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Scott Peterson appeared in a California court on Thursday for prosecutors and attorneys to argue their respective cases over whether the convicted killer deserves a new trial in the 2002 murders of his wife and unborn son. After more than five and a half hours, the day’s proceedings closed with the judge asking both sides to submit memorandums, if they like, by mid-September. The jurist has up to 90 days to release her decision from her.
Peterson, now 49, wore a blue coronavirus face mask, handcuffs and dark orange, jail-issued clothing for the Thursday morning hearing in connection to the potential for a retrial in the 20-year-old case that sent shockwaves through the nation: the slayings of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Conner.
The hearing stemmed from defense attorneys’ argument that juror Richelle Nice was biased. They argued Nice lied to get on the jury that convicted Peterson in 2004 and put him on death row for the murders of Laci, 27, and the unborn child they planned to name Conner.
I will be deeply surprised if the court overturns the sentence of Scott Peterson
the California Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence in 2020 and tasked Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo with deciding if he received a fair trial.
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Massullo argued that Peterson’s attorneys at the time could have asked follow-up questions to clarify some of Nice’s responses. She noted that there were several inconsistencies in the prospective juror questionnaire in the original trial.
During his arguments to the court on Thursday, Peterson attorney Cliff Gardner said Nice contradicted herself in multiple statements, and later changed her answers to certain questions regarding her personal experiences and feelings. I have argued she was inconsistent and uncooperative.
Scott Peterson in a May 11, 2018, photo from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)
Gardner said Nice refused in 2015 to speak to the defense or the prosecution — and only testified in 2022 because she was granted immunity.
I have pointed to “some important inconsistencies in Ms. Nice’s versions of events, evolution of her versions of events from 2020 to 2020.
“That suggests that she hasn’t been as consistent, like in a witness that we’re going to find credible,” Gardner added.
Richelle Nice adjusts her hair as members of the jury speak with the media in the Old San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City, California, on Dec. 13, 2004.
(AP Photo/Lou Dematteis, File)
He added: “She refused to testify unless she was given immunity from prosecution. This is as far from a cooperating witness, I think, as you can get.”
Gardner also said Nice responded “no” to a question asking whether she could base her decision entirely on the evidence produced in court and not from outside or pre-existing opinions or attitudes. Peterson’s attorney at the time, who is no longer involved with the case, did not follow up on this answer.
A young child stops to look at a makeshift memorial and a missing person’s banner offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson at East La Loma Park in Modesto, California, on Jan. 4, 2003.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Nice then took steps to contact Peterson after convicting him, Gardner said.
“She gave Conner a nickname, called him ‘Little Man,'” he told the court. “She took the extraordinary step after conviction and after having put Mr. Peterson on death row, [of] beginning correspondence with a series of letters. And the court has seen the letters and the letters. Each of them has various focuses, but one of the focuses of every letter is his “Little man.'”
‘REALLY BAD AT FILLING OUT FORMS’
After a trial that attracted nationwide attention, California fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson, 32, was found guilty on Nov. 12, 2004, in the Christmas Eve 2002 murder of his pregnant wife Laci.
(REUTERS/Lou Dematteis LD/MR)
David Harris with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office told the court that Nice, when asked why she considered herself a “fair person,” responded: “I know what it’s like to be judged.”
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The prosecution says Nice was a single mom who had never been on a jury before this trial and thought it would be a part of her civic duty.
The 23-page questionnaire had 163 questions, and “she did the best that she could.”
Scott Peterson reported his pregnant wife, Laci, missing on Christmas Eve 2002 in Modesto, California. Police didn’t eye Peterson as the prime suspect at first, until a string of extramarital affairs were discovered.
Harris says there is no doubt that Nice made mistakes, but that doesn’t make her a liar.
“She’s inconsistent on her answers,” he told the court. “But being wrong does not necessarily make it false or make her a liar. It just might be that she’s really bad at filling out forms.”
Harris later added: “Nice showed sometimes that she could be a little bit confused about things.”
