REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) – 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 removed the juror, a man in his mid-40s who has medical and law degrees. He was replaced by an alternate whose future son-in-law owns a restaurant that Scott and Laci Peterson themselves once owned.

For the second day in a row, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi told the new panel to start over with its deliberations.

“You must therefore set aside all past deliberations and begin deliberating anew,” he said Wednesday. The jury finished deliberating for the day around 4 p.m.

The back-to-back removal of jurors is unusual but does not signal that the jury is either hopelessly split or moving swiftly toward a verdict, legal experts said.

The emotionally charged courtroom drama has become a national obsession, and some observers said jurors may be succumbing to the pressure of being in an intense and prolonged spotlight. They have endured a five-month trial and have been sequestered since deliberations began one week ago.

“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.

Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who has been periodically observing the trial, added: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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.

The trial started with six alternates, and Wednesday’s move leaves the jury pool with just three remaining alternates.

Jurors are deliberating whether Peterson, 32, killed his pregnant wife on or around Christmas Eve 2002 and dumped her weighted body in San Francisco 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.

The former fertilizer salesman faces up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

The trial has seen much jury-related drama this week. On Tuesday, a juror was removed for an unspecified violation of court rules. On Wednesday, it was the foreman.

The newest 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 restaurant in the town where Scott and Laci Peterson graduated from college. The future son-in-law worked for the Petersons when they owned the cafe after college.

The new foreman is a man who works as a firefighter and paramedic.

During the trial, he at times seemed uninterested in the proceedings, occasionally rolling 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.”

In another development adding to the trial’s circus-like 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.

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.

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 who put the boat there, but Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Frey, called it “disgusting.”

“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.”

AP-ES-11-10-04 2052EST

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