California Supreme Court orders review of Scott Peterson murder convictions

Scott Peterson

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a trial judge to consider whether the murder convictions of Scott Peterson should be overturned, potentially resulting in a new trial over the killing of Laci Peterson and the couple’s unborn child. [LA Times]

Scott Peterson, a former San Luis Obispo resident, met Laci Peterson while both were attending Cal Poly. Scott Peterson also attended Cal Poly at the same time as Kristin Smart and was once investigated for a possible connection to Smart’s disappearance, but was ruled out as a suspect in the case. 

In 2002, Laci Peterson, 27, was due to give birth in four weeks when she disappeared on Christmas Eve. Scott Peterson told police he had left the couple’s Modesto home that morning to go fishing in Berkeley.

Nearly four months later, Laci Peterson’s remains washed up on a rocky shore of San Francisco Bay. A passerby found them a few miles from where Scott Peterson said he had gone fishing.

In 2004, a San Mateo County jury convicted Scott Peterson of the first-degree murder of his wife and the second-degree murder of the fetus. He was sentenced to death for the murders.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence. Still, Peterson’s attorneys argued their client’s murder convictions should, too, be overturned, citing a variety of reasons.

The state Supreme Court responded by finding one matter warranted additional review. The issue is that a juror failed to disclose she had once feared for her unborn child while being harassed by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court sent the case back to San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether the juror committed prejudicial misconduct by failing to disclose her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including being the victim of a crime. If a judge finds the juror indeed committed prejudicial misconduct, Peterson could be granted a new trial.

The juror, Richelle Nice, did not disclose she had obtained a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant. Nice was initially an alternate juror in Peterson’s trial, but she replaced a discharged juror during deliberations.

Later, Nice, along with several other jurors, published a book about their experience during Peterson’s trial.

Peterson’s attorneys argued Nice worked hard to get on the jury. Nice stated she was willing to serve as a juror, even though her employer would not pay her for the duration of the months-long trial.

During jury selection, all potential jurors in the case were asked whether they had been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit. Nice answered no to both questions.

But, Peterson’s lawyers say Nice filed a lawsuit to obtain a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend after, in 2000, she was threatened by her while four and a half months pregnant. Based on Nice’s charges, the attacker was tried, convicted and sentenced to a week in jail, according to Peterson’s legal team.

Peterson’s lawyers said Nice was one of two holdouts for convicting Peterson of first-degree murder of his unborn child.