REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Scott Peterson is feeling anxious. He has a shot of someday becoming a free man after spending almost two decades behind bars for the murder of his pregnant wife.
A judge could make her decision as early as August for granting or denying Peterson a whole new trial.
During Friday’s hearing at the San Mateo County courthouse, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said, if Peterson’s habeas corpus petition is strong enough to merit a retrial, she will announce her decision on August 25. If she’s not convinced based on the court filings, she will request an evidentiary hearing that will include new witnesses testifying.
Peterson’s defense attorney, Pat Harris, said if his client gets a retrial, the defense team has enough evidence to prove that Laci Peterson’s real killers were burglars who targeted a neighbor’s house on the same day that Laci Peterson vanished.
Scott Peterson has never changed his story of what happened on Dec. 24, 2002, Harris said. Scott Peterson told Modesto police that he went fishing on the morning his wife went missing.
It’s been a long time since Scott Peterson has walked into a courtroom. The appeals process has taken more than a decade. He’s had several hearings this year but he always appears from San Quentin State Prison via a live Zoom video feed.
The judge told Harris that he should think about bringing Scott Peterson to the next hearing in-person.
The judge said catching COVID is not as big of a risk anymore, and the courtroom had technical audio issues that prevented anyone from hearing what Scott Peterson was saying on Zoom.
Scott Peterson is in a unique situation because he’s a Death Row inmate without a sentence of any kind. His death penalty was overturned by the California Supreme Court, and Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said she will not re-seek the death penalty because a re-sentencing trial would be too painful for Laci Peterson’s family to endure.
On Friday Fladager requested a sentencing hearing so that Scott Peterson could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole and removed from Death Row. Harris successfully argued that re-sentencing the inmate before the judge made a decision about the retrial was a bad idea.
“He’s been sitting (in prison) for 18 years. A few months doesn’t make a difference. Mr. Peterson needs easy access to his attorneys. If he’s moved, he could end up anywhere, he could end up down in San Diego. He needs to be able to participate in this case,” Harris told the judge.
KRON4 was the only media outlet with a reporter in the courtroom Friday. It was a stark contrast to the media storm that swirled around Scott Peterson’s 2004 trial.
“This case has drawn a great deal of publicity. A sentencing hearing will put a great deal of publicity back out there. If there is a retrial , it’s going to add to that atmosphere that made it difficult to pick a jury in the first place. I don’t see a reason to ramp it back it for no good legal reason. A sentencing hearing is emotional and difficult. We have no reason to push this prior to the retrial,” Harris told the judge.
The reason why he has a chance for a second trial is because of one juror, Richelle Nice, who is accused of being a “rogue” or “stealth juror.” Nice was nicknamed “Strawberry Shortcake” during the high-publicized 2004 murder trial. Harris said she lied to be picked for the jury because she was on a mission to convict Scott Peterson.
Judge Massullo’s retrial decision falls on whether Nice committed juror misconduct.
Former San Mateo County prosecutor Dean Johnson told KRON4,“The judge’s decision is really quite narrow.”
Johnson said, “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?”
In past interviews with KRON4, Nice’s attorney said she is unfairly being portrayed as a “monster.”
Nice’s attorney, Elliot Silver, said, “She’s stuck in the middle here. No matter which way she can turn, she’s going to appear to be the monster. They are trying to get Scott Peterson out of jail. They are trying to say she did it on purpose. I think she is going to be vilified in one way or another.”
Nice exchanged dozens of prison letters with Scott Peterson after the trial in which she expressed her grief for Laci and baby Conner.
Nice wrote to Peterson in one letter, “The spot where your beautiful wife washed ashore…and YOU robbed her & your beautiful son of a life with each other. What pushed you so far to the limit, where you felt that you needed to kill someone who not only loved you so much, but someone who was carring [sic] part of you inside her? My heart aches for your son. Why couldn’t he have the same chances in life as you were given. You should have been dreaming of your son being the best at whatever he did in life, not planning a way to get rid of him!”
Harris said the prison letters are now being used as one of many pieces of evidence that show Nice was a biased juror.
Harris said Nice was not the only person who was on a mission to be selected for the jury. During jury selection, another woman was caught writing in online chatrooms about “fooling” the attorneys and looking forward to “frying” Scott Peterson.