Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Role of Emotion in Jury Verdicts ; Peterson Case Shows How Jurors Can Make Decisions, Even about Death Penalty, Based on Personal Demeanor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Role of Emotion in Jury Verdicts ; Peterson Case Shows How Jurors Can Make Decisions, Even about Death Penalty, Based on Personal Demeanor

Article excerpt

Since they reached their decision earlier this week to recommend the death penalty for Scott Peterson, the jurors in his trial have made it clear that there was no single piece of evidence that made up their minds - either to convict or to condemn him to death. Yet, time and again, several have returned to one crucial point: Throughout the trial, Peterson never showed the slightest hint of grief, remorse, or sadness.

They are comments that set the legal world on edge. To be sure, juries have always watched defendants during their trials - reading meaning into every tic and tantrum. But with so little solid evidence in the Peterson case, his demeanor seems to have played an unusually prominent role in the jury's decisions.

Although the high profile of the Peterson trial makes it unique in many ways, legal experts worry that the emphasis on emotion here reveals a more fundamental shift in juries nationwide, as Americans increasingly weigh "Law and Order" acts of contrition as much as actual evidence.

"The drama of the courtroom and how you evaluate it is important," says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who has been following the trial. "That has always been a part of the equation, but I've never heard it articulated as clearly as by this jury.... This case highlights it."

Apparently, it was particularly true during the penalty phase of the case, which ended on Monday with the jury's decision to recommend death for Peterson for the murder of his wife and unborn child. In a press conference following the trial, a panel of three jurors mentioned Peterson's stoicism during the proceedings, suggesting that it would be unnatural for an innocent man to behave that way. "The witnesses [for Peterson during the penalty phase] meant nothing because the jury was looking at Peterson," says Professor Levenson. …

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