California Prosecutors Seek to Retry Peterson for Death Penalty

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By Layla Mustafa

MODESTO – Convicted murderer Scott Peterson returned to Stanislaus County Friday, as Californian prosecutors announced plans to retry Peterson for the death penalty.

Peterson—located in San Quentin Prison—attended court via Zoom and was accompanied by his attorney, Pat Harris.

In 2004, Scott Peterson was convicted of the first-degree murder of his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and the second-degree murder of their unborn son, Conner, in Modesto, CA.

But in November 2015, the defense filed a habeas corpus petition, claiming that a juror lied on her jury application and that there was additional misconduct regarding court evidence. They also included claims of deficient performance by Peterson’s original trial attorney, Mark Geragos.

On June 2, 2020 the California Supreme Court heard an argument on Scott Peterson’s appeal. The defense argued that the improper misconduct surrounding the jurors in Peterson’s case, the inaccurate evidentiary rulings, and extreme media bias deprived Peterson of a fair trial.

The prosecution argued all these claims were not credible. Despite that, on August 24, the Supreme Court of California upheld Peterson’s conviction, but overturned his death sentence.

The 7-0 decision made by the California Supreme Court was supported by the decision that late Judge Alfred Delucchi had “made a series of clear and significant errors” in the jury selection process.

The judge was claimed to have dismissed jurors who opposed capital punishment without asking whether or not they could put their views aside. Jurors may not be excused solely on the basis that they oppose the death penalty, only if their views would render them unable to fairly consider the penalty.

The hearing in Modesto Friday was the subsequent response to the Supreme Court’s decision on the appeal.

District Attorney Dave Harris (unrelated to Attorney Pat Harris), indicated that the defendant would need to waive his rights in a timely matter in order to move forward with the proceedings.

Peterson’s attorney Pat Harris denied this time waiver until the DA’s office officially announced their plans to retry the penalty phase, noting, “If we want to come back in a week, or two weeks. that’s fine. But today is the first day we have heard. We have not had any notification that they would retry the penalty phase. And we are being told we have a choice to make a life decision right now… or else. That’s not fair.”

Defense Attorney Pat Harris agreed to a “limited time waiver” of two weeks in order to properly discuss the terms with his client. While it is likely that Peterson will decide to waive his time, Attorney Pat Harris argued that it was within his right to not have to make an on-the-spot decision in court.

Attorney Pat Harris seemed exasperated at the lack of communication from the DA’s office regarding their plans to retry the case. District Attorney Dave Harris emphasized that all counsel was served with notice of the remittitur and the appeal.

Additionally, DA Harris claimed that the DA’s office has been in contact with the habeas corpus resource center and with the attorneys who they believed were of record at the time. DA Dave Harris then apologized to Attorney Pat Harris, claiming if the DA’s office knew he was involved, they would have communicated with him.

However, Attorney Pat Harris claimed that he had been in recent communication with one of the attorneys the DA would have been in contact with (Gardner). He said that in a recent conversation with Gardner, the attorney had no knowledge of the DA office’s plans to retry the case.

As the case unfolds and stands for a new trial, it will be interesting to observe the public and media’s opinion of Peterson.

In the early 2000’s, during the height of the case, there was nationwide media coverage and intense public outrage with Peterson. Even following today’s hearing, bigger media outlets have begun to re-cover the case. The social and political climate of today is certainly a different beast from the public’s opinions on Peterson’s case in 2004.

After the hearing, Attorney Pat Harris informed the press that he is hopeful the jury pool will be different this time around. The next hearing will be held in Stanislaus Superior Court on Nov. 6.


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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