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Scott Peterson back in court to fight murder conviction 20 years later

The convicted killer appeared virtually as his new counsel, the Los Angeles Innocence Project, argued new evidence could exonerate him.
Scott Peterson back in court to fight murder conviction 20 years later
Posted at 8:21 PM, Mar 12, 2024

Convicted murderer Scott Peterson took his first steps toward a potential new trial Tuesday when he appeared virtually before a Northern California judge, while his recently added counsel attended the courtroom in person to push for further evidence to be included in his case. 

Peterson has maintained his innocence in the killings of his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son, Conner, since his arrest and subsequent conviction two decades ago. He reached out to the Los Angeles Innocence Project last summer to ask if it would consider helping him clear his name, and in researching the case, the nonprofit says it found numerous pieces of evidence that weren't in the case's initial discovery.

Those pieces of evidence are what led to Tuesday's status hearing in front of San Mateo County Judge Elizabeth Hill. 

As Peterson appeared on Zoom from Mule Creek State Prison, where he's serving a life sentence, the LAIP went before Hill to request she allow them access to certain police reports and recordings that were not presented to the jury during Peterson's initial trial, and that she order new DNA tests.

These requests center on a burglary that occurred across the street from the Petersons' home on Dec. 24, 2002 — the day Laci disappeared while eight months pregnant. In court filings, the LAIP claims Laci witnessed the break-in, and then was kidnapped and killed by its perpetrators.

The LAIP says police ignored or withheld materials surrounding the burglary, including that officials didn't fully investigate the robbers as potential suspects in the murder. 

Particularly, the nonprofit states in court filings that one of the burglary suspects denied he was involved with the break-in but suggested to police that the perpetrators may have been confronted by Laci and that they "did something stupid," according to The Associated Press.

"[The burglary suspect] further claimed to have knowledge that someone other than Mr. Peterson killed Laci Peterson because he stated that he knows Mr. Peterson is innocent," the filings say, per AP.

SEE MORE: Convicted murderer Scott Peterson granted new hearing

The LAIP is requesting police reports about the break-in, including interviews and eyewitness records. The attorneys are also requesting evidence on a van that was, per the filing, intentionally set on fire near the Petersons' neighborhood and behind one of the burglar's aunt's homes the day after Laci disappeared. A bloodstained mattress was allegedly inside of the van, the Washington Post reported.

The LAIP request for DNA testing includes part of the mattress, the van's fuel tank and some materials found near where Laci and Conner's bodies were discovered in the San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

Peterson told police he was fishing in the Bay when his wife disappeared. Then four days after she and his unborn son were discovered there, he was arrested and charged with their murders, to which he pleaded not guilty. 

The now 51-year-old had first become a person of interest when a woman came forward in January 2003 saying she and Peterson had started an affair a month before Laci disappeared. The woman said Peterson told her he was a widower.

During Peterson's trial, prosecutors leaned heavily on circumstantial evidence surrounding the affair and said Peterson was hoping to collect on Laci's $250,000 life insurance policy when he killed her and dumped her body in the Bay. A jury agreed and later sentenced him to death.

In 2020, the California Supreme Court, citing the trial judge's improper jury-selection bias screenings, overturned Peterson's death penalty sentence, and later that year, it ruled a lower court should look again at his case to decide whether his convictions should be overturned. The following year, Peterson was resentenced to life in prison. 

He was denied a request for a new murder trial in 2022 after a judge said there was no evidence to support his claim about a rogue juror. 

Now in his new quest for resolution, his defense has asked for their evidence in supporting Peterson's "claim of actual innocence" be released as soon as possible, but Tuesday, the prosecutor told Judge Hill it would take time to go through the requested records. 

Hill did schedule future hearings, though. Court records state Peterson will next virtually appear in court on April 16 for a motion to seal, May 29 for the DNA motions and July 15 for the discovery proceedings.


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