Consolidated Press News File
May 29, 2021
SACRAMENTO — In a court filing on Friday, a California district attorney stated that she will not pursue a second death sentence for Scott Peterson, who was convicted in 2005 of murdering his pregnant wife.
The district attorney’s office in Stanislaus County announced that it would abandon efforts to reinstate the penalty that was overturned by the state Supreme Court last year. The decision was made in consultation with Laci Peterson’s family.
The California Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could not stand because potential jurors were barred from serving because they expressed opposition to the death penalty.
Peterson, now 48, was found guilty in 2002 after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County to San Mateo due to widespread publicity surrounding the disappearance of 27-year-old Laci, who was eight months pregnant.
According to investigators, Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them into San Francisco Bay from his fishing boat, where they were discovered months later.
Because a juror failed to disclose that she had sought a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend in 2000, a judge is considering whether to grant Peterson a new trial. She stated in her request for the order that she was concerned for the safety of her unborn child. The judge must determine whether this constituted juror misconduct, and if so, whether it was prejudicial enough to warrant a new trial. He will be sentenced to life in prison if a new trial is not granted.
The announcement, according to one of Peterson’s lawyers, is not a precursor to a plea deal, and that his client will seek a new trial if a judge determines that his first one was tainted by juror misconduct.
Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said she hopes to make a decision this year on whether Peterson deserves a new trial. If there is a new trial and he is convicted again, it is unclear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty again, according to defense attorney Pat Harris, who is handling the death penalty portion of the case.
Andras Farkas, a different attorney, is representing Peterson in his appeal for a new trial.
Farkas declined comment.
“It’s not clear to me that they’re saying no matter what, we’re taking the death penalty off the table … or they’re saying if we go back to trial we’re reserving the right to put the death penalty back up again,” Harris said. “It sounds like they’re kind of holding back that if the judge orders a new trial, they could put the death penalty back on the table.”
The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Harris pointed out that prosecutors had previously stated that the family supported seeking the death penalty again and argued that their new motion is a ruse to avoid a retrial.
“The truth is, they’ve determined… that the handwriting is on the wall, and we’re going to prove Scott’s innocence if we go back to trial,” he said.
He claims he can show there was a nearby burglary on the day Peterson vanished, bolstering the defense’s claim that she was killed by someone else when she stumbled upon the crime.
If prosecutors pursued a new penalty phase, he said, they would essentially have to retry the entire case in front of a new jury, allowing new evidence to emerge even if jurors were unable to acquit him and could only recommend a death or life sentence.
In a Facebook post, Scott Peterson’s family and supporters claimed that Harris’ request for evidence in the hands of prosecutors last week triggered their decision.