LA Innocence Project Now Takes Up Scott Peterson’s Case

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

It was a high-profile case that many believe is cut and dry.  However, as ABC News first reported on Thursday, after a number of court hearings over the past several years, now the Los Angeles Innocence Project has taken up the high-profile case of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Laci in 2002—her body was discovered in the San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

According to court filings, Scott Peterson’s state and federal constitutional rights were violated, including a “claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence.”

The filings continue, “New evidence now supports Mr. Peterson’s longstanding claim of innocence and raises many questions into who abducted and killed Laci and Conner Peterson.”

The Innocence Project is seeking dozens of items that they say they could not locate despite a thorough search.

The items include evidence from the investigations into a December 2002 burglary of a home across the street from the Petersons’ in Modesto in Stanislaus County, Laci Peterson’s missing Croton watch, and a van fire in the Airport District on Dec. 25, 2002, according to the filings.

Paula Mitchell, the director of the LA Innocence Project, told ABC News she found “deficiencies” while reviewing the discovery of Scott Peterson’s case and sent a letter to Stanislaus County District Attorney Jeff Laugero on Nov. 14, 2023, “seeking informal production of numerous specific items of post-conviction discovery,” according to a declaration included in the filings.

That letter “includes private identifying information concerning numerous citizens, potential material witnesses, and possible suspects—as well as sensitive investigative leads relating to Mr. Peterson’s claim of innocence—information that was referenced throughout various police reports, tip sheets, and other investigative materials from both the prosecution and the defense that I reviewed,” she said in a declaration.

ABC News reports that she also came across “numerous witnesses” who have “expressed hesitation or ‘outright unwillingness’ to provide information due to the high-profile nature of the case.”

The LA Innocence Project said in a statement Thursday that it is representing Scott Peterson and “investigating his claim of actual innocence.”

“We have no further comment at this time,” the organization said.

ABC News noted that Mike Belmessieri, who served as a juror in Scott Peterson’s trial, told them, “there isn’t a day that goes by where