REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Scott Peterson deserves to have as many friends and family members in the courtroom as the murder victim has at his re-sentencing hearing, his defense attorney told a judge in court Wednesday.
Peterson is preparing to break his 17-year-long silence by speaking in court when he is re-sentenced on Dec. 8.
He has been locked up in San Quentin State Prison for nearly two decades after a San Mateo County jury convicted him of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and unborn son, Connor.
On Wednesday, Peterson appeared via a live video feed from San Quentin while Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, defense attorney Pat Harris, and Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo sparred over who will be allowed inside the courtroom when Peterson is re-sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Peterson’s death sentence was overturn by the California Supreme Court due to an error made by the trial judge.
When he breaks his silence on Dec. 8, Peterson will be face-to-face with Laci’s family for the first time since 2005.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said 12 of Laci’s family members and four of her close friends will make victim impact statements.
“You always know, at a sentencing hearing, they are very emotional,” Harris told KRON4.
The judge said the courtroom’s seating is very limited because of COVID-19 safety rules requiring social distancing.
Fladager said, “Laci had some very dear friends. Four-to-six of them will be here and would like to speak.”
Judge Massullo said she would give 12 of Laci’s family members and four of her friends seats together in the jury box.
Then Harris asked for 12 seats in the courtroom for Peterson’s supporters, noting that Peterson’s family would also like to speak.
Peterson has always maintained his innocence, and many of his family members believe in him.
The judge said she would only give Peterson’s supporters six seats. Harris took issue with the lop-sided number.
“I understand the COVID situation, but it’s a large courtroom. He has the right to have as many supporters for his re-sentencing. We have no problem with (Laci’s) family speaking. But there has been a sentencing prior to this, your honor. They had an opportunity to chastise Mr. Peterson and let their emotions be known. To allow everyone to come in, and go through the same thing again, while limiting Mr. Peterson’s family, I don’t think that is right,” Harris told the judge.
Judge Massullo said, “I have to follow the rules of this courtroom. That’s six feet of distance and masks. That leaves very few options for the court.”
The judge said she plans to have 16 seats for Laci’s supporters, six seats for Peterson’s supporters, and the remaining 15 seats for the public and media combined. A lottery system will be used to decide who sits in those 15 seats.
During Peterson’s 2005 sentencing hearing, Laci’s family had scathing words for their son-in-law.
Her mom, Sharon Rocha, said, “You are going to burn in hell for this.”
“You Scott are proof that evil can lurk anywhere. You don’t have to look evil to be evil. You’re not intelligent at all. You’re stupid. Stupid to believe murder was your only way out of marriage. You selfishly cheated on her and then murdered her. You attended a Christmas party with your girlfriend while your pregnant wife went to her Christmas party alone. There was no way for me to know on December 15 that it was the last time I would ever see Laci alive. But you knew it,” Rocha told Peterson in 2005.
Laci’s brother, Brent Rocha, said he had bought a gun and had intended to kill Peterson himself, but decided he would rather see him “sweat it out and not take the easy way out.”
Peterson never spoke in 2005, but he will have something to say this time around, Harris told KRON4.
In addition to preparing for the sentencing hearing, on Wednesday Judge Massullo set a date for an evidentiary hearing as part of Peterson’s battle for a whole new murder trial.
Peterson says his 2004 murder trial was unfair because of a “stealth juror,” who allegedly lied about her past during jury selection. Legal experts told KRON4 that Peterson has a strong case for being granted a re-trial based on juror misconduct.
The juror in question is Richelle Nice. She is accused of being a “stealth juror” who had a hidden agenda for making sure Peterson was found guilty.
Fladager accused Peterson’s defense team of staging a “witch hunt” against Nice and unfairly dragging her through the mud.
The evidentiary hearing will begin on Feb. 25, 2022 and end on March 4, 2022. There will be about five hours of testimony each day.
Nice will be called to the witness stand as the primary witness.
Nice’s attorney, Geoffrey Carr, advised his client to plead the fifth to protect herself from self-incrimination. Legal experts said Nice pleading the fifth will help strengthen Peterson’s case.
Media cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom for the evidentiary hearing, the judge said.
Assistant District Attorney David Harris thanked the judge and said, “Based on this case’s history, there has been a lot of media attention. It would be detrimental to the case to allow cameras in the courtroom.”
Peterson’s next court date is set for Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. so that the judge can review Peterson’s probation report from San Quentin State Prison.
He will likely be transferred to the San Mateo County Jail within the next couple weeks. The district attorney has made sure that Peterson will not be granted bail when he arrives as an inmate in Redwood City.