On Monday, the California Supreme Court threw out the death penalty sentence for Scott Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his 8 ½ months pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son in 2002 and was sentenced to death in 2005.
Justice Leondra Kruger wrote, “Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case. We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,” but added, “Before the trial began, the trial court made 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.”
“Jurors may not be excused merely for opposition to the death penalty, but only for views rendering them unable to fairly consider that penalty in accordance with their oath,” Kruger continued, as the Los Angeles Times noted. “As the present case demonstrates, an inadequate or incomplete examination of potential jurors can have disastrous consequences as to the validity of a judgment.”
“Peterson, now 47, also claimed on appeal that he couldn’t get a fair trial because of the massive publicity that surrounded his case, even though his trial was held nearly 90 miles away from his Central Valley home of Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco,” Fox News reported.
On Christmas Eve, 2002, Peterson called Laci’s mother Sharon Rocha, asking if his wife was with her, claiming he had spent the day fishing but that when he returned home his wife’s car was in the driveway.
What followed was a massive hunt for Laci; law enforcement pursued nearly 10,000 tips. At first, Peterson was not under great suspicion from Laci’s family, but that changed after a massage therapist named Amber Frey informed police she had dated Peterson. She then made numerous phone calls talking with Peterson while police recorded their conversations. Frey, a single mother, told police that Peterson told her on December 9, two weeks before Peterson’s disappearance, that he was a widower.
In 2017, Frey recalled the conversations she had had with Peterson, saying, “Seeing this woman, knowing she’s missing [and] she’s pregnant … Being a mother … at that point, it wasn’t about me. It was about finding this woman.”
On April 13, 2003, a couple walking their dog found the decomposing body of an unborn male child in Richmond Point’s Isabel Shoreline park; the next day someone found the body of a pregnant woman, wearing beige pants and a maternity bra, on the eastern shoreline of the San Francisco Bay. On April 18, 2003, DNA tests showed the bodies belonged to Laci and her unborn son, whom she and her husband had said would be named Conner.
“Laci Peterson’s head and parts of her limbs were missing and plastic tape was wrapped around the neck of her child, according to the full autopsy and coroner’s photographs exclusively seen by ABCNEWS,” ABC News reported in 2006. Forensic pathologist Dr. Brian Peterson said during Scott Peterson’s double murder trial that though the two bodies washed ashore within days of each other, Conner’s was more intact because he was protected by Laci’s uterus, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Peterson has always said he is innocent.