REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — One of California’s most notorious convicted killers, Scott Peterson, will likely get a whole new murder trial, a legal analyst said.
News headlines this week announcing a judge’s decision to re-sentence Peterson caused a lot of confusion about an already complicated case.
Some case observers wrongly believed that re-sentencing Peterson in December to life in prison without the possibility of parole meant that his fight for a retrial was over.
Peterson’s death sentence was overturned, however, on entirely separate legal grounds from the legal issues that could get his conviction overturned.
The Peterson case has evolved so many times that attorneys on both sides, Stanislaus County District Birgit Fladager and defense attorney Pat Harris, want to handle the case until it reaches a conclusion.
A San Mateo County jury found Peterson guilty in 2004 of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and the couple’s unborn son, Conner, in their Modesto home. Fladager was the star prosecutor for the trial, and Harris was one of Peterson’s trial attorneys.
“Unfortunately, the atmosphere at that time was mass hysteria and hatred of Scott Peterson,” Harris said.
Peterson was sentenced to death. Last year, the state Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence. The higher court ruled that the trial judge, Al Delucchi, blundered when giving the jury instructions about the death penalty.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling was a victory for Peterson’s defense team. But their bigger goal is for a retrial to prove Peterson’s innocence.
Legal experts who looked closely at Peterson’s habeas corpus petition told KRON4 that he has a strong case showing he did not receive a fair trial based on juror misconduct.
The juror in question is Richelle Nice, also known as “Strawberry Shortcake.” She is accused of being a “stealth juror” who had a hidden agenda to make sure Peterson was convicted. Harris said Nice lied during jury selection when she denied that she had ever been the victim of a crime.
“I think there is a great likelihood that he is going to get a new trial,” legal analyst and former prosecutor Michele Hagan told KRON4.
“Because Miss Nice basically had similar experiences to Laci. Miss Nice was a victim of domestic violence while pregnant. I think it’s really difficult for someone who went through that experience to set that aside, and to sit as a juror in a case when you are dealing with another woman who may have been killed, murdered, at the hands of her husband while pregnant,” Hagan said.
A retrial would mean that Fladager and Harris will be back battling each other in the same courtroom, with the same defendant, and the same murder charges.
What will be different this time around is that Peterson’s defense team is armed with newly uncovered evidence that, according to Harris, can prove a group of burglars murdered Laci.
The decision for whether Peterson gets a whole new trial will be made by Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo. She will base her ruling on an evidentiary hearing that could take place as early as mid-November before Peterson is even re-sentenced.
Peterson’s sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 8.