Scott Peterson Waives Speedy Death Penalty Retrial In Hearing Friday

At a hearing in San Mateo County Superior Court on Friday, convicted murderer Scott Lee Peterson waived his right to a speedy retrial of the penalty phase of his 2004 murder trial.

The retrial was ordered after the California Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence in August.

Peterson’s counsel advised the court that Peterson was waiving the deadline for retrial in order to first proceed with a separate challenge to his conviction.

The conference came at the beginning of a new round of legal proceedings in Peterson’s 15-year-old case.

The original trial

Peterson was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2005 for the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn child.

Proof at trial showed that Peterson was having an affair while his wife was pregnant. The prosecutors presented evidence that Petersen killed his wife shortly before Christmas 2002 and then took her body out on his boat into the San Francisco Bay and dumped her, weighted down by concrete blocks, in the deep waters of the Bay.

In April 2003, Laci’s decomposed and partially dismembered corpse was discovered in the Bay. The fetus was also discovered roughly a mile away. DNA tests confirmed Laci’s identity.

The case has attracted worldwide attention.

Peterson has maintained his innocence through the 15 years he has been confined at San Quentin and as he has pursued various challenges to his conviction.

Death sentence set aside

In 2020, Peterson received a pair of favorable rulings in the California Supreme Court.

The first ruling came in Peterson’s appeal of his conviction and sentence. The high court ruled the trial judge excluded jurors from the jury pool when they said that they were personally opposed to the death penalty, without first determining whether the prospective jurors would be able to set aside their personal views about capital punishment and follow the law as the trial judge instructed.

The court therefore struck the death penalty sentence and sent the case back to the trial court to hold a new penalty trial.

The high court otherwise confirmed the conviction.

New hearings on juror misconduct

In a separate challenge to his conviction, Peterson filed a habeas corpus petition – a legal procedure frequently used after trial to challenge the lawfulness of the imprisonment of the defendant. In such an action, the petitioner may rely on facts that were not presented to the jury at trial.

In the petition, Peterson’s lawyers alleged that one of the jurors who served at trial lied to the court during pre-trial questioning. The juror allegedly stated that she had not been a victim of a crime, had not been involved in a lawsuit, and had not participated in a trial as a party or a witness.

However, according to the filing, “when [the juror] was four and one-half months pregnant in November of 2000, she and her unborn baby were threatened, assaulted and stalked by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend…. [She] was so frightened that she filed a lawsuit to obtain a restraining order…”

The petition further alleged that the juror “sued her attacker for causing her to begin premature contractions, threatening the life of her unborn child…. At trial on her own complaint against her attacker, [the juror] was sworn and called as a witness. Based on [the juror’s] testimony, the court granted her a three-year restraining order.”

The petition argued that the juror would never have been seated on the jury had she disclosed those facts, and her failure to do so requires the conviction to be thrown out.

In a terse order, on October 14 the high court directed the trial court to hold hearings on… whether relief should be granted “on the ground that Juror No. 7 committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings…”

All the other claims in the petition were dismissed or deemed to be moot.

Latest developments

On Friday, the Superior Court of San Mateo County held a case management conference to discuss the process for retrying the penalty phase. Superior Court Judge Anne Christine Massullo of the San Francisco Superior Court was appointed to preside over the matter.

Peterson’s counsel told the court that Peterson would waive his right for a speedy retrial of the penalty phase so that hearings on the habeas petition could go forward. That approach made sense, counsel argued, because if Peterson were to be successful, the whole case – not just the penalty phase – would need to be retried. The prosecutor agreed and the court accepted the waiver after confirming that Peterson wanted to do so.

The court scheduled another case management conference on the penalty phase for Jan. 21.

The next step in the convoluted process is a case management conference on the habeas petition scheduled for Monday, November 9 before Judge Massullo.

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