Laci Trial Screens Would-Be Jurors

Scott Peterson and the scales of justice over a faded photo of Laci Peterson
AP / CBS
Nearly 100 potential jurors in Scott Peterson's double-murder trial began answering questionnaires Thursday about their views on the death penalty and their opinions on extramarital affairs.

The judge started the day by introducing the defendant. "This is Mr. Peterson," said Judge Alfred A. Delucchi as the prospective jurors sat in the courtroom gallery.

"Hello, good morning," said Peterson with a slight smile as he stood to greet them.

The nearly 30-page questionnaire given to the prospective jurors also includes such questions as whether they read Field and Stream, what did they know about boats, what stickers grace their car bumpers and whether they have lost a child.

If convicted, Peterson faces the death penalty, so the questionnaire also asks whether they are comfortable with sentencing a person to death even if the crime is the defendant's first offense. Peterson has no criminal record.

Delucchi said jurors would not be sequestered and warned that those who are selected should not discuss the case. He said the jury would "be asked to look at some very graphic photographs" during the trial.

Jurors will be chosen from a pool drawn from a combination of the county's approximately 327,000 registered voters and about 509,000 licensed drivers, according to the court.

Since the trial could last up to six months some of the jurors claimed financial hardship and were sent home, reports CBS' Chris Lawrence.

Authorities allege Peterson, 31, murdered his wife in their Modesto home on Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body from his boat, all because he was having an affair with a massage therapist. He claims he went fishing the day she disappeared.

Over defense objections, once the jury is seated, they'll hear wiretapped phone calls to Peterson's first attorney and details gathered by scent-sniffing dogs. Prosecutors say police dogs picked up Laci's scent in several places after she disappeared, including the marina where Peterson launched his boat. But some legal experts say that since they lived together, the scent could have come from her husband s clothing.

In an effort to put prospective jurors at ease, Delucchi said he would allow them to be questioned individually, out of the presence of other potential jurors.

"The absence of an audience should make the process more relaxed," said David Graeven, president of the San Francisco-based Trial Behavior Consulting. "It also prevents the pollution or contamination of the panel."

Jury selection is expected to take at least a month. Lawyers on both sides have hired consultants to advise them about which jurors may help or hurt their case. Legal analysts say prosecutors will be looking to accept grandparents or teachers while the defense will favor men.

"If I'm Mark Geragos I select jurors who drink, hang out with the guys -- yeah Joe may have an affair, I don't, but that doesn't mean he killed his wife," legal analyst Daniel Horowitz said.