The prosecutor also argued that Nice was not lying when she responded “no” to the original trial’s juror questionnaire about being involved in any lawsuits. A layperson, he said, might misuse or misunderstand legal terminology.
Juror Richelle Nice, center, hugs attorney Gloria Allred after speaking at a news conference after the formal sentencing of Scott Peterson in Redwood City, California, on March 16, 2005.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
“How many times have we heard jurors sit in the box and say, ‘my house was robbed’?” he said, providing an example for his argument from it. “A house can’t be legally robbed, so they’re wrong. But they’re telling you what they believe is the circumstances in that particular case. It was a burglary. It was not a robbery. So they’re wrong about what the crime is. That does not make them a liar.”
Peterson’s attorneys disputed Harris’ claims by presenting a transcript of Nice acknowledging that what she had filed was a lawsuit.
Harris further pointed to the evidence police had garnered against Peterson during the course of his investigation into Laci’s and Conner’s deaths.
“From the simple fact that Laci and Conner, whose bodies washed ashore 90 miles from their home, but within sight of where Peterson admitted he went fishing on the day that they disappeared; to the research Peterson did on bay currents in the weeks preceding her disappearance; and the fishing boat he bought, but mentioned [to] not one; to Peterson’s inability to explain what he was fishing for in the middle of the day; to his repeated subsequent, serendipitous trips to the marina in the weeks after her disappearance of her; to the many steps he took in the weeks after she went missing – selling her car de ella, exploring leaving the house, turning the nursery into a storage room – that indicated that he already knew Laci and Conner were never coming back, “Harris said.
Nice was an alternate juror who joined the jury deliberations after two original jurors were removed. The panel ultimately found Peterson guilty in 2004 of the first-degree murder in the death of his wife and the second-degree murder of their unborn son. He was sentenced to death in 2005.
Peterson’s attorneys contend, among other things, that Nice sought to be on the jury because she wanted notoriety and for financial reasons. They have also argued that she lied about her lack of bias to get on the jury, and she lied again in a sworn declaration in 2020.
Authorities search the Berkeley Marina, where Laci Peterson’s husband Scott said he was fishing at when she went missing.
Peterson’s attorneys have argued that Nice’s nickname for Conner, “little man,” was among several indications that she was biased against their client.
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And a former fellow juror testified in March that Nice walked into the jury room during deliberations in 2004 and blurted out “that he should basically pay for killing ‘little man.'”
Nice testified earlier that she held no bias against Peterson until after she heard the evidence that he dumped his wife’s body into San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.
Nice failed to disclose during jury selection that she sought a restraining order while pregnant in 2000, saying she “really fears for her unborn child” because of threats from her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.
She said in her sworn statement 20 years later that she didn’t “feel ‘victimized’ the way the law might define that term.”
‘NOT GOING TO BE EASY’
Renowned attorney and former homicide detective Ted Williams, who has been following the ongoing proceedings, told Fox News Digital during Thursday’s lunch break that the defense team has “a high bar to get Scott Peterson’s sentence overturned.”
“I believe here that even if you had a juror who did not properly answer on the questionnaire, that in and of itself is not enough to get a sentence overturned,” said Williams, who is also a Fox News contributor. “Unless they can show … that she, by virtue of what she had to say, was able to influence all the jurors other than just [by] participating as a juror, that also will not get this verdict overturned.”
Williams said he was “deeply concerned” and had personal experience as an attorney in trying to have a jury verdict tossed.
“They have got to show that what this juror did prejudiced the case against Scott Peterson so that he was found guilty predicated and based upon anything she specifically did,” he went on. “That’s not going to be easy.”
The evidence against Peterson, Williams said, was “overwhelming.”
“Scott Peterson is lucky because everything that I know about this case leads me to believe that Scott Peterson should be on death row rather than serving the rest of his life in a cell,” he added.
Williams said he believed each side was putting on “a very good case.” He called Gardner “vociferous” in making his points about him, and said he was “dealing with the law as best he can.”
He added: “I will be deeply surprised if the court overturns the sentence of Scott Peterson and gives him a new trial.”
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Fox News’ Laura Prabucki and The Associated Press contributed to this report.