Scott Peterson will not get a new trial and will remain in prison for the murders of his wife and unborn son, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Peterson had been seeking a new trial after arguing that one of jurors who served on his sensational 2004 trial lied about her own history of abuse on a juror questionnaire and therefore tainted the jury who convicted Peterson and sentenced the former fertilizer salesman to death.
In a 55-page decision issued Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo concluded that juror Richelle Nice’s actions — although considered false statements — did not rise to the level of misconduct justifying a new trial in the case, according to The Modesto Bee.
“The Court concludes that Juror No. 7’s responses were not motivated by pre-existing or improper bias against Petitioner, but instead were the result of combination of good faith misunderstanding of the questions and sloppiness in answering,” Massullo wrote.
Defense attorney Cliff Gardner expressed disappointment with the decision, calling jurors who give false answers during jury selection a “direct threat” to the judicial system.
“The evidence here was overwhelming, and Judge Massullo properly found, that juror Richelle Nice in this case gave repeated false answers under oath during jury selection and made her way onto the jury,” he said in a statement. “While we are disappointed with the judge’s ruling that these lies made no difference, given the importance of honest jurors to a fair trial, we look forward to pursuing this issue in the higher state and federal courts.”
Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
For Laci Peterson’s family, however, the decision confirmed the validity of Peterson’s conviction for killing Laci and the couple’s unborn son, who they had planned to name Conner.
“We are thankful for the judge’s decision that confirms Scott DID receive a fair trial,” Laci’s mother Sharon Rocha said in a statement released by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office and obtained by the news outlet. “We appreciate Juror No. 7 for her courage and honesty during this process. No juror should have to go through what she endured.”
Rocha concluded by thanking those involved with the case.
“Laci and Conner are with us every day,” she said of their enduring legacy. “We love you.”
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Peterson, now 50, was convicted in 2004 of two counts of first-degree murder and later sentenced to death after his pregnant wife Laci disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002.
Peterson appeared to be a grieving husband until investigators discovered that he had been having an affair with a woman, who claimed Peterson told her his wife was dead when they started dating a month before Laci vanished.
The bodies of Laci and the couple’s unborn baby later washed up near the Berkeley Marina, not far from where Peterson told investigators he had been fishing the day his wife disappeared.
For years, the case appeared to have reached its grim conclusion until Peterson’s death penalty sentence was overturned by the California Supreme Court in August 2020. He was later resentenced to life in prison.
That same year, the state supreme court also ruled that a lower court needed to re-examine his conviction to determine whether Peterson deserved a new trial in light of the allegations of juror misconduct.
Photo: Getty Images
Peterson’s defense attorneys argued that Nice had not disclosed on a juror questionnaire that she had been involved in a domestic violence incident with her boyfriend in 2001. She also never divulged that she had once filed a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, who she claimed had vandalized the couple’s home while she was pregnant causing her to fear for her unborn baby’s life, according to The Modesto Bee.
Nice would later testify that she never divulged the information because she didn’t consider herself to be a victim of domestic abuse. She also testified that the ex-girlfriend had never threatened her unborn baby’s life and that she had filed the restraining order out of “spite,” according to The Associated Press.
She also insisted that she had no pre-conceived notions about Peterson before the trial began.
“Before the trial I didn't have any anger or any resentment toward Scott at all,” she said during a February hearing. “After the trial it was a bit true, because I sat through the trial and listened to the evidence.”
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Peterson’s defense team had also argued that Nice had wanted to profit from the case, pointing to a book she co-authored with other jurors and referencing 17 letters Nice had written to Peterson after he was convicted.
In her ruling Tuesday, Massullo disagreed that the letters indicated bias.
"The letters also evidence a juror who, despite all she had heard and saw, was trying to get the Petitioner (Peterson) to come to peace with what he did and the impact it had on his life and the life of Laci's family," she wrote, according to People.
She found Nice to be a credible witness who had made “an honest mistake” by not divulging aspects of her past.
Peterson defense attorney Pat Harris told The Associated Press the defense team will continue to “push forward until he is free.”
In October, Peterson was moved off San Quentin State Prison’s death row and transferred to the Mule Creek State Prison to serve out his life sentence.