It has been nearly a decade since convicted murderer Scott Lee Peterson filed his appeal with the California Supreme Court. This Tuesday, justices are set to hear oral arguments in the case.
Peterson was convicted November 12, 2004 for first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing pregnant wife Laci Peterson and for second-degree murder for killing the fetus she carried, Conner Peterson.
Peterson is seeking a reversal of both his convictions and death sentence with a request for new trials for each. The defense has cited numerous issues during jury selection, the trial, and penalty stage.
For instance, the defense claims the court should not have allowed dog tracking evidence and the testimony of a hydrologist to prove Peterson killed his wife at home, transported her in a truck, and then dumped her and their unborn child into the San Francisco Bay. Furthermore, Peterson’s team argues it was a mistake by the Court to refuse to admit evidence contradicting the State’s theory that a boat was used to dispose of the bodies. Plus, they say it was improper for the Court to allow the jury to conduct their own experiment on the stability of the boat while not even permitting the defense to inspect the craft without prosecutors present.
The appeal lists other errors in terms of prejudicial jury instructions, prosecutorial statements, juror dismissals, and failure to allow certain mitigation evidence during the penalty aspect of trial.
However, based upon a May 22, 2020 letter from the prosecution to the Court, it appears the focus of the conversation on Tuesday will be about two major issues.
First, was it improper to exclude jurors during voir dire who directly expressed, or possibly had, an objection to the death penalty, particularly when they indicated they would consider death nonetheless? As the defense explains, “[t]he trial court here discharged juror after juror simply because they stated in their written questionnaire they were opposed to the death penalty,” and the Court’s interpretation that this is “the law in California” is wrong. The State emphatically disagrees by claiming these jurors were “substantially impaired” in their “ability to consider both penalties.”
Second, should the defense’s motion for a change of venue have been granted? The defense says yes, considering the enormous pre-trial publicity and that, as they cite, not only had all of the actual jurors already been exposed to the facts of the case but half of the prospective jurors also thought Peterson was guilty. Despite the defense’s pleas of unfairness, the State counters that Peterson’s case was heard by an impartial jury and San Mateo was in fact the best venue for the trial.
The Law&Crime Network will carry the appeal featuring in-court coverage and expert legal analysis beginning at 1:00 p.m. PST / 4:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday.
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[Mugshot via California Dept. of Corrections]
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