An inmate in a federal prison in Kentucky describes prisoners' reactions to the Scott Peterson sentencing. After four years in the "free world," prison writer Dannie M. Martin was recently returned to federal custody for a parole violation. He is the co-author of "Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog" and the author of two published novels. He is currently in a federal prison in Kentucky.>
BY DANNIE MARTIN, PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
FCI MANCHESTER, Ky.--The jury's recommendation of death in the Scott Peterson trial probably came as a bigger shock to convicts then it did to people out in the street. Because of the total lack of forensic evidence, many of us in prison don't believe he got a fair trial.
At the same time, many here think he could be better off being sentenced to death than life without parole.
Because of the appeals process, some death row convicts have lived in excess of 20 years past their execution dates. Scott Peterson may live longer on death row than he would have serving life in prison, because of the dangers he would have faced in mainline lockups.
If Peterson had received a life sentence, he would have lived out his natural days with no privacy. He would be at the mercy of guards who thought he deserved the death penalty, not to mention violent sexual predators and schizophrenic psychopaths.
California prisons probably employ as many as 200 guards from the Modesto area, Laci Peterson's hometown. If I were Scott, I'd be grateful for the chance to stay further away from Laci's homeboys and what they could arrange for him.
Prisons are loud, noisy places that often during the day, and even at night, sound like gorilla cages at feeding time. These are places where you stand in line for everything, including all your meals. By contrast, on death row at San Quentin you can often hear a pin drop. Men and women on death row all have single cells, a privilege not found in mainline prisons. There are no lines, no jostling crowds and very little, if any, violence. Prison officials run a tight ship there.
As a member of the walking dead, Peterson may continue to have access to some of the finest legal talent in the nation. Some top lawyers will work pro bono in a death penalty case.
Of course, living on death row is nothing to look forward to. Peterson will be locked in his cell 23 hours a day, with just one hour for exercise. Every time he leaves his cell he'll be shackled and escorted.
Strangely, among the main obstacles to Peterson's eventual execution are the verdicts themselves. In California, first degree murder can be punished by death, life without parole, or 25-years to life sentences. But if "special circumstances" exist, only the first two sentences are options.
Murder for hire, murder during a commission of a crime, murder for personal gain, and other types of especially sinister killings have special aggravating circumstances that can warrant a sentence of death.
In Peterson's case, the jury found him guilty of first-degree with special circumstances only for the death of Laci Peterson. For Baby Conner Peterson, he was convicted of second-degree murder, which cannot be a capital offense. The problem legally is that if he planned to kill her, he would have known that Conner would also die. The baby's death would have been planned and, as such, would have been first-degree murder also.
With the second-degree verdict, the jury seemed to be saying that Peterson killed his pregnant wife, Laci, in a fit of anger, and Conner's death was a by-product of the violence. Yet by convicting him of first-degree with special circumstances, the jury evidently also bought the theory that he killed her in premeditation and/or for personal gain.
The bifurcated verdict, plus the fact there was no physical or forensic evidence, makes convicts look with a jaded eye at Peterson's judgment.
Something about the whole deal looks more like vigilanteism than a reasonable consensus of his peers.
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