From the moment last April when Scott Peterson was taken into custody on charges that he murdered his pregnant wife, legal analysts feared that the overwhelming media coverage would shape the final verdict. Now, it is becoming clear that it almost certainly did, but in a way that few expected, according to an analysis in the Christian Science Monitor. The question of whether round-the-clock scrutiny by television shows and newspapers influence juries is as open and nebulous as ever. What the Peterson trial has shown – in a way that perhaps no other trial has shown before – is that the made-for-TV vigils and talk-show interviews generated by high-profile cases can of themselves become evidence that determines a case.
The prosecution, after all, had no murder weapon or cause of death. But its success in portraying Mr. Peterson as an inveterate liar – helped in no small part by Peterson’s pronouncements after his wife disappeared – may have proved decisive, legal experts say. It is a new legal lesson for the Media Age, when a false public performance can be as persuasive as a smoking gun. “This is a 21st-century trial,” says Paula Canny, a former prosecutor who has followed the Peterson case. “The gist wasn’t the murder weapon. It was the interviews the defendant did, and what he said to Amber Frey.”