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More than 15 years after Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Laci Peterson and the couple’s unborn son, Laci’s family is “in pain again” after the California Supreme Court opted to overturn Peterson’s death sentence earlier this week.
“The family is in pain again,” a source close to the family told People. “It’s not even so much that he’s getting off death row for the time being, but now there will be another trial and they’re going to have to sit through it and possible testify.”
The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that the guilty verdict should remain in place in the case; however, it reversed the death penalty conviction for Peterson and ordered a new sentencing trial.
“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case,” the court said in its decision, which was obtained by Oxygen.com. “We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder.”
However, the court decided that the trial judge had “made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”
One of the errors was reportedly that potential jurors had been dismissed from the jury pool after saying that they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to impose it in the case under the state law.
“While a court may dismiss a prospective juror as unqualified to sit on a capital case if the juror’s views on capital punishment would substantially impair his or her ability to follow the law, a juror may not be dismissed merely because he or she has expressed opposition to the death penalty as a general matter,” the ruling stated.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager will now have to decide whether prosecutors want to pursue a new penalty phase of the trial or whether they plan to let the court’s decision to reverse the death penalty stand.
The news of the decision has been met with mixed reactions from those closest to the Petersons.
“The old wounds are being reopened yet again,” the source close to Laci's family told People. “There is no end to the pain that Scott Peterson has put this family through.”
Laci vanished on Christmas Eve in 2002. She was eight months pregnant with a son the couple had planned on naming Conner. A neighbor found her dog wandering alone on its leash that morning and put the pet back behind the fence at the Petersons’ home.
Peterson, who told authorities he’d been fishing that day, called Laci’s mother that evening to see if she’d seen her. He told his mother-in-law that Laci was “missing,” according to court documents.
Intense media scrutiny soon surrounded the case, which only continued to grow after it was revealed that Scott had been living a double life and was having an affair with massage therapist Amber Frey at the time that his pregnant wife disappeared.
A baby boy’s body, which was later identified as Conner, washed up along the shore of the San Francisco Bay on April 13, 2003. Laci’s body was found, still wearing maternity clothes, the following day.
Frey would later play a pivotal role in the case, agreeing to tape phone calls she had with Peterson before his arrest. She also testified about their relationship, telling jurors that Peterson had first claimed he had “lost” his wife weeks before she eventually vanished. He later admitted that he had still been married at the time of the affair but claimed his wife had been “fine” with the relationship, according to the court’s decision.
A jury convicted Peterson in 2004 on one count of first-degree murder for killing his wife and one count of second-degree murder for killing the couple’s unborn son, according to the court’s decision. He was sentenced to death in 2005.
After the California Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Frey told Fox News she was “relieved” that the guilty verdict in the case had been upheld.
“I think that in making the decision as to whether to seek it again, the District Attorney should consult with Laci’s family and honor that decision,” she said in an email to the news outlet about the option of re-trying the penalty phase.
Peterson’s sister Anne Bird, who Peterson had lived with briefly after the disappearance, also told TODAY on Tuesday that she believed Peterson belonged in prison.
“I’m against the death penalty, but I do think he’s exactly where he should be,” she said. “I lost my sister-in-law Laci and my unborn nephew Conner, and I believe he should remain in prison for the rest of his life without parole.”
Bird had been adopted as a child and didn’t know Peterson until 1997 when she discovered they shared the same biological mother.
Scott Peterson’s sister-in-law Janey Peterson also spoke to Fox News after the decision was announced and said the family was “sincerely grateful that the California Supreme Court recognized the injustice of Scott’s death penalty” and continued to proclaim her belief that Peterson was innocent.
“For a long and difficult 18 years, we have believed unwaveringly in Scott’s innocence, so today’s decision by the court is a big step toward justice for Laci, Conner and Scott,” she said.
Oxygen.com reached out to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office to find out whether prosecutors planned to re-try the penalty phase of the case, but did not receive an immediate response.
Peterson continues to be housed at the San Quentin State Prison in California.
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