REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - Jurors weighing Scott Peterson's fate ended their deliberations early on Friday, asking the judge if they could take a weekend break before resuming their life-or-death debate on Monday.
The same six-man, six-woman jury that found Peterson guilty Nov. 12 of murdering his wife and her fetus has been debating for about 8 1/2 hours since they received the case on Thursday.
About 3:30 p.m. Friday, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi called lawyers for both sides, meeting them in the hallway between his courtroom and his chambers. He could be seen putting a hand on the shoulder of prosecutor Dave Harris as he spoke.
Shortly after, he told a courtroom packed with media representatives that the jury had requested to leave early. They will continue to be sequestered in an area hotel over the weekend, where they aren't allowed to watch television or read newspapers and cannot discuss the case.
Legal experts who have been following the case speculated the prolonged debate means the jury isn't as unanimous as it was at the end of the trial's guilt phase.
"If they were close, they may not want to spend the weekend at the hotel," said Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. "They obviously are far away from making a decision."
The final 12 jurors deliberated just seven hours over two days before convicting Peterson of first-degree murder for the death of his wife and second-degree murder for the death of her eight-month-old fetus.
"They are fighting. They have to stop," said defense lawyer and trial observer Paula Canny. "The interesting thing about it is that they are willing to keep deliberating."
Prosecutors say the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman killed his wife in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body into San Francisco Bay. The remains of Laci and the fetus were discovered about four months later a few miles from where Peterson claims to have been fishing alone the day his wife vanished.
In an impassioned plea for mercy during Thursday's closing arguments, defense lawyer Mark Geragos begged jurors to spare his client's life.
"All that's being asked of you is to punish him with life without parole. Just don't kill him," Geragos said. "That's all I am asking of you. End this cycle. ... There does not need to be anymore death in this case."
Harris, the prosecutor, urged jurors in his closing arguments to recommend the ultimate sentence for Peterson.
"This is somebody who had everything and threw it away," Harris said. "He had a plan and he executed it."
He said Peterson only has himself to blame.
"The person that's responsible is right there, right there. That's the one that's responsible," Harris said. "Leaving his wife's body to rot on the bottom of the ocean. Leaving his son to be found as trash in the debris. ... That is not something that should be rewarded by sparing his life."
After a five-month trial, defense attorneys called 39 witnesses over seven days in the penalty phase. Prosecutors called just four of Laci's family members on the first day, Nov. 30.
If jurors are unable to agree on a sentence, prosecutors must decide whether to retry just the penalty phase or to accept a default sentence of life in prison.