REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - A juror who was spotted talking to Laci Peterson's brother was removed from Scott Peterson's murder trial on Wednesday, but the judge denied a defense motion for a mistrial.
Juror No. 5 admitted discussing with his girlfriend the media coverage of his exchange with Laci Peterson's brother, according to a transcript of a closed-door meeting with Judge Alfred A. Delucchi. The judge did not specify why he dismissed the juror.
"You're not to listen to, watch or read any media reports of this trial," Delucchi admonished the panel before selecting an alternate to take the juror's place.
Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, demanded a mistrial, saying media coverage has tainted the case.
"I've got a client who is on trial for his life," he said. "I think it's an outrage what is going on in this case."
Peterson, 31, is accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumping her body from his small boat into San Francisco Bay. He told police he went fishing that morning and returned to an empty house.
Outside court, the ousted juror identified himself as Justin Falconer, 28, an airport screener, and said he would have found Peterson innocent if asked to deliberate the case now.
"He'd be innocent because the prosecution hasn't given us any reason to believe otherwise so far," he said. "Yeah he lied about a couple of things that we saw in there but I haven't seen anything to make me believe that he committed this crime."
The judge didn't specify why he dismissed Falconer, but Falconer told reporters Delucchi suggested he was removed because he had become a "distraction."
That was an apparent reference to the incident last week in which Falconer briefly exchanged words with Laci Peterson's brother at the courthouse's metal detector.
Delucchi subpoenaed video footage but concluded the juror did nothing wrong by joking with Brent Rocha that he was blocking television cameras from getting an unobstructed shot - a story Rocha corroborated.
The juror had also been seen almost daily giving a nod and a slight smile to the defense table as he passed by on the way to the jury box.
His removal came just before Geragos launched into a caustic cross examination of the detective who first investigated Laci Peterson's disappearance.
Prosecutors allege that Peterson, 31, murdered his pregnant wife in their Modesto home on or around Dec. 24, 2002, then dumped her body into San Francisco Bay. Defense lawyers assert that someone abducted her, then framed her husband after hearing his widely publicized alibi.
After a few minutes of the cross examination of Detective Allen Brocchini, the judge recessed for lunch so that "everybody can calm down."