Peterson Penalty Phase Delayed

The sentencing phase of Scott Peterson's murder trial was delayed Tuesday when the judge called a bartender and his lawyer into chambers. The bartender and lawyer Ian Loveseth were in Judge Mark Forcum's court on Tuesday. It wasn't known what they were discussing or what connection the bartender has to the trial. Testimony for the penalty phase had been scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. It was not clear whether the hearing was delayed until later Tuesday or pushed back to another day entirely. Peterson, of Modesto, Calif., was convicted Nov. 12 of killing his wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child. The same jury that convicted Peterson of two counts of murder will hear further testimony before deciding to recommend life in prison or a death sentence. The penalty phase is likely to be the most emotional part of the trial, with both the prosecution and the defense expected to try to pull at jurors' heartstrings. Photographs of Laci, heart-wrenching testimony from her mother, Sharon Rocha and a video of her funeral are all expected to be presented. Peterson's parents, Lee and Jackie Peterson, plan to take the stand in their son's defense. There's even been some speculation that Peterson himself could testify to try to convince jurors that he should live. The prosecution seeks the death penalty for Peterson, who was found guilty of first-degree murder for Laci's homicide and second-degree murder for that of her nearly full-term fetus. They are expected to call four witnesses and wrap up within a day or two. The defense, which is appealing the conviction, will ask the jury to spare his life, though his attorneys aren't allowed to suggest in the sentencing proceedings that Peterson is innocent. The jury will be sequestered during deliberations and will ultimately give its recommendation when it reaches its decision. The judge will issue the final sentence. On Monday, the state Supreme Court denied a petition by Peterson's defense lawyers to delay the penalty phase of the trial and seat a new jury in another county. Defense attorney Mark Geragos sought relief from the high court after the lower court judge, and subsequently an appeals court, denied his motion. Geragos filed a petition last week with the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking a delay for the penalty phase. He wanted the appeals court to overturn the lower court ruling that keeps the same jury on the case. Geragos claims that, among other things, the jury that found Peterson guilty is now tainted by public opinion. The appeals court denied his bid within hours of the filing. Judge Alfred A. Delucchi, the judge who oversaw the guilt phase of the trial, initially denied the motion. Geragos then sought relief from the appeals court. The defense attorney filed his petition with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, a day after the appeals court denial. Geragos claims Delucchi wrongly sent jurors home after they reached a verdict, exposing them to outside influences, instead of keeping the panel sequestered through the penalty phase. In his appeal for a new jury, Geragos also cited the ousting of two jurors in two days during deliberations, noting that one, the jury's foreman, told the judge other jurors had become hostile to him and he felt his decision would be compromised. Both ex-jurors remain bound by a gag order. The other juror was removed after she did her own research on the case, according to the motion, disobeying the judge's orders to consider only the evidence presented at the trial. Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and regular Peterson trial observer, said testimony from prosecution witnesses during the penalty phase "is limited to their loss in terms of Laci, what Laci meant to them and how her absence from their lives will hurt them." Horowitz said testimony will likely only come from Laci's immediate family members. Prosecutors will also show jurors photographs of Laci throughout her life, "the kinds of things Scott would have imagined he was robbing from the family," Horowitz said. Witnesses testifying on Peterson's behalf can speak about anything that might show the former fertilizer salesman in a favorable light as his attorneys try to convince jurors his life is worth sparing, Horowitz said. "It can simply be that Scott was a nice little child," Horowitz said. He said the judge has likely already ruled on evidence allowed in the penalty phase since attorneys on both sides must view the items before they are presented at trial. Meanwhile, the judge ruled Monday that jury instructions and the reading of the panel's sentence recommendation will be broadcast live on an audio feed. The judge will also allow still pictures to be made of Peterson while he issues his instructions.