Peterson Jurors Discuss Trial, Sentencing
Aired March 16,
2005 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Death for Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife and unborn child. We're live from Redwood City, California, for reaction to the formal sentence.
New developments in the case of a missing Florida girl. Authorities are looking for a convicted sex offender. We're live on the story.
Preparing for terror. This is only a drill, but is America ready for a real attack? The Department of Homeland Security lays out some pretty scary scenarios.
From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips. This hour of CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.
Straight to the jury foreman just leaving the courtroom in the Scott Peterson formal sentencing phase. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that is it. Thanks.
QUESTION: Why did you come today?
ROCHELLE NICE, JUROR: Closure. We were in it for seven months. We wanted to see it through to the end.
QUESTION: Rochelle, why don't you step right to the center here?
QUESTION: Rochelle, it's hard to here you. Can you speak up a little bit?
NICE: We wanted to see it all the way through to the end. We've been here for seven months and we -- this is the next step, next phase. That's...
QUESTION: What did you think?
NICE: What did you think?
QUESTION: Hard to be in there.
QUESTION: Very hard.
NICE: Extremely hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who would you like to ask a question to, Rochelle?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rochelle, we have a question right here for you.
QUESTION: You said closure. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before?
NICE: No. No.
NICE: I didn't hear her question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said is there a thing where there could ever be closure?
NICE: No. No, never.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the closure is going to happen when we go...
QUESTION: OK. Hold on just a second. Step up and identify yourself if you would.
MIKE BELMESSIERI, JUROR: OK. Mike Belmessieri.
I think the only closure that's only going to happen is when we move on out of this world ourselves. You know, you're never going to forget about this if you've gone through it. And much like Sharon and everyone else, including the Peterson family, it's the only way you'll ever have full closure.
Now, will justice be served? He's got one appeal.
I certainly think we did everything right. I think the judge said that today.
We went in, and we saw last June an innocent man. We sat there, many of us -- I know I did -- saying, "What's this poor kid doing here?" Well, we found out what he was doing there, didn't we?
And it was all no emotion. It was all fact. So anybody who disagrees with the verdict, you have a right to disagree. But if you weren't there, you don't know.
QUESTION: Mr. Belmessieri, you were in -- you guys were in the best position to see Scott's face. Some of us in the back couldn't see. Could you describe some of his reactions?
BELMESSIERI: Well, I could...
NICE: He is a jerk. He is a jerk. And I have one comment for Scott. You look somebody in the face when they're talking to you.
BELMESSIERI: Well, Scott came in with a great big smile on his face, laughing. It was just another day in paradise for Scott, another day that he had to go through emotions. But -- he's on his way home, Scott figures.
Well, guess what, Scotty?
NICE: San Quentin's your new home.
BELMESSIERI: And it's illegal to kill your wife and child in California.
QUESTION: Could we hear from you?
BELMESSIERI: So that's the way that went down. Scott had no emotion on his face. Scott was being Scott.
QUESTION: Why is it necessary for you to come out and speak to the media?
BELMESSIERI: I think that it's necessary for people to understand what we all experienced. This is -- you know, being on a capital crime, especially one of this notoriety, is pretty tough.
But I think that, you know, we're not going to be the last jury that ever sits in a capital crime case. And I think people need to be better aware of what it's like to sit on these kind of cases.
It's emotional. It's difficult. It's difficult because every day you're looking at a man wondering what he's doing there. And you understand the ultimate is you're going to have to make a decision, and you'd better make the right one because you've got a victim's family there that will feel uncomfortable. You've got a defendant's family sitting there that's not going to feel right.
QUESTION: One more question.
BELMESSIERI: Yes, sir?
QUESTION: If you could impose the death penalty again, seeing what you've seen, the results since the verdict, would you do the same thing?
BELMESSIERI: Yes. That's the law. No desire to change it.
QUESTION: Scott's lack of emotion seemed to be very important, but that's not something that you're supposed to consider.
BELMESSIERI: No, it wasn't. It wasn't anything I considered personally, not anything at all.
QUESTION: It wasn't part of your decision?
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and were you concerned about that?
BELMESSIERI: You know, I'm not a judge. I'm not an attorney. I'm just a citizen like the rest of you, had a horrific responsibility. I would have just been disappointed because I may have felt that somehow we didn't fulfill the task that was assigned us somehow.
But I think what the judge did today clearly, says that we did the right thing. And our work is -- was for the right -- we did everything right.
You have indicated the process. And, you know, I've been told that this particular trial, when we came out after we said "guilty," I heard a big roar out here. I was really set back because I didn't hear -- I didn't see anything to cheer about.
And some of us had talked about that since then. And we all felt the same.
