A jury decided Monday that Scott Peterson should be executed for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, whose Christmas Eve disappearance two years ago was the opening act in a legal drama that captivated the nation.
Cheers went up outside the courtroom as the jury announced its decision after 11 1/2 hours of deliberations over three days. The jury had two options in deciding the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman's fate: life in prison without parole or death by injection.
Judge Alfred A. Delucchi will formally sentence Peterson on Feb. 25. The judge will have the option of reducing the sentence to life, but such a move is highly unlikely.
Peterson clenched his jaw when the verdict was read but showed no other emotion.
In arguing for death, prosecutors called Peterson "the worst kind of monster" and said he was undeserving of sympathy. The defense begged jurors to "go back there and please spare his life."
The decision came almost two years to the date after the disappearance of Laci Peterson, a 27-year-old substitute teacher who married her college sweetheart and was soon to be the proud mother of a baby boy named Conner. The story set off a tabloid frenzy as suspicion began to swirl around Scott Peterson, who claimed to have been fishing by himself on Christmas Eve and was carrying on an affair with a massage therapist at the time.
The remains of Laci and the fetus washed ashore about four months later, just a few miles from where Peterson claims to have gone fishing in San Francisco Bay. The case went to trial in June, and Peterson was convicted Nov. 12 of two counts of murder.
All the while, the case never stopped making headlines.
The case graced more People magazine covers than any murder investigation in the publication's history. Court TV thrived during the case, providing countless hours of coverage on the investigation and gavel-to-gavel commentary throughout the trial. CNN's Larry King hosted show after show with pundits picking apart legal strategies, testimony and even Scott Peterson's demeanor.
Trial regulars showed up by the hundreds to participate in the daily lottery for the coveted 27 public seats inside the courtroom.
Peterson will now be sent to death row at San Quentin State Prison outside San Francisco, the infamous lockup where prisoners gaze out small cell windows overlooking the same bay where Laci Peterson's body was discarded.
Peterson still might not be executed for decades, if ever. That is because California's death row has grown to house more than 640 condemned men and women since the state brought back capital punishment in 1978. Since then, only 10 executions have been carried out. It can take years for even the first phase of the appeals process to begin.
California's last execution was on Jan. 29, 2002, when Stephen Wayne Anderson — described by supporters as the poet laureate of Death Row — was put to death by lethal injection for the Memorial Day 1980 murder of 81-year-old Elizabeth Lyman during a break-in at her home.
As many as three murderers face possible execution in 2005, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Margot Bach.