REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - The Scott Peterson murder trial took yet another strange twist Wednesday when the judge removed the jury's foreman amid a week of pressure-packed deliberations - the second straight day that a juror was sent home.
The judge did not disclose why he dismissed juror No. 5., a man in his mid-40s who has medical and law degrees. He was replaced by an alternate whose future son-in-law now owns a restaurant that Scott and Laci Peterson once owned in San Luis Obispo.
The action follows the removal Tuesday of another juror who apparently did her own research on the case, violating the judge's order to consider only evidence presented at trial, a source with close knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
For the second day in a row, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the new panel they needed to start over.
"You must therefore set aside all past deliberations and begin deliberating anew," he said. The jury finished deliberating around 4 p.m. Wednesday and will take Veterans Day off before resuming Friday.
Meanwhile, attorneys gathered in the judge's chambers at the end of the day along with the lead investigator for the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. It was unclear if the meeting was related to the juror dismissals. The judge sealed the details of the closed-door session.
The back-to-back removal of jurors is unusual but may not be a signal that the jury is in disarray, legal experts said. It could mean just the opposite.
"We may have seen one group actually take over leadership of the jury, which could move things a lot faster than we would have had otherwise," said Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who has been periodically observing the trial. "I've never seen anything like this before."
The emotionally charged courtroom drama has become a national obsession, and some observers said jurors may be succumbing to the pressure of being in such an intense and prolonged spotlight.
"I think all the strange happenings with the jury can be attributed to the fact that they're in a pressure cooker. They know there will be a great deal of scrutiny no matter what decision they make," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.
Some jurors sat impassively, grim-faced, as Delucchi announced the latest change. Others were seen smiling slightly, and one even shook the new foreman's hand. They have endured a five-month trial and have been sequestered since deliberations began Nov. 3.
Wednesday's move leaves the jury pool with just three remaining alternates.
The new juror was questioned during jury selection about his distant connection with the Petersons, and attorneys on both sides agreed he would not represent a conflict.
His daughter is engaged to a man who owns the Shack restaurant in the town where Scott and Laci Peterson graduated from college. The son-in-law had worked for the Petersons when they owned the cafe and eventually bought it from the person the Petersons sold it to before the couple moved to Modesto, Laci Peterson's hometown.
Juror No. 6, a man who works as a firefighter and paramedic, was elected as the new foreman.
During the trial, he at times seemed uninterested in the proceedings. He occasionally rolled his eyes, specifically during the playing of tape-recorded conversations between Peterson and his mistress, Amber Frey.
"He was one of the jurors who seemed most bored during Amber Frey's testimony," said Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who has been observing the case. "He seems very mainstream, which is good for the prosecution."
Talbot disagreed, saying the new foreman could bode well for the defense.
"Juror No. 6 was probably one of the leaders of the defense faction, given his demeanor during the trial," he said. "And now it seems the faction of the jury in which Juror No. 6 was on has taken over leadership of the jury and it may not be in disarray at all. It may be heading for a verdict a lot faster than we thought."
Said San Francisco jury consultant David Graeven: "They went with somebody who seems a little less rigid."
Alternate jurors have been present throughout the trial in the jury box but have not been inside the jury room during deliberations. They have been sequestered along with regular jurors at an area hotel.
The previous foreman, Gregory Jackson, was himself an alternate, replacing a juror just three weeks after the double-murder trial began. Justin Falconer was dismissed in June for talking to Laci Peterson's brother.
Jackson's removal came a day after the ousting of juror No. 7, Frances Gorman. Jackson and Gorman remain under a court-imposed gag order, while Falconer has been free to speak publicly.
In another development adding to the trial's circuslike atmosphere, a boat identical to the one prosecutors allege Peterson used to dump his wife's body into San Francisco Bay turned up in a parking lot several blocks from the courthouse, attracting a parade of onlookers and media before it was towed away Wednesday night.
It is the same boat defense lawyers apparently used to conduct a videotaped experiment, during which they claim the boat nearly capsized and filled with water as they attempted to heave overboard an object weighing roughly the same as Laci Peterson.
The judge would not allow defense lawyers to show jurors the video during the trial.
Inside the boat, parked outside an office building being rented by the defense team, were numerous items, including a large bag filled with weights apparently intended to simulate Laci Peterson's 153-pound body.
It was unclear if defense lawyer Mark Geragos positioned the boat there, but Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Frey, called the move "disgusting."
"I think it's really disrespectful to the family of the murder victim, to see her portrayed in this way," Allred said, referring to the simulated body. "It's bad taste. It's sickening."
If jurors ultimately conclude that Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci, and her fetus on or around Dec. 24, 2002, they must decide whether he's guilty of first- or second-degree murder.
First-degree convictions, carrying the death penalty or life without parole, would mean jurors believe Peterson planned the killings. Second-degree murder convictions don't require a finding of premeditation and carry sentences of 15-years-to-life for each count.
Prosecutors claim Peterson killed Laci, then dumped her weighted body into the bay. The remains of Laci and the fetus were discovered a few miles from where Peterson claims to have gone fishing alone the day his wife vanished.