We just said a man was guilty of killing his wife and unborn child. That's a terrible thing. What's there to cheer about? This is a young man with a lot of his life ahead of him.
Well, now somebody explained to us that maybe that was a cheer for the system, that it really works. Well, it does really work. It does really work.
QUESTION: Give us your name. And then they'll ask you some questions.
Can you spell your name for us please, ma'am?
FAIRY SORRELL, JUROR: F-A-I-R-Y. It's good (ph) fairy, and that's what I am.
QUESTION: Can you talk about being here for this last process and why you came today?
SORRELL: To see the closure, to be here for the closure of what has taken place for the past seven and a half months. It's over.
QUESTION: What was it like for you to be in there?
SORRELL: It was very hard today to have someone to know that he's going to spend the rest of his life, perhaps, behind bars. That's not easy. Facing death row, that's not easy.
But I had to be here for the closure. And also for the Rocha family.
QUESTION: You saw Scott Peterson's face as you were sitting in the box. Can you tell us what it was like to see him hear these words?
SORRELL: The same way as the past seven months. His expression the same as it's been for the past seven months, no different.
QUESTION: And that expression is?
SORRELL: You don't want me to say.
QUESTION: Can you give me your reaction to the family's testimony today and his family's reaction? What was it like?
SORRELL: Touching, very touching. It's -- you have to sympathize with what the family's going through, and your heart goes out to them.
It's hard for them. It will continue to be hard for them. All we can do is pray for them, keep them in our prayers.
QUESTION: You mentioned that you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rocha family. Can you explain that and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
SORRELL: Both families experienced a loss here. The Petersons lost their son. Sharon Rocha lost her daughter and a grandson. That's hard.
And that's what I meant about that. They lost two persons. That's hard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for doing that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anybody else you'd like to hear from?
PHILLIPS: What you're seeing now are all the jurors in the Scott Peterson trial coming before the mics, talking to reporters. I'm going to continue to monitor this, and if another juror steps in, we'll of course listen and take it live. But probably to this point we've heard...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next up will be...
PHILLIPS: OK. We've heard from two of the jurors.
The jury foreman made quick comments. And we just heard from juror Fairy Sorrell. But just prior to Fairy, we heard from Mike Belmessieri, coming forward with some pretty powerful statements.
We heard about the things that were said inside the courtroom with Laci Peterson's family coming forward, saying their last words to Scott Peterson, very angry words, very emotional words. But the juror, Mike Belmessieri, said, "Was justice served? Yes, it was. I think we can say we did everything right."
Saying for Scott Peterson, "He walked in, business as usual, smiling, laughing." He said, "For Scott Peterson it was just another day in paradise."
Rochelle -- and Ted Rowlands, I'm going to help you for your help on names. I know you're kind of monitoring this. But I think the one juror, Rochelle -- and if you can -- and as you're watching them, let me know if you've got to go, Ted. But she actually came to the mic and was so furious, calling Scott names. She had to step away from the mic because it made her so mad. The last thing we heard from her is, "There you go, Scott. San Quentin is your next home. Enjoy it."
They seemed angry, very angry at Scott Peterson and relieved that this is over with.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think that today bolstered their opinions.
You know, after delivering the sentence of death, they talked about it. They were very emotional after that, when they addressed the media. Today you're seeing a much different attitude from these jurors.
They were in court today. They were weeping, along with many other members of the audience, when Sharon Rocha was addressing Scott Peterson and other family members. And you can see that now as they come out.
I think what they saw today, not only the perspective from the Rochas really laying it out on the line with other details, Sharon brought up some other incidents that nobody else knew about, about them being at her house on December 15, the last day that she saw her daughter Laci, saying that they toasted the new baby, and Scott made some reference to how happy he was.
And she said, "At that point you already knew you were going to kill my daughter. You know. I didn't know it. I didn't get another chance to talk to her."
So the jurors listened to this today, and then they watched Scott Peterson looking at most of the folks throughout, but also looking away. But he didn't waver. He kept that expressionless face on that he's had from the very beginning, and I think that bolstered their opinion. Not only their decision, but the fact that, in their mind, it was the right thing to do.
And I think that's what you're seeing right now just after this very, very emotional day in court.
PHILLIPS: We heard from three of the jurors there, Ted. From Fairy Sorrell, Mike Belmessieri. Tell me Rochelle's last time, the fiery redhead that we heard from first. What is her full name?
ROWLANDS: Well, her real name is Strawberry Shortcake, according to the media. But her name is Rochelle Nice.
And she has been the wildcard throughout this. During jury selection, people were sort of hoping she would get on the panel because she had so much character.
