2nd Scott Peterson trial would cost taxpayers millions

Scott Peterson Trial

REDWOOD CITY, (KRON) — In a San Mateo County courtroom this week, Scott Peterson’s defense attorney said Peterson is broke.

San Quentin State Prison’s high-profile inmate is requesting that the state and county pay for his legal expenses as he seeks a second trial.

Peterson’s death sentence was overturned by the California Supreme Court and last month prosecutors abandoned re-seeking the death penalty. That means there won’t be a new sentencing trial.

REDWOOD CITY – NOVEMBER 3: Scott Peterson (C) and defense attorney Pat Harris (R) listen during the jury instructions Nov. 3, 2004. (Getty Images)

But Peterson is fighting for his double murder conviction to also be overturned because of one juror who is accused of lying to be picked for the jury that convicted him in 2004.

Peterson’s wife, Laci, was eight months pregnant when she was murdered in Modesto and her body dumped into the San Francisco Bay in December 2002.

To this day, Laci’s family believes that her husband deserves to be executed for a crime that shocked the world.

So why did Laci’s family and Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager agree to not re-seek the death penalty?

The answer changes depending on who you ask.

Some legal experts say the decision was made to save California taxpayers from paying millions of dollars for a sentencing trial.

Fladager has denied multiple requests for an interview with KRON4.

Murder victim Laci Peterson

“She won’t do interviews with anybody,” said John Goold, a spokesman for the district attorney.

“Professional rules urge us not to make any statements outside of court that “may” impact the defendant’s due process (and) trial rights,” Goold said.

In court documents filed May 28, 2021, Fladager wrote that Laci’s family did not want to have to live through another trial.

“The People have met and discussed with the victims’ family what a new penalty trial
would involve. While the family of Laci and Conner believe there is no doubt that defendant is guilty of these crimes and that his conduct warrants the death penalty and defendant is deserving of the punishment of death, the family has decided this process is simply too painful to endure once again. The decision to accept the sentence for defendant of Life Without the Possibility of Parole followed discussions with the family of the victims,” Fladager wrote.

Peterson’s attorney, Pat Harris, said the decision was a reaction to the defense team’s new evidence and suspects which cast a shadow of doubt on Peterson’s guilt.

“My reaction on this filing that they would not go forward with the death penalty is essentially they are delaying the inevitable. This case is going to get overturned eventually. The facts are coming out. More and more we are learning about what happened. We think we know who killed Laci Peterson. We think that information will come out. We prefer it to come out in a court of law,” Harris told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday.

A courtroom artist’s sketch of Scott Peterson appear via a Zoom video on June 1, 2021 / (Vicki Behringer)

Former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson told KRON4 that the District Attorney’s Office is trying to save itself from embarrassment because they would likely lose a death penalty sentencing trial.

Johnson said, “There is no question that the Stanislaus County DA is nervous about this. There is new evidence. There is a real possibility that a good defense attorney can come in and create reasonable doubt about Scott Peterson’s guilt.

Johnson said, “We may sometime years down the road, actually see Scott Peterson turn around and walk out of the courtroom as a free man. And that would be a huge political embarrassment for the DA who has spent millions of dollars on this case. And would spend millions of dollars on a subsequent (retrial).”

Jurors Richelle Nice (L) and Michael Belmessieri speak to the media about how they feel about Scott Peterson on March 16, 2005 in Redwood City. (Photo by Lou Dematteis-Pool/Getty Images)

Peterson’s entire case could restart back at square one, with a whole new trial, because of juror Richelle Nice. Defense attorney Cliff Gardener has been working on Peterson’s appeal for 14 years. This long appeals process is currently at a crucial moment because Judge Anne-Christine Massullo will soon rule whether Nice committed juror misconduct.

Johnson said, “The judge’s decision is really quite narrow. What she has to decide is: Who credible here? Is it the defense counsel who says they were mislead and the juror lied to them.
Or is it the juror who is credible who says I thought I was answering the questions I was asked correctly?”

If Peterson is granted a retrial, taxpayers will be paying millions more for both the prosecution and the defense sides.

“The county pays for the defendant’s lawyer,” Gould said.

Johnson said there have been back-and-forth discussions “behind the scenes” between San Mateo and Stanislaus counties debating which county pays for what.

“Also, at the appellate level, the Attorney General handles the case. So theoretically, the state, California as a whole, would be paying for Scott Peterson’s appellate defense,” he said.

Peterson’s next court hearing is set for June 18th in Redwood City. At the hearing, it is expected that the Public Defender’s Office will declare that it doesn’t have the resources or time to take on a case as complex as Peterson’s appeal, and Harris will be once again formally appointed as Peterson’s attorney.

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