November 09, 2004 04:00 PM

A juror was dismissed and replaced by an alternate in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial Tuesday, forcing the panel to start deliberations from scratch.

In a brief decision before the jury and attorneys, Judge Alfred A. Delucchi said, “We had to replace a juror,” adding that the panel must now “set aside all past deliberations.”

Tuesday was the fourth day of deliberations.

There was no further comment about why juror No. 7, a female retired gas and electric company employee, was dismissed. But earlier Tuesday the judge held a hearing to investigate whether one of the jurors had conducted research into the case, which is prohibited.

Paula Canny, a longtime California defense attorney, tells PEOPLE, “If they follow the judge’s instructions, they can’t reach a decision any time soon.”

Only the day before, the judge lectured the six men and six women of the jury about remaining objective in reaching their decision. The jurist s comments came after a swirl of rumors that the jurors had reached a stalemate in the case.

“The people and the defendant are entitled to the individual opinion of each juror,” Delucchi said on Monday. “Do not hesitate to change your opinion for the purpose of reaching a verdict if you can do so.”

After Delucchi s lecture, jurors were asked to review numerous pieces of evidence. These included tidal charts seized from Peterson’s computers; an anchor found on Peterson’s boat that prosecutors allege is similar to the ones he used to sink his wife’s body; and transcripts and recordings of calls between Peterson and his mistress, massage therapist Amber Frey.

Also requested was information regarding a life insurance policy on Laci Peterson.

Peterson is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Laci, and her unborn child. Prosecutors contend that Peterson killed his wife around Dec. 24, 2002, in their Modesto, Calif., home, then dumped her weighted body from his boat into San Francisco Bay.

Should the jury convict Peterson, they will have two choices before them: first- or second-degree murder. The latter would spare him the death penalty.

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