She has nine tattoos and four children. And that seemed to really resonate with the press, at least, because it broke up the mundane jury selection process. Her answers were off the cuff. And her personality is what you're seeing out here today. She does really say things as she sees them and has no problems articulating her opinion in different venues. So that is Rochelle Nice, and she is -- she was a member of the alternate panel, and she was put onto the jury after the second juror in this case was bounced off. She became a full-fledged member of the jury, and she had a part in the sentence -- of not only the sentence, but also on the guilt phase for Scott Peterson.
PHILLIPS: I'll remember the alias there, Strawberry Shortcake, Ted Rowlands. I won't forget her name now, and I definitely won't forget what she had to say. Ted Rowlands outside the courthouse there. Thank you so much.
Also there outside the courthouse, Chuck Smith, former prosecutor in Redwood City, California.
Chuck, I know Ted's working some interviews and getting more information. Bringing you back in.
Did you have a chance to hear from the jurors as well as they came out to the mics? And if so, what were your impressions? They seemed much more outspoken than the first time we heard from them.
CHUCK SMITH, FMR. PROSECUTOR: You know, they sure did. And what's, I think, significant to me, they are taking responsibility for their decision.
I mean, jurors in California sentenced someone to die. The judge didn't pass on their recommendation today. The judge approved their sentence. And to see them here, to see them accept responsibility, I think is good for the system.
You know, when the last execution that we had just a couple months ago, some of the jurors that sentenced that sentenced that man to die wrote letters to Governor Schwarzenegger saying, "We've changed our mind. We don't think he should die."
That's not uncommon. I wonder 25, 30 years from now if these people will have similar thoughts.
It's good to see them today take responsibility. Rochelle Nice is a tough-minded woman. She's not the typical prosecution juror. I was surprised they left her on. But their jury consultant did a great job, because she is a tough, tough, tough-minded woman.
PHILLIPS: Interesting. So as years have -- you've seen cases where jurors have felt very strongly about convicting somebody or sentencing somebody to death, and then later in their life change their mind and say, look, I was a juror on this case, and I'm older now, I'm wiser now, and I don't think it was right?
SMITH: That's not uncommon. It just happened the last execution that we had here, as I just described.
You wonder at times, as someone who does these kinds of cases, if jurors, when they sentence someone to death, do they believe that the reality of that is not really death because of all these factors we've spoken about, the length of appeals, the number of men on death row? Do they really believe that the person is going to die? Are they really taking responsibility?
You hope that they do. You hope that these people understand that if they make the decision that someone should die they should die.
The juror who just spoke a couple moments ago and spoke about, you know, San Quentin, well, they're not sentencing him to San Quentin. They're sentencing him to death. And I hope they understand that and, as I say, take responsibility for it because it is their decision that the judge affirmed today.
PHILLIPS: Former prosecutor Chuck Smith outside the courthouse, thank you so much.
If you're just tuning in, you're watching breaking-news coverage. We just heard from the jurors, and we already heard from the judge. Scott Peterson facing death now, lethal injection.
We'll be going to San Quentin within 10 days. We're expecting news conferences from the prosecution and Laci Peterson's family coming up. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
PHILLIPS: If you're just tuning in, we're continuing to follow our breaking-news coverage, in addition to other stories of the day. But right now I just want to bring you up to date that the judge in the Scott Peterson trial did come forward and formally sentence Scott Peterson to death.
He will be heading to San Quentin. He will die by lethal injection. Within 10 days or so we are told he will head over this by private security, a big concern with regard to security.
This is someone that our attorneys, our reporters have come forward and told us will be a target when he gets to San Quentin, that they are concerned about his security concerning all the details around this case, sentence for murder of his wife, unborn child. We heard from the jurors not long ago. They came to the mics, they came outside the courtroom.
Fiery statements from the jurors saying that if anybody questions this decision, they feel 100 percent they made the right decision. They are glad the judge supported their decision. They are taking responsibility for their decision, as they have asked the judge and come forward with their decision that Scott Peterson should die by lethal injection.
Scott Peterson, when he came to the courtroom, jurors saying he had a smile on his face, he was laughing. For Scott Peterson, "It was just another day in paradise."
Another juror coming forward and saying "Scott Peterson, you won't be smiling very much anymore. San Quentin will be your new home."
We're continuing to follow the story from outside the courthouse, from the jurors' perspective. We're expecting live news conferences with the prosecution. We should also hear from Laci Peterson's family.
They did speak in the courtroom today. Some pretty harsh words to Scott Peterson, specifically mom coming forward and saying, "I can't believe that you killed my daughter." I'm sure we'll hear more from the mother, the father, the sister and the brother of Laci Peterson.