Scott Peterson, center, with defense attorneys Mark Geragos, left, and Pat Harris, in court in 2004 – AL GOLUB/AP
New York Daily News: Tuesday, August 25, 2020 – The California Supreme Court overturned the 2005 death penalty sentence for Scott Peterson Monday, who killed his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn child and then dumped their bodies into the San Francisco Bay.
But the decision upholds the murder convictions in the highly publicized case for the deaths and lets prosecutors seek the same sentence if they choose to.
Peterson, now 47, was convicted of the 2002 murders in November 2004 by a San Mateo jury. But his defense team argued that the widespread pretrial publicity surrounding the case made it impossible to find an impartial jury in southern California, even after the trial was moved from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County, 90 miles away.
Earlier this summer, his attorney, Cliff Gardner, also argued that the trial judge willingly dismissed potential jurors opposed to the death penalty.
Justice Leondra Kruger and the California Supreme Court said the trial judge made “clear and significant errors” in jury selection.
“While a court may dismiss a prospective juror as unqualified to sit on a capital case if the juror’s views on capital punishment would substantially impair his or her ability to follow the law, a juror may not be dismissed merely because he or she has expressed opposition to the death penalty as a general matter,” the court said in a unanimous decision.
Laci, 27, disappeared on Christmas Eve of 2002 while she was 8 months pregnant with their unborn son Connor, according to investigators. Four months later, her remains and those of Connor, who was still attached to the umbilical cord, washed up on the shore of San Francisco Bay near where Peterson claimed he had gone fishing.
Prosecutors alleged that Peterson strangled or suffocated Laci, wrapped her body in a blue tarp, put her in the back of his boat, affixed anchors to her and dropped her in the bay.
Peterson’s attorney, celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, unsuccessfully claimed that strangers had kidnapped Laci and carried out her death in a way that framed Peterson.
In April 2003, Peterson was arrested with $15,000 in cash and bleached hair after his girlfriend told police that they had started dating a month before Laci disappeared, but said that Peterson told er that his wife was dead.
Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder for Laci’s death and second-degree murder for Connor’s death.
Peterson will still be allowed to argue that he was unfairly convicted, using evidence not considered at his trial.
“While we are disappointed that such a biased jury selection process results in a reversal of only the death sentence, we look forward to the Court’s review of the new forensic and eyewitness evidence of innocence,” Gardner wrote.
Geragos expects Peterson will one day be exonerated, he said, adding, “We’re halfway there.”