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‘This Process Is Simply Too Painful’: Prosecutors Won’t Pursue New Death Sentence for Convicted Wife Murderer Scott Peterson


Scott Peterson is seen in a prison mugshot dated May 11, 2018.

In a Friday court filing, California prosecutors walked back plans to re-pursue the death penalty against convicted wife murderer Scott Peterson.  The announcement followed a lengthy series of appeals and a request from the family of Laci Peterson to not move forward with another grueling jury proceeding.

A jury in 2004 convicted Peterson of two counts of murder — and subsequently sentenced him to death — over the killing of his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son Conner Peterson.  Laci, then 27, disappeared while pregnant on Christmas Eve 2002.

A young child stops to look at a makeshift memorial and a missing person banner offering a half-million dollar reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson. The banner was at the East La Loma Park on January 4, 2003 in Modesto, California. Laci’s body wasn’t discovered until May 2003. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Peterson, now 48, appealed his conviction and his death sentence.  A California appeals court kept Peterson’s core conviction intact but overturned his original death sentence because the trial court “erroneously dismissed” jurors whose “written questionnaire responses express[ed] opposition to the death penalty, even though the jurors gave no indication that their views would prevent them from following the law.”

Laci Peterson’s family reportedly felt “horrified and disgusted” by the appellate court’s move.

Scott Peterson, center, and defense attorneys Mark Geragos, left, and Pat Harris, right, listen during a prosecution rebuttal to defense closing arguments in Redwood City, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004. (Photo by Al Golub/Modesto Bee/Pool/Getty Images.)

Prosecutors announced in October 2020 they would again seek the death penalty with a properly selected jury.  They’ve now walked back that decision.  A three-page court document titled a “notice of decision on retrial of penalty phase” said the state will now allow Peterson to spend the rest of his life in prison without any chance at parole.

A group of people read an extra edition of the Redwood City Daily News after the verdict in the Scott Peterson trial in Redwood City, Calif, Wednesday November 12, 2004. Scott Peterson, of Modesto, Calif., was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder for Laci Peterson’s death and one count of second-degree murder for Conner Peterson’s death.  (Image via David Paul Morris/Pool/Getty Images.)

“The Defendant petitioned the United States Supreme Court, asking that Court to find his conviction invalid and that Court denied his petition,” prosecutors wrote on Friday while recapping the litigation.  “In this appeal, the highest courts of this state and the United States have now settled the question of the defendant’ s guilt, leaving only the question of his punishment. The California Supreme Court indicated the People may retry the penalty phase if they so choose.”

Prosecutors say Laci Peterson’s family no longer wishes to endure the emotional burden of another death penalty proceeding. Prosecutors explained the situation as follows:

The People have met and discussed with the victims’ family what a new penalty trial would involve, pursuant to their rights under Marsy’s Law. While the family of Laci and Conner believe there is no doubt that defendant is guilty of these crimes and that his conduct warrants the death penalty and defendant is deserving of the punishment of death, the family has decided this process is simply too painful to endure once again. The decision to accept the sentence for defendant of Life Without the Possibility of Parole followed discussions with the family of the victims, Laci and Conner; they are aware that, if the penalty phase is not retried, the defendant will be sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. THEREFORE, NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Office of the District Attorney will not re-try the penalty phase for defendant Scott Lee Peterson.

Accordingly, the People respectfully request that this Court set a date for defendant’s sentencing.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager signed the document.

Ron Grantski, the stepfather of Laci Peterson, holds up a newspaper after the original penalty phase verdict was announced at the courthouse in Redwood City, Calif., Monday, Dec. 13, 2004.  (Image via Paul Sakuma/Pool/Getty Images.)

Peterson’s defense attorneys had long asserted that one of the jurors lied about her own personal domestic issues — a restraining order against her then-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend — in order to get on the jury and subsequently to convict.  The juror in question denied those allegations.

Read the full court filing below:

[image via San Quentin State Prison]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.