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Scott Peterson Makes Bid To Overturn Conviction And Death Sentence For Killing His Pregnant Wife

Scott Peterson's attorney argued in court that several legal errors and the tremendous media attention surrounding the case made it impossible for Peterson to get a fair trial for the murder of his wife Laci.

By Jill Sederstrom

Scott Peterson—the man who once made international headlines after he was convicted for killing his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son—is now hoping to overturn his conviction and death sentence.

Peterson’s attorney, Cliff Gardner, appeared virtually before the California Supreme Court Tuesday to argue that a series of alleged legal errors and the massive media attention surrounding the case made it impossible for Peterson to get a fair trial, local station KNTV reports.

Peterson was convicted in 2004—and sentenced to death soon after—for killing his 27-year-old wife Laci just four weeks before she was due to give birth to the couple’s son, Connor, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Scott, who has continued to maintain his innocence, told police he took his new boat out fishing for the day on Christmas Eve in 2002. When he returned home later that afternoon, he said Laci was gone.

She was discovered nearly four months later—along with the remains of her unborn son—after the bodies had washed up in the San Francisco Bay not far from where Scott had claimed he had been fishing.

Investigators also discovered that at the time Laci disappeared, Scott had been carrying on an affair with a young massage therapist, Amber Frey.

On Tuesday, Gardner argued that the large amount of media interest in the case presented a significant disadvantage to his client.

The trial was initially moved from Modesto, where the couple had lived, to San Mateo County as a result of the media attention but a second request by the defense to move the trial again to a different county had been denied.

Gardner argued, however, that a significant number of people in San Mateo County were already aware of the case and had preconceived notions of Scott’s guilt.

Nearly half of the 1,000 potential jurors who completed written questionnaires said they had already determined what the verdict should be in the case, he said. Of those, 98% believed Scott was guilty. 

Gardner argued that the motion to move the trial should have been granted in light of the findings of the surveys.

He also argued that information about the case had filled television and radio airwaves for months before the trial. In one instance, according to Gardner, a San Mateo County local radio station took out a billboard with Scott in a jail suit that asked whether he should be considered “man” or “monster.”

"My position in a nutshell: if this isn't an extreme case then what is?" he said, according to KNTV,

Gardner also argued that 12 of the prospective jurors were excused after saying they opposed the death penalty but would still be willing to impose it.

He also argued that legal errors had been made during the trial, referencing one occasion where two jurors were allowed to climb into Scott’s boat and rock it from side to side, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The trial judge also told the defense team that they could not take the boat out into the bay to conduct experiments on whether or not it would capsize while throwing over a weight similar to Laci’s body unless the prosecution was also present for the experiment.

“The right to effective assistance of counsel includes the right to investigate your case in confidence,” he said.

Peterson’s attorneys have also argued that defense attorney Mark Geragos failed to call possible witnesses who could have presented alternate explanations for Laci’s whereabouts that day, including witnesses who saw her walking the family dog and a mailman who said the family’s dog was not at home when he dropped off the mail, according to the local station.

Gardner filed a 423-page document to appeal the conviction in July 2012, CBS SF Bay Area reports.

Scott was arrested shortly after his wife’s body was discovered. He had dyed his hair blonde, was found with $15,000 in cash and was carrying camping equipment and multiple cell phones at the time.

Deputy Attorney General Donna M. Provenzano represented the prosecution on Tuesday, telling the court that there had been a “mountain of evidence” suggesting Scott’s guilt, the paper reports.

According to Provenzano, the law only required the court to overturn the death sentence if it was determined that a prospective juror was dismissed unfairly; however, she said there was “no credible claim” that any of the jurors in the case had been unfair.

“There is no contention in this appeal that that quality of evidence was insufficient,” she said, according to KNTV. “Because it wasn’t.”

The California Supreme Court will likely make its decision on the appeal in the next few months.