As of Monday morning there is still no verdict. Daily News
If found guilty does the court or the jury have much sentencing discretion? According to the current criminal code, it looks like the only possible sentence on either count is life without parole. Section 209a of the Calif. Penal Code prescribes life without parole in any kidnapping case in which the victim is held and detained or held for ransom if the kidnapping results in death of the victim. kidnapping code This would be true even if the jury does not necessarily believe Bill Cooks testimony that he did get a ransom note, which was subsequently lost. However, if the Penal Code in 1976 prescribed or allowed a lesser sentence, that code would apply. I'm not a lawyer and that would be beyond my couch potato research ability.
On the murder count, if the jury convicts and finds special circumstances, the only possible sentences are life without parole and death, but the prosecution has said it will not seek the death penalty. Section 190.2 of the Cal. Penal Code defines most of the special circumstances. special circumstances (scroll down) The one that would certainly apply to this case is number 10. The victim was killed to keep him from talking. Also, number 1, that the victim was killed for financial gain, would apply if the jury believes that they were trying to get money from the Cook family. Again, if the law was different in 1976, the penalty could be different.
Would Nelson actually stay in prison until he is taken out feet first? Since the law giving the court the option of death or life without parole was enacted, I don't think anyone has been released. Governor Gray Davis didn't even release anyone with a 25 to life sentence, for fear of being attacked as a liberal wuss. However, I wouldn't count on it. The state is under a court order to reduce the prison inmate population and one report recommends that people who have served 20 years and are over 60 years old be considered for release even if their crime was murder (but not sex predators). I'm not optimistic about the California economy, and it is likely that the prison problems we have now will be as bad or worse in 20 years.
Another possibility is that the court will offer Nelson a post-conviction deal to testify against Suzanne Aubrey and any other possible defendants. This would make sense for the prosecution, because their case against Aubrey is not as strong.