The California Supreme Court upheld the conviction but overturned the 2005 death sentence for Scott Peterson in the slaying of his pregnant wife, and said prosecutors may try again for the same sentence if they wish in the case that attracted worldwide attention, reported The Mercury News.
Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant with their
unborn son, Connor, when she was killed. Investigators said that on Christmas
Eve 2002, Peterson dumped their bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco
Bay, where they surfaced months later.
“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple
reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that
surrounded the case.,” the court said. “We reject Peterson’s claim that he
received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for
But the justices said the trial judge “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.”
It agreed with his argument that potential jurors were
improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed
with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.
“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 justices said in a unanimous decision.
They rejected Peterson’s argument that he couldn’t get a
fair trial because of the widespread publicity that followed, although the
proceedings were moved nearly 90 miles away from his Central Valley home of
Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager did not
immediately say if she would again seek the death penalty.
Peterson, who is now 47, was convicted of first-degree
murder in the death of his wife and the second-degree murder of their unborn
“We are grateful for the California Supreme Court’s
unanimous recognition that if the state wishes to put someone to death, it must
proceed to trial only with a fairly selected jury,” Cliff Gardner, Peterson’s
appellate attorney, said in an email.
His well-known trial attorney, Mark Geragos, said he
objected at the time to what he said was “clear error” in jury selection.
Geragos said he does not expect prosecutors to retry the
penalty phase. “Frankly, I think the only reason that they sought the death
penalty was to get a guilt-prone jury panel,” he said.
California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of
legal challenges to the way it would carry out the death penalty, and
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has a moratorium on executions for as long as he
That moratorium helped lead other California prosecutors to
negotiate a plea deal in the more recent high-profile Golden State Killer case.
Former police officer Joseph DeAngelo was sentenced to multiple life terms on
Friday in exchange for his guilty pleas to 13 murders and 13 rape-related
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