San Francisco, CA – Scott Peterson’s death penalty sentence was overturned on Monday, more than 15 years after he allegedly murdered his pregnant wife and dumped her body into the San Francisco Bay.
Laci Peterson, 27, was four weeks away from giving birth to her son, Conner, when she disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Prosecutors told the rial jury in 2004 that Laci Peterson was either suffocated or strangled by her husband, who then wrapped her in a blue tarp, attached anchors to her body, and dumped her off of his boat into the San Francisco Bay.
Scott Peterson, 47, was convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2005, The New York Times reported.
The California Supreme Court upheld the conviction on Monday, but ruled that Scott Peterson’s right to an impartial jury was hindered by mistakes made by the trial judge, according to the paper.
“We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,” the court ruled. “But before the trial began, the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection.”
The court determined that the trial court “erroneously dismissed many prospective jurors” who expressed opposition to the death penalty on written questionnaires, “even though the jurors gave no indication that their views would prevent them from following the law,” according to The New York Times.
In fact, the jurors “specifically attested in their questionnaire responses that they would have no such difficulty,” the court noted.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who represented Scott Peterson during his murder trial, said that dismissing the prospective jurors resulted in “a jury with a pro-prosecution bent,” The New York Times reported.
Geragos further argued that the entire conviction should have been overturned.
“If you say that jury selection is fundamentally flawed, how can you say that the guilty verdict is not fundamentally flawed?” he asked.
Prosecutors are free to seek the death penalty again during a new sentencing hearing, the court added.
Scott Peterson claimed he was fishing in Berkeley on the day Laci Peterson disappeared, and said that he left his pregnant wife at their Modesto home, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son washed up in San Francisco Bay four months later, just miles away from where Scott Peterson said he had been fishing.
Conner’s umbilical cord was still attached when his body was discovered by a dogwalker.
Prosecutors alleged that Scott Peterson murdered his wife so he could continue his relationship with his mistress, Amber Frey, The New York Times reported.
Frey said that when she and Scott Peterson began dating in November of 2002, he had told her he was unmarried.
But as news of Laci Peterson’s disappearance spread and the search for the missing woman made national headlines, a friend alerted Frey that the man she was dating was involved in the case, The New York Times reported.
Frey contacted investigators and told them that Scott Peterson told her in early December that his wife had recently died, according to court records.
She subsequently helped investigators by recording various phone conversation she had with Scott Peterson, the Los Angeles Times reported.
When police arrested him in San Diego County on the murder charge, he had changed his appearance and was carrying $15,000 in cash, according to court documents.
Geragos claimed during the trial that strangers framed Scott Peterson for his pregnant wife’s murder.
Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Goold told the Los Angeles Times that prosecutors have not made a decision regarding how they will proceed.
They may try to seek the death penalty again, or they could agree that Scott Peterson’s sentence should be commuted to life without parole.
“We are going to have to review the decision and get together with the victim’s family before any decision is going to be made,” Goold said.
Frey said she was “relieved” to learn that the California Supreme Court did not overturn Scott Peterson’s murder conviction, FOX News reported.
Deciding whether or not to retry the convicted killer’s penalty phase should be left up to Laci Peterson’s family, Frey added.
“I think that in making the decision as to whether to seek it again, the District Attorney should consult with Laci’s family and honor that decision,” she told FOX News.
Scott Peterson will remain incarcerated at San Quentin prison while the case proceeds, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He has maintained that he had nothing to do with his pregnant wife’s murder, according to FOX News.
In March of 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom enacted a moratorium on the death penalty, thereby suspending all executions as long as he is in the governor’s office, The Modesto Bee reported.
California has not carried out an execution since 2006 due to ongoing challenges of the method the state had been using, according to the paper.
Scott Peterson also has a petition for habeas corpus pending with the California Supreme Court, claiming there is new evidence that proves he did not kill his wife, The Modesto Bee reported.
“The appellate process is a long way from over,” Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager told the paper on Monday.