Accused triple-murderer Shawn Peterson sat ready Tuesday morning to seal his own fate.
The deal was 65 years in prison for the horrific violence in 2013 that left his ex-girlfriend, their 18-year-old son and her 20-year-old daughter dead in their Gentilly garage.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro was there in the courtroom to bless a plea agreement that would have seen Peterson, 44, spend his 105th birthday behind bars.
But family members of Christine George, Leonard George and Trisa George just couldn’t stomach it, and neither would Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White.
The judge swiftly canned the deal, demanding that Peterson serve three life sentences or take his chances at a trial.
“For you to negotiate a number does not do justice to the three people you killed,” White told the defendant. “A life for a life, with you.”
After a pause in the hearing, Peterson rejected those terms — “No ma’am,” he said — drawing a rebuke from the bench.
“You’ll make a lot of people happy, sir, because they hope you’ll get the death penalty,” White said, though she acknowledged the chances of an Orleans Parish jury handing out a death sentence were “slim to none.”
The stalemate followed emotional testimony from family members of the three victims, who expressed anger at a plea deal that prosecutors first spelled out to them a few weeks ago. It called for Peterson to plead guilty to manslaughter and waive his rights to an appeal in exchange for the 65 years.
Christine George was a 39-year-old New Orleans police complaint operator when Peterson allegedly shot her and the two siblings.
“My family is broken up. I don’t have no sister. I’d like to just literally slap them for that 65. He don’t deserve 65. Nobody did him what he did to my family,” fumed Patrick Preston, an older brother of Christine George, from the witness stand. “Judge, I’m drinking today. I have not stopped drinking since my sister died.”
Preston, 49, then pointed a finger at Peterson.
“I would love to destroy your family — if I had the opportunity to do to your family what you did to my family,” he said, adding, “I hope you rot in hell.”
Another brother, Oliver George, said the family wants Peterson prosecuted on the first-degree murder charges he faces, come what may.
“He took my sister, took my niece and took my nephew. We feel that for three lives it’s not worth it. It’s not equal,” said George, 48. “We live with this pain every day. Every day. This man’s trying to beat the system again.”
With the deal scuttled, White set the next court date in the case for Jan. 22.
“The judge exercised her discretion in rejecting a plea deal that the district attorney believed to be an effective life sentence,” said Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, declining to further discuss the case.
Peterson’s lawyers with the Public Defenders Office, Christopher Murell and Anna Van Cleave, have pressed with some success to suppress evidence in the case — namely, two of three statements that Peterson made to police that White ruled inadmissible, finding police failed to read him his Miranda rights.
His attorneys also have sought to cast doubt on the NOPD investigation because of its broadcast on the reality crime TV series “The First 48.” At one point, they sought unaired footage from the show, hoping to uncover exculpatory evidence.
Police arrested Peterson shortly after the triple killing in the 4400 block of Jeanne Marie Place but released him soon afterward for lack of evidence before booking him on three murder counts a week later.
Peterson’s criminal record includes a guilty plea in 1995 to attempted murder, for which he received a 20-year sentence. In May, he was booked on possession of contraband in the Orleans Parish jail.
Preston, one of the brothers who testified, said his birthday, which falls near the date of the killings, reignites his anger over the crime every year. Outside the courtroom, he said he was baffled at the plea deal offer by Cannizzaro’s office and pleased that White rejected it.
“Now I don’t have to keep worrying about this. I can fix my family,” Preston said. “We’re not settling for that. I want the look on his face that he gave me when I found out my sister was dead.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.