Scott Peterson, a 32-year-old fertiliser salesman, was unanimously sentenced to death by the jury that last month convicted him of killing his wife Laci and unborn son Connor, climaxing a two-year drama that has captured the attention of the media.

A crowd in front of the courthouse in Redwood City, northern California, cheered as the jury announced their decision.

Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of his son, despite no proof directly linking him to their deaths presented during the five-month trial.

The jury deliberated over their verdict for 12 hours over three days. They had two options in deciding his fate: life in prison without parole or death by injection. The judge will on February 25 decide whether to uphold the sentence or reduce it.

Peterson clenched his jaw when the verdict was read and leaned over to speak with his lawyer, but showed no other emotion.

Laci Peterson, a 27-year-old teacher, was eight months pregnant went missing on or around December 24, 2002, sparking a major search that was initially led by her husband.

Peterson claimed he had been out fishing when his wife disappeared, and a stranger abducted and killed her.

However he was soon suspected of involvement, and four months after her disappearance, Laci Peterson’s headless and limbless body washed up on a San Francisco beach.

“Scott Peterson was Laci’s husband, Connor’s daddy, the one person who should have protected them,” juror Richelle Nice told reporters, explaining the unanimous verdict of the jury.

Peterson’s celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos said the verdict would be appealed.

After leading the search for his missing wife, Peterson was arrested in April 2003 after dying his dark hair blond and driving hundreds of miles south toward Mexico, carrying $US15,000 cash.

Prosecutors alleged he killed Laci to escape the shackles of marriage and reclaim the life of a bachelor and to be with his mistress, masseuse Amber Frey.

Peterson did not testify at his own trial but his lawyers strongly denied he was responsible for the deaths.

Tapes of his amorous telephone conversations with his lover, even as search parties were hunting his wife, were played during the trial.

It is rare in California for a death sentence to be overturned, but also rare for them to be carried out, with only 10 executions held since capital punishment was brought back in 1978.

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