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Male juror in Peterson murder trial is removed

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- A juror who was spotted talking to Laci Peterson's brother was removed from Scott Peterson's murder trial yesterday, but the judge denied a defense request for a mistrial.

Justin Falconer also admitted discussing with his girlfriend the media coverage of his brief exchange with Laci Peterson's brother last week, according to a transcript of a closed-door meeting with Judge Alfred A. Delucchi.

The judge, who had said after that meeting Monday that "there was no misconduct," did not specify yesterday why he dismissed the juror. Outside court, Falconer said the judge told him he had become a "distraction."

Peterson's attorney, Mark Geragos, demanded a mistrial, saying media coverage has tainted the case. Delucchi refused. "I've got a client who is on trial for his life," Geragos 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.

The scrutiny of Falconer began late last week, when he was taped joking with Brent Rocha, Laci Peterson's brother, that he was blocking television cameras at the courthouse's metal detector. Falconer also had been seen almost daily giving a nod and a slight smile to the defense table on his way to the jury box.

Freed to discuss the trial, Falconer, a 28-year-old airport screener said that he thought his exchange with Rocha was "all blown out of proportion" by the media and that he would have found Peterson not guilty 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." Falconer would not comment on what other jurors were saying about the case.

The juror's removal came just before Geragos launched into a caustic cross-examination of the detective who first investigated Laci Peterson's disappearance.

Defense attorneys assert that someone abducted her, then framed her husband after hearing his widely publicized alibi that he was fishing in San Francisco Bay when his wife disappeared.

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