REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Scott Peterson brought out the full force of his defense team Wednesday with four defense attorneys appearing in court as a judge set a timeline for when she will rule if Peterson gets a new trial.
Peterson’s battle for a retrial took another step forward at Wednesday’s hearing. Peterson appeared via a Zoom audio feed from San Quentin State Prison, where he’s lived on death row for the past 16 years.
Peterson’s two main attorneys, Pat Harris and Cliff Gardener, sparred off with Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager over when and how an evidentiary hearing will take place.
The evidentiary hearing will be make-or-break for Peterson, and it’s centered on the issue of juror misconduct.
Harris says Peterson did not get a fair murder trial in 2004 because one of the jurors, Richelle Nice, was a “stealth juror” who lied during jury selection.
Nice, also known as “Strawberry Shortcake,” served on the jury that convicted Peterson of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, in 2002.
Laci was eight months pregnant when she vanished from her Modesto neighborhood. Police and prosecutors say Peterson murdered his wife and dumped her body from his fishing boat into the San Francisco Bay.
Fladager accused Peterson’s defense team of going on a “witch hunt” against Nice.
Fladager wrote in court documents that Nice was already traumatized from seeing gruesome evidence presented at Peterson’s murder trial, and now she’s unfairly being dragged through the mud.
KRON4 asked Harris what he thought about the District Attorney’s “witch hunt” accusation. Harris threw the term right back at prosecutors.
“It’s a little ironic, given the fact that they put on a 16-year witch hunt against Scott,” Harris said.
“All we are trying to do is get at the truth,” Harris said.
Peterson’s death sentence was overturned by the California Supreme Court last year, so he currently does not have a sentence. The District Attorney said she will not re-seek the death penalty.
Now Peterson is trying to have his entire conviction overturned based on juror misconduct.
A Facebook group run by Peterson’s supporters and family posted Tuesday that they are “praying” for a retrial so he can prove his innocence.
Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said earlier this year that she wanted to make her retrial decision before the end of 2021. But the timeline keeps getting pushed back, and the evidentiary hearing will not likely happen until November, or even as late as January.
The defense team wants to present nearly-uncovered evidence, new witnesses, and potential new suspects in court as soon as possible. New suspects were identified by a private investigator hired by Peterson’s family.
“He’s waited 16 years to have this all put out in public and the truth be known,” Harris said.
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.
“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 in court documents.
Fladager said Nice misunderstood a question when Nice was asked if she had ever been the victim of a crime. Nice answered “no.”
Nice was in fact the victim of domestic violence while she was pregnant in 2001, according to court documents. She also pregnant in 2000 when she sought a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend because she feared for her unborn baby’s safety.
Peterson’s next court date is set for September 22 at 10 a.m.