Mock Trial: The Peterson Case

Will They Find Enough Evidence To Convict?

For an insider's look at how jury consultants work, a well-known New York consulting firm, DOAR, staged a mock trial for 48 Hours. The names and locations were changed, but the jurors were presented with the essentially same evidence as has made public so far in the Scott Peterson case. Correspondent Troy Roberts reports.


Playing the defense attorney is Sam Solomon, CEO of DOAR and a former rabbi. He says this is "as close to being a rabbi as possible. Looking at people's motivation as a clergymen is the same type of thing you do when looking at motivation to understand jurors. "

Solomon and his team of social scientists will scrutinize every word, every judgment, every facial expression of the people hired to play jurors.

For our mock trial, Jim Dobson, a sociologist, played the role of the prosecutor trying to pick the right jury. One prospective juror, Syria, was giving answers that troubled him.

Syria said: "I think even victims lie and contradict themselves constantly when they're trying to get their own story straight."

According to Dobson, "We would, in an ideal world, definitely eliminate Syria. She was extremely outspoken, bad for us. She could control a jury."

She's the defense's FAVORITE juror. They want to eliminate a retired police officer. For this exercise, they both stay.

"You can strike out the ones that you know are gonna be zealots for you," Dobson explains. "But after that, you have what you have. So then what do you do? Well, you try to craft a message that's going to hit them in a positive way."

The mock lawyers presented the case in shorthand, using a fictitious defendant named "Jack Stewart." The prosecutor highlights his affair: how he went fishing on a holiday; how he changed his appearance; how his wife's hair was on his boat. The defense argues the case is all circumstantial, and that police ignored other leads.

Solomon, acting as the defense lawyer, told jurors: "The police had blinders on."

After listening to arguments for more than an hour, the jurors began deliberating. A team of psychologists observed from behind one-way mirrors. Right away, one juror, a retired police officer, told the group the defendant was guilty.

He said: "With all this, if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, then it's a duck."

Another juror responded: "But an adulterer does not a murderer make."

During the discussion, Syria added: "If we were doing this on the street, I don't care whether he murdered his wife or not. He's cheating on his wife. Kill him!"

Another juror said: "I don't think I could send someone to jail for life or the death penalty based on this. It's circumstantial. And it's almost enough. But to me it's not enough. Because there's no proof."

One named Alex asked: "If you're talking about cold, hard evidence, what do they have?"

A male juror said: "There's no confession. There's no smoking gun."

One named Ernie said: "The main thing they didn't state was how she died. Maybe she fell off the boat."

Syria said: "If he was in the boat and the hair was on him, the hair got on the boat. That's logic. You know what I'm saying? I mean it happens. You know my hair comes out all the time."

Just as the jury consultants predicted, Syria was bad for the prosecution. She managed to convince the other jurors to disregard the DNA evidence.

Dobson says, "Frankly, if I was consulting for the prosecutor, I would recommend not even admitting the DNA evidence."

Then, to the consultants' surprise, the former police officer changed his mind during the mock deliberations.

He said: "I still think that he's probably guilty. Matter of fact, in my heart I know he's guilty. But to be fair there's not enough that the burden of proof was proven by the prosecutor."

The vote is taken: not guilty.

Says Solomon, "One of the reasons why asking individual people what they think about a case can be very misleading for attorneys is because there is something about the dynamic of the group-think. Everyone getting together and starting to share ideas ... what happens is they start to change and shift."

For the exercise, Syria says, "As a group we're not allowed our emotions – because our emotions cause conflict and cause all of us to fight. So in order for us to agree, our emotions and feelings had to leave and the facts had to stay. There wasn't enough to convict."

The case, says Dobson, "as currently presented is a toss-up Both sides could learn a lot in assessing the data that was gathered for how to better reshape both sides of the case."

Of course the real Peterson jurors may hear evidence that these jurors have not. Defense consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius was asked whether she had run a mock trial for this case.

"I think that's safe to say," she answered.

The outcome? Dimitrius had no comment.