Prosecutors to once again seek death penalty for Scott Peterson in 2002 murders of wife, unborn son

Scott Peterson’s death sentence overturned

MODESTO, Calif. — Scott Peterson, wearing a mask and a prison buzz cut, appeared via video Friday as Stanislaus County prosecutors announced in court that they intend to once again seek the death penalty for Peterson in the 2002 murders of his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son.

Assistant District Attorney Dave Harris, representing the state, told the judge that prosecutors intend to retry the penalty phase of Peterson’s 2004 murder trial.

The California Supreme Court in August struck down the former fertilizer salesman’s death sentence, citing “a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.” The court determined that 13 prospective jurors had wrongfully been dismissed based on their feelings about the death penalty.

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Scott Peterson is pictured in a 2018 mugshot. California prosecutors said Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, they will again seek the death penalty for Peterson, now 47, in the 2002 slayings of his pregnant wife and unborn son, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror.
Scott Peterson is pictured in a 2018 mugshot. California prosecutors said Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, they will again seek the death penalty for Peterson, now 47, in the 2002 slayings of his pregnant wife and unborn son, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

Pat Harris, part of Peterson’s original defense team led by attorney Mark Geragos, is serving as Peterson’s defense lawyer as his appeals continue to work their way through the judicial system, according to John Goold, a deputy district attorney and spokesman for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.

“He’s innocent. An innocent man’s been sitting in jail for 15 years,” Pat Harris told reporters outside the courtroom, according to The Associated Press. “It’s time to get him out.”

Peterson’s sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, told the press that the family is looking forward to Scott Peterson’s new day in court.

“We still need justice for Laci, Conner and Scott,” she said, according to the AP. “We don’t have justice for Laci with Scott on death row because Scott is innocent.”

Berkeley police officers and U.S. Coast Guard divers prepare to search for the body of missing pregnant woman Laci Peterson Jan. 11, 2003, in the San Francisco Bay near Berkeley, Calif. Peterson's husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted in 2004 of killing Laci, 27, and the couple's unborn son, whose bodies washed up on the shore of the bay in April 2003.
Berkeley police officers and U.S. Coast Guard divers prepare to search for the body of missing pregnant woman Laci Peterson Jan. 11, 2003, in the San Francisco Bay near Berkeley, Calif. Peterson's husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted in 2004 of killing Laci, 27, and the couple's unborn son, whose bodies washed up on the shore of the bay in April 2003. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Laci Peterson’s family, which includes her mother and her siblings, does not appear to have spoken out publicly about the developments in the case. Her stepfather, Ron Grantski, died in April 2018, and her father, Dennis Rocha, died that December.

Scott Peterson’s mother, Jackie Peterson, who steadfastly maintained her son’s innocence, died in 2013.

Scott Peterson’s next court date is Nov. 6.

Read the Aug. 24 court ruling overturning Scott Peterson’s death sentence below.

Peterson, now 47, is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in the killings of Laci Peterson, 27, and the couple’s unborn son, Conner, who went missing from the couple’s Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002.

Their remains washed up on the shore of San Francisco Bay, a couple of miles from where Peterson said he’d been fishing that day, nearly four months later. Conner’s umbilical cord was still attached to his body.

Peterson was convicted in November 2004 of first-degree murder in Laci’s death and second-degree murder in the death of the unborn child. Based on the jury’s recommendation, a judge sent him to San Quintin’s death row the following March.

Along with the state Supreme Court’s reversal of Peterson’s death sentence, the justices last week sent Peterson’s case back to San Mateo County Superior Court, where a judge will determine if he is entitled to a whole new trial.

Scott Peterson is pictured during his 2004 murder trial, at which he was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's unborn son. California prosecutors said Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, they will again seek the death penalty for Peterson in the 2002 slayings, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror.
Scott Peterson is pictured during his 2004 murder trial, at which he was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's unborn son. California prosecutors said Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, they will again seek the death penalty for Peterson in the 2002 slayings, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror. (The Modesto Bee via AP)

In last week’s order, the high court determined that Juror No. 7, Richelle Nice, “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

Peterson’s habeas corpus petition, which introduced evidence the defense alleges the trial judge did not have in 2004, argued 19 separate claims. It was the defense’s very first claim that caused the Supreme Court to demand a review of his case.

“Habeas investigation has revealed that before the prosecution had called even a single witness, Scott’s right to a fair trial had been compromised: a stealth juror had lied her way onto the jury,” the petition begins.

Nice, initially an alternate juror dubbed “Strawberry Shortcake” due to her bright red hair, failed to tell the court during voir dire that, four years before the trial, she had been the victim of a crime, Peterson’s lawyers argued. Nice ended up replacing a departing juror during deliberations.

She also denied ever having involvement in a lawsuit or participating in a trial as either a party or a witness, the defense argued.

Richelle Nice is seen at the San Mateo Superior Courthouse in Redwood City, Calif., in February 2005. Nice was a juror in the case of Scott Peterson, who was convicted in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's unborn son. The California Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, ordered a review of Peterson's conviction based on information Nice withheld during jury selection.
Richelle Nice is seen at the San Mateo Superior Courthouse in Redwood City, Calif., in February 2005. Nice was a juror in the case of Scott Peterson, who was convicted in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple's unborn son. The California Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, ordered a review of Peterson's conviction based on information Nice withheld during jury selection. (Getty Images)

“In fact, when Ms. Nice was four and one-half months pregnant in November of 2000, she and her unborn baby were threatened, assaulted and stalked by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend,” the petition states.

Nice — who, with several other jurors, would later write a book about the Peterson jury’s experiences — sued the woman who had threatened her and testified against the woman at trial, resulting in a criminal conviction and a three-year restraining order, the defense petition states.

“Juror Nice withheld all this evidence when directly asked during jury selection, even though such information was directly material to the capital trial where Scott was charged with killing of his unborn child,” the document states.

Read Peterson’s entire habeas corpus petition below.

Peterson’s attorneys argued that Nice, still angry over the perceived threat to her own child, sought to get on the jury because she wanted to see their client punished for the death of his son. As evidence of their claim, they pointed to jury deliberations, during which 10 of the jurors had decided against convicting Peterson of first-degree murder in the fetus' death.

Nice was one of two holdouts for first-degree murder. Peterson was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder for Conner’s killing.

“As Ms. Nice later described her role as a holdout, she asked her fellow jurors, ‘How can you not kill the baby,’ pointing to her own stomach,” the petition states. "She pleaded to her fellow jurors, ‘That was no fetus, that was a child.’

“And after trial, Ms. Nice took the extraordinary step of writing numerous letters to the man she helped put on death row, focusing repeatedly on what she believed he had done to his unborn child.”

Listen to Richelle Nice talk to the Modesto Bee in 2017.

Nice declined to comment on the issue last week, according to the Modesto Bee. In a 2017 interview with the newspaper, Nice said she did not lie to get on Peterson’s jury and accused his defense team of blowing her prior situation out of proportion.

“(The ex-girlfriend) never threatened to kill me, to kill my unborn child, to beat me up,” Nice said, according to the Bee. “When I filled out that questionnaire, my situation never came into my mind because it was not similar at all.”

The remainder of the 19 claims made in Peterson’s habeas petition were denied, 10 of them on their merits. The other eight claims were determined to be moot because they’d been addressed in Peterson’s direct appeal, which led to his death sentence being overturned.