MODESTO, Calif. (KRON) — New suspects. A juror under fire. A confident defense attorney. A death sentence lifted. And maybe, a whole new trial?
There are many moving parts happening for Scott Peterson, a man whose name became synonymous with murder when he was convicted 15 years ago of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn baby.
Peterson, now 48-years-old, has always maintained his innocence.
On Friday, Nov. 6, he will appear via a live stream for a hearing as prosecutors and defense attorneys try to hammer out what happens next for the appeals process.
One tricky legal question that both sides are trying to figure out is: Which county should Peterson’s hearings be in, Stanislaus County or San Mateo County?
Laci was murdered in Modesto and the case was prosecuted by the Stanislaus County District Attorney, but the murder trial happened in San Mateo County. Late Thursday afternoon, the location of Friday morning’s hearing was abruptly moved from the Stanislaus County courthouse to the San Mateo County courthouse.
Peterson has lived behind bars on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison for the past 15 years.
On the outside, he still has some supporters who believe the wrong person was convicted of murdering Laci.
His defense attorneys won two major legal victories in state Supreme Court in recent months as they fight for Peterson to one day walk free.
One victory happened in August, when the state Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence because jurors who expressed opposition to capital punishment were improperly dismissed before the trial.
His conviction was upheld, and Stanislaus County prosecutors said they will re-seek the death penalty.
An even bigger victory for the defense team happened in October, when the California Supreme Court sent Peterson’s petition for writ of habeas corpus back down to the lower court due to potential juror misconduct.
That opened the door for Peterson’s entire conviction being potentially overturned and a whole new trial happening for the guilt phase.
The petition alleges that one juror, Richelle Nice, lied during jury selection to ensure that she would be picked for the murder trial. Nice’s attorneys told KRON4 that she is being unfairly painted by Peterson’s defense team as a “monster,” and said she never lied during jury selection.
The habeas corpus petition also claims that some pieces of evidence proving Peterson’s innocence were never presented at the trial.
“He’s innocent — an innocent man’s been sitting in jail for 15 years. It’s time to get him out,” defense attorney Pat Harris told reporters who had gathered in the courthouse for Peterson’s Oct. 23 hearing.
In the coming months, a San Mateo County judge will decide whether juror misconduct indeed occurred.
If Peterson is granted a new murder trial, Harris said a slew of new evidence will be shown to a new jury.
Janey Peterson, Peterson’s sister-in-law, revealed last month that a private investigation is underway to uncover even more new evidence.
She told reporters packed in the courthouse hallway, “Ultimately we don’t have justice for Laci and Conner. Their murder is not solved. Our goal is to not only free Scott, but to solve this crime. We don’t have justice for Laci with Scott on Death Row, because Scott is innocent.”
New suspects have been identified by private investigators, Janey Peterson said. When asked by a reporter if she could release the new suspects’ identities, Janey Peterson declined, saying that would jeopardize the investigation.
What new evidence does Peterson’s defense team have, and what old evidence was left out of the murder trial?
Jani Peterson and Harris did not go into details, but the petition of habeas corpus has a section 60 pages long titled, “Facts the jury heard and facts the jury did not hear,” and outlines “newly discovered evidence revealed through post-conviction investigation.”
The section mostly focuses on a timeline of events from December 23 to 24, 2002, when Laci went missing from her Modesto home and Peterson said he had gone fishing in the Berkeley marina. The section also tries to debunk the motives presented by prosecutors during the trial.
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