SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned the death penalty sentence for Scott Peterson, convicted in the Christmas Eve murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.
The court’s decision came more than 15 years after Laci, a Modesto, Calif., school teacher, was killed. Investigators said Peterson dumped his wife’s body from his fishing boat into the San Francisco Bay in 2002. The bodies of Laci and Conner surfaced months later.
While the murder conviction against Peterson remained in place, the court ordered a new penalty phase trial, Fox News reported.
“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case,” the court found. “We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder.”
However, the court ruled the trial judge in Peterson’s case “made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”
The court also agreed that potential jurors improperly were dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to impose it per California law.
Peterson, now 47, also claimed on appeal that he couldn’t get a fair trial because of the massive publicity that surrounded his case, even though his trial was held nearly 90 miles away from his Central Valley home of Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager of Stanislaus County did not immediately say if she would seek the death penalty again.
Peterson has been housed on San Quentin State Prison’s death row since he was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2005.
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The case indeed garnered national attention as Peterson played the role of a bereaved husband.
Nevertheless, one month after Laci’s disappearance, police revealed her husband was living a double life, having an affair with a massage therapist who was living in Fresno by the name of Amber Frey.
Frey, a single mother, went to police once she became aware that the man she thought was her boyfriend was quickly becoming a prime suspect in a nationally televised case.
She eventually would go on to wear a wire and helped police record her conversations with Peterson, which would play a key role in the trial, Fox reported.
On April 13, 2003, the body of a baby boy was discovered along the shore of San Francisco Bay. The next day, the body of an adult female wearing maternity clothes was found nearby. The bodies were positively identified as those of Laci and her unborn son Conner.
Peterson was arrested in San Diego just days after the bodies were discovered.
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