Peterson Jury Pool Is Shrinking

murder suspect Scott Peterson, 1-20-04
The hardship of what could be a six-month trial is quickly reducing the jury pool in Scott Peterson's murder case, with two-thirds of the 600 potential panelists brought into court so far dismissed.

San Mateo County court officials said Thursday that 404 potential jurors have been dismissed because serving would unreasonably disrupt their lives. Jury experts said that given the anticipated length of the trial, the number was not unusually high.

"But what it means," jury consultant Ed Bronson said, "is you hardly have a good cross-section of the community that will be left."

Peterson, 31, could face the death penalty if convicted of killing his pregnant wife.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and the couple's unborn son were discovered in April on a San Francisco Bay shoreline, near where Scott Peterson said he went on a solo fishing trip the morning his wife vanished. Authorities allege Peterson killed her Dec. 24, 2002 because he was having an affair, then dumped the body in the bay.

Jury selection began last week, and by Thursday afternoon, about 1,000 residents had filled out extensive questionnaires. Lawyers will review those forms to help decide which 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected.

Both sides probably can agree on 18 acceptable jurors or alternates if 300 to 400 candidates are left from the initial 1,000 called to court, said jury expert David Graeven of Trial Behavior Consulting in San Francisco.

Judge Alfred A. Delucchi has recessed court until March 22 to give attorneys time to review the questionnaires. When court reconvenes, attorneys will begin questioning prospective jurors individually. Each side has 20 chances to dismiss potential panelists without explanation.

Delucchi said Thursday he will keep the questionnaires sealed from the public in an effort to shield potential panelists from media scrutiny, although jurors do not write their names on the forms. An attorney representing various California newspapers, as well as The Associated Press, filed a motion Wednesday seeking access to the forms.

The case moved from Modesto to Redwood City after a judge in Stanislaus County ruled an impartial jury could not be found in the couple's hometown. Defense attorneys have said they probably will seek to move the case again because of saturation media coverage.

By Brian Skoloff