MODESTO, Calif. (KRON) — Jury selections for high-profile capital murder trials are lengthy processes, and choosing the right jurors — who are unbiased and open-minded — is critical to ensuring justice is served.
Even after a guilty verdict, appeals are filed for years with defense teams trying to find legal flaws in how the trial was conducted.
In the case of Scott Peterson, his defense team is accusing Juror No. 7 of being a flaw. They want his conviction thrown out and they are seeking a new trial.
Juror No. 7, Richelle Nice, was among 12 jurors who found Peterson guilty of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn baby, Conner.
In an interview with KRON4 this week, Nice’s attorneys said she is under intense finger-pointing due to Peterson’s defense team, and is unfairly being portrayed as a “monster.”
Peterson’s 2005 murder trial was moved from the Modesto courthouse in Stanislaus County to Redwood City in San Mateo County because the judge was concerned that a pre-trial media frenzy had tainted potential jurors in Stanislaus from being unbiased.
Peterson’s current defense attorney, Pat Harris, told reporters last week, “At one point we took a poll … and it actually showed more people believed the moon landing was fake than believed Scott Peterson was innocent, and that was before any evidence was ever presented. Unfortunately the atmosphere at that time was mass hysteria and hatred of Scott Peterson.”
Nice had many nicknames beyond Juror No. 7.
During the trial she was dubbed “Strawberry Shortcake” because of her fiery red hair.
Now that she’s being scrutinized for potential juror misconduct, Peterson’s former lead defense attorney, Mark Geragos, described Nice as a “stealth juror” with hidden motives.
Peterson’s petition for habeas corpus passed a major milestone earlier this month when the California Supreme Court ruled that a San Mateo Superior Court judge must decide whether Juror No. 7 committed prejudicial juror misconduct when she allegedly lied during jury selection.
The petition states, “Nice committed misconduct in giving materially false answers in response to questions asking if she had ever been involved in a lawsuit.”
If a San Mateo County judge decides that misconduct occurred, Peterson’s conviction could be overturned and he would be granted a new trial.
Nice’s attorneys, Elliot Silver and Negad Zaky, spoke with KRON4 this week.
They said all claims made against Nice in the petition are false and without any merit.
Zaky said Peterson’s attorneys are merely “grasping at straws.”
Silver said, “Scott Peterson’s defense team has launched a petition of habeas corpus. One of the counts in that petition alleges that our client, Richelle Nice, purposefully lied in her questionnaire in order to get on the jury because she wanted to convict Scott Peterson. I think it’s so far-fetched it’s not believable.”
Nice is feeling a lot of pressure as attorneys try to use her to open a door for Peterson to be freed from prison.
“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,” Silver said.
Zaky and Silver said the real person who pushed for Nice to be selected as a juror was actually Geragos.
Geragos mistakenly believed that Nice would be a “liberal” decision-maker because of her physical appearance, including her bright red hair, Silver said.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” Silver said.
Last week, Peterson and prosecutors made a court appearance via a live stream in Stanislaus Superior Court and several new developments were revealed.
Harris was the only attorney present in the courthouse. He announced to a dozen reporters standing in a cramped courthouse hallway that he is now the lead defense attorney for Peterson.
“An innocent man has been sitting in jail for 15 years. It’s time to get him out,” Harris told reporters.
Harris said the decision over whether Peterson will get a new trial will take about four months.
An even more surprising development happened inside the courtroom, when Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced that her prosecutors intended to re-seek the death penalty against Peterson.
The California Supreme Court in August overturned Peterson’s death sentence. The Supreme Court said his death sentence could not stand because potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.
Harris told reporters that he was “sandbagged” by the district attorney’s unexpected announcement and he demanded to meet with his client before making any new decisions.
The next hearing for Peterson is scheduled for Nov. 6 in Stanislaus Superior Court to discuss which phase is moving forward first: retrying the penalty phase as prosecutors seek the death penalty for a second time, or bringing the case before a San Mateo County judge to decide if juror misconduct occurred.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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