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California Supreme Court orders reexamination of Scott Peterson’s murder convictions

Scott Peterson in a suit and tie in court in Modesto in 2004.
Scott Peterson listens to prosecutor Joseph Distaso on Jan. 14, 2004, in a Modesto courtroom. Peterson was sentenced to death in 2005 for killing his pregnant wife.
(Pool photo)

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a trial judge to consider whether Scott Peterson’s convictions for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son should be overturned.

The state’s highest court already overturned Peterson’s death sentence on appeal this year. In a separate petition, Peterson’s lawyers cited an array of reasons the convictions should be overturned as well.

The court agreed that one matter warranted attention: a juror who failed to disclose that she had once feared for her unborn child when being harassed by the ex-girlfriend of her boyfriend.

In a brief order, the court sent the case back to San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should be granted a new trial on the grounds that “Juror No. 7 committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

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Richelle Nice, the juror, failed to disclose that she had obtained a restraining order against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant.

Initially seated as an alternate, Nice replaced a discharged juror during deliberations. She published a book with several other jurors about their experience during the 2004 trial.

Peterson’s lawyers argued that Nice worked hard to get on the jury. Even though her employer would not pay her for the duration of the months-long trial, she said she was willing to serve.

All the potential jurors were asked whether they had ever been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit. Nice said no to both questions.

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In fact, Peterson’s lawyers said, in 2000 Nice was 4½ months pregnant when she was threatened by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

Nice filed a lawsuit to obtain a restraining order against the woman, saying she feared for her unborn child. The attacker was tried based on Nice’s charges, convicted and sentenced to a week in jail, according to Peterson’s lawyers.

Peterson’s lawyers said Nice also was one of two holdouts for convicting Peterson of first-degree murder for killing his unborn child. The jury convicted Peterson of the first-degree murder of Laci and the second-degree murder of the fetus.

Laci Peterson, 27, was due to give birth in four weeks in 2002 when she disappeared on Christmas Eve. Scott Peterson told police he had left their Modesto home that morning to go fishing in Berkeley.

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Nearly four months later, Laci’s remains and the body of her unborn son, with the umbilical cord still attached, washed up on a rocky shore of San Francisco Bay. A passerby walking a dog found them a few miles from where Scott Peterson said he had gone fishing.

Peterson was tried in San Mateo County after a judge found he could not get a fair trial in Modesto.


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