring penalties including fines or jail time, though incarceration would be unlikely, Talbot said.
Peterson faces two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Laci, and the fetus she carried. Deliberations were set to resume Friday.
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