REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — “Witch hunt” and “red herring” are phrases being used right now to describe the legal drama surrounding Scott Peterson, San Quentin State Prison’s most high-profile inmate.

A district attorney blasted Peterson’s battle for a retrial, claiming it’s turned into a “witch hunt” against a juror. Peterson’s defense team says it has enough evidence to prove he did not murder his pregnant wife, clear his name, and get his conviction overturned.

At the same time, Peterson’s name is also being thrown around in an entirely separate, yet equally notorious murder case, Kristin Smart.

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson listens in court in 2003. (Getty Images)

A preliminary hearing for Smart’s accused killer, Paul Flores, is underway in San Luis Obispo County.

Police and prosecutors have long maintained that Flores is the sole suspect. In court, Flores’ defense attorney brought up names of other possible people who could have killed Smart, and Peterson was on the list.

Criminal legal analysts say the surprise courtroom twist is nothing but a “red herring.”

Cal Poly student Kristin Smart vanished in 1996 after attending a party.

DA says Scott Peterson’s defense team is on a “witch hunt”

In court documents filed in San Mateo County Superior Court last week, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager is blasting Peterson for going on a “witch hunt” against a woman who served on the jury that convicted him in 2004.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ordered that an evidentiary hearing take place within the next few months to determine if juror Richelle Nice, also known as “Strawberry Shortcake,” committed prejudicial misconduct. 

Peterson’s defense attorney, Pat Harris, told KRON4 that Peterson will most likely appear in-person inside the courtroom for the hearing. It will be the first time that Peterson is sitting in a courtroom in over a decade.

Peterson has had several hearings this year while fighting for a retrial, but he’s always appeared from San Quentin via a live video feed.

Laci Peterson
Laci Peterson

Peterson’s attorneys are determined to prove two things — that Nice was a “stealth juror” bent on being picked for the jury to convict Peterson, and that Peterson did not murder his wife.

A group of burglars who broke into a neighbor’s house across the street were the real killers, according to Peterson’s defense team. The burglary happened on the same day that Peterson’s wife, Laci, disappeared from her Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002.

“He’s waited 16 years to have this all put out in public and the truth be known,” Harris told KRON4 Thursday.

Prosecutors do not want the upcoming hearing to be used as a stage for anything other than deciding if Nice intentionally lied during jury selection. 

Juror Richelle Nice
Juror Richelle Nice (File photo / Getty Images)

“The justice system cannot be permitted to upend jurors’ lives simply because of a misunderstanding of terms by a layperson is twisted into the fiction of a malicious avengement of a personal vendetta,” Fladager wrote.

Prosecutors said Nice was already traumatized from seeing gruesome evidence presented during a 6-month capital murder trial, and now she’s being dragged through the mud publicly.

Nice exchanged dozens of prison letters with Peterson in which she expressed her sorrow for Laci and baby Connor. Fladager said the letters show how traumatized she was from serving on the jury.

Investigators said Peterson killed Laci in their Modesto home, drove her body to the San Francisco Bay, and dumped her from his fishing boat. Laci’s body was found months later. 

Judge Christine Massullo will either grant or deny Peterson a retrial based on what is presented at the evidentiary hearing in San Mateo County.

Peterson was convicted in 2005 in San Mateo County after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County because of worldwide pre-trial publicity. 

Peterson used as ‘red herring’ at Kristin Smart preliminary hearing

Meanwhile, down in San Luis Obispo County, new details are coming out about what happened to Smart. The 19-year-old California Polytechnic State University student vanished in 1996 after attending a college party.

Flores was the last person to see Smart alive. San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said Flores killed Smart in his dorm room as Flores attempted to rape her.

During Flores’ preliminary hearing this month, his defense attorney talked about other potential suspects who may have killed Smart.

No evidence has ever connected Peterson to Smart’s disappearance. Prosecutors say Peterson was long ago ruled out as a suspect in the Smart case.

So why was Peterson’s name brought up at the Smart hearing?

Smart, Flores, Peterson, and Laci were all students at Cal Poly in 1996. Harris said Peterson and Laci were already dating at the time, Peterson didn’t go to parties, and he never met Smart.

Flores’ defense brought up Peterson’s name as a “red herring” tactic, said Steve Clark, a former prosecutor and legal analyst.

Paul Flores is the only murder suspect in the Kristin Smart case. (San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office)

“What the defense is trying to do is sow seeds of doubt on the investigation (into Flores), and say, look, Scott Peterson, one of the most notorious murderers in the country, went to school with Kristin Smart,” Clark said.

People who attended the same party as Smart did on the night of her disappearance told police that Scott Peterson and Laci Peterson were not at the party, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Detective Clint Cole testified in court,  the Stockton Record reported.

Cole said multiple people were investigated as potential suspects, but after reviewing a “multitude of evidence,” Flores was determined to be the sole suspect, according to the Record.

Harris said any notion that Peterson would be transferred out of his San Quentin State Prison cell to testify for Smart hearing is “pretty ludicrous.”

Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson (File photo / Getty Images)

“There has been no subpoena to Scott, no arraignments made what-so-ever for him to testify. I think 18 years ago the ‘National Enquirer’ did a story about Scott being a serial killer because a girl disappeared in San Luis Obispo. But there is no connection between Scott and Kristin Smart,” Harris said.

Harris told KRON4, “It’s a ploy to take away attention from their client.”

Peterson never knew Smart while they were students at Cal Poly, he said.

The hearing will establish whether there is enough evidence to put Flores on trial for murder. Smart’s body has never been found.