It was one of the most shocking murder cases in California history. In 2002, Scott Peterson murdered his wife Laci and their unborn son. On Monday, Peterson’s death sentence was overturned in a surprising decision by the California Supreme Court.
Details of the Case: Laci Peterson was last seen alive on December 24, 2002. At the time of her disappearance, she was eight months pregnant with a baby boy who she had already named Connor. Scott Peterson was the individual who initially reported that she was missing from their Modesto home. In addition to a massive search that involved over 1,500 volunteers, her family also rallied to raise money for a $500,000 reward.
On April 13, 2003, a couple walking at Richmond’s Point Isabel Regional Shoreline Park om the San Francisco Bay found a late-term male fetus still attached to an umbilical cord. The next day, a body of a deceased woman washed up on to the shore approximately one mile from where the fetus had been found. A few days later, DNA testing revealed that the bodies belonged to Laci Peterson and her son. On April 18, her husband was arrested and charged with two felony counts of murder.
Original Trial and Sentencing: Peterson was brought to trial on June 1, 2004. After months of testimony, he was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder for the death of his unborn son. On November 12, Peterson was found guilty by Judge Alfred A. Delucchi. Just one month later, he was sentenced to death.
However, this sentencing was put into limbo in March of 2019 when California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium for all of the state’s death row prisoners to last for the duration of his tenure as governor. At the time of Newsom’s moratorium, there were 737 prisoners on death row. The state has not executed any death row inmate since 2006. Peterson is now 47 years old and has been serving his time at the San Quentin State Prison.
Why the Sentence Was Overturned: Monday’s decision to overturn the death sentence came as a result of the original trial being deemed unfair by the court because potential jurors were dismissed in error. The central complaint was the allegation that the jurors were let go because they had expressed objections to the death penalty on a screening questionnaire. According to Monday’s decision, the death sentence needed to be reversed with the People given a new opportunity to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty wiht a fair jury. The automatic appeal was filed in 2012.
While the death sentence was overturned, the highest court in the state found that the convictions still stand. At this point in this long journey, the case has been reassigned to the Stanislaus County Superior Court to decide the sentencing.
Reaction to the Decision to Overturn: Peterson’s attorney, Cliff Gardner, thanked the Supreme Court for the decision to overturn, saying that they were grateful that the court recognized that a fairly selected jury is necessary for a fair decision.
Meanwhile, John Goold, spokesperson for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, said his office will review the decision to overturn and then discuss how to proceed with the victim’s family. This office has not yet indicated whether they intend to seek the death penalty again.