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California court order gives Scott Peterson hope for new trial in pregnant wife’s murder

Posted/updated on: October 15, 2020 at 12:24 pm
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DNY59/iStockBy BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News

(SAN FRANCISCO) — The California Supreme Court has ordered a review of Scott Peterson’s murder conviction, nearly 16 years after the unfaithful husband was found guilty of killing his pregnant wife and unborn child.

The state’s highest court announced on Wednesday that it’s sending Peterson’s case back to the San Mateo County Superior Court to reexamine and determine if it should be overturned, granting a new trial.

The state Supreme Court found merit in a petition for habeas corpus Peterson’s lawyers filed in 2015, arguing his conviction should be tossed because one of the jurors who voted in 2004 to convict him failed to disclose she had been the victim of a crime. In the 2000 lawsuit, the juror, identified in court papers at Richelle Nice, alleged her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend “committed acts of violence against her” and prompted “fears for her unborn child.”

“Mr. Peterson will be blunt. There is nothing in the record to support the state’s explanation as to why Ms. Nice gave false answers. Nothing,” Peterson’s lawyers argued in their petition.

In her voir dire questionnaire, Nice claimed she had never been the victim of a crime, nor involved in a lawsuit.

Prosecutors countered that Nice, who went on to publish a book with other jurors on their experiences in the Peterson case, simply made an honest mistake by not realizing her petition for a restraining order was “technically” a lawsuit.

Peterson’s family issued a statement Wednesday praising the Supreme Court’s decision.

“As the court takes a closer look, we are confident they will find enough evidence to warrant a reversal of Scott’s conviction,” the statement read. “We look forward to Scott being granted a new trial in the coming months.”

It is not clear how long the lower court will have to review Peterson’s conviction and decide whether to grant a new trial.

The decision by the state Supreme Court comes a little over a month since the same court overturned the death penalty sentence imposed on Peterson, ruling that “the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under longstanding United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”

Peterson, a former fertilizer salesman from the Central California town of Modesto, was tried in San Mateo County near San Francisco after he was granted a change of venue when his lawyers argued he could not get a fair trial in his hometown because of a “lynch-mob mentality” allegedly whipped up by negative media coverage.

He was convicted in November 2004 on one count of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Laci Peterson — nearly 8 months pregnant at the time of her death — and one count of second-degree murder for killing their unborn son.

One of the key prosecution witnesses to testify against Peterson was his former mistress, Amber Frey, who said Peterson masqueraded as a single person. When Frey, a massage therapist, learned Peterson was being investigated in the disappearance of his wife, she agreed to cooperate with investigators and recorded her phone calls with Peterson in which she confronted him about lying to her about being a widower.

“I deserve to understand an explanation of why you told me you lost your wife and this was the first holiday you’d spend without her? That was December 9th you told me this, and now all of a sudden your wife’s missing? Are you kidding me? Did you hear me?” Frey was heard saying in wire-tapped recordings.

Peterson, who actively participated in the search for his wife, responded to Frey: “I know you deserve an explanation. And I want to give you one. I, I can’t now. I mean, you don’t understand.”

Prior to his arrest, Peterson went on national television to deny involvement in his wife’s disappearance, telling ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that he told his wife about his affair and that he feared she had been murdered.

“Yeah, I mean, that is a possibility. It’s not one we’re ready to accept and it creeps into my mind late at night, and early in the morning,” he told Sawyer at the time.

Peterson reported his wife missing on Christmas Eve of 2002. Her badly decomposed body and that of her unborn baby were discovered on April 14, 2003, after washing up on the shores of the San Francisco Bay near where Peterson told investigators he had gone fishing on the day his wife vanished.

During Peterson’s trial, prosecutors alleged he killed Laci Peterson in their Modesto home and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay.

Peterson, who is serving a life sentence at San Quentin State Prison, has maintained his innocence throughout.

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