REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Scott Peterson had enough legal victories in the state appeals court last year that he is guaranteed to have a new trial in 2021.
“What you have to understand is, there is a whole new case out there to defend Scott Peterson,” said Dean Johnson, a former San Mateo County prosecutor who closely follows the Peterson case.
“Most of the prosecution’s experts, their testimony is scientifically questionable,” Johnson said.
“There is going to be a second Scott Peterson trial. What we don’t know is: Where it’s going to happen, and what the scope of that trial is going to be,” he said.
Peterson has a hearing coming up on January 21 in San Mateo County Superior Court, where he will likely appear via a livestream from San Quentin Prison, where he lives on Death Row.
“One of the issues that will be discussed probably on January 21 is the issue of where this trial is going to happen. The events (murder) happened in Stanislaus County, but it was moved to San Mateo County. The argument is, there is no more reason to keep it in San Mateo County,” Johnson said.
When the first murder trial was moved 15 years ago from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County, “the media circus came with it,” Johnson said.
The Peterson case received so much worldwide media attention that it would not have mattered if the trial was moved to Mars, Johnson said.
Finding an unbias jury was extremely difficult.
Peterson’s pregnant wife, Laci, went missing on Christmas Eve in 2002 and her body was later found in the San Francisco Bay. The body of Peterson’s unborn baby, Connor, was also found nearby.
Peterson said he had gone fishing at the Berkeley Marina when she vanished.
Police and prosecutors were never able to definitively figure out when, where, or how Laci was killed, Peterson’s defense team says.
For the new trial, the defense will be using new witnesses and new evidence to show that prosecutors got the timeline wrong. Peterson’s attorneys are going to try to prove that Laci and Connor died sometime after he left their Modesto home on Christmas Eve to go fishing.
The reason why Peterson is guaranteed a new trial is because the state appeals court threw out his death sentence because of errors made during jury selection. As a result, the Stanislaus County District Attorney is re-seeking the death penalty.
Even if Peterson is only granted a penalty phase trial, much more evidence and witnesses will still be presented before a new jury.
But there is also a chance that Peterson’s entire conviction could be thrown out by a lower court judge. One of the original jurors is accused of lying in order to be picked. A guilt-phase trial would give Peterson a chance of walking out of prison as a free man.
“Based on the evidence that we had in the first trial, the conviction was totally appropriate. But there is something very important to remember here. There is a lot of evidence out there that we didn’t see. And a lot of evidence that the defense did not have,” Johnson said.
“And some of that evidence is very powerful,” Johnson said.
Peterson’s family hired a private investigator who identified new possible suspects, and gathered a pile of new evidence.
“In my opinion, guilty or not, there is room for reasonable doubt. And all the defense has to do is raise a reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors who, like yourself, were very young at the time this actually happened. They are not influenced by the publicity that surrounded this case,” Johnson said.
He added, “And if reasonable doubt is raised in the minds of the jury, Scott Peterson can turn around a walk out of the courthouse door as a free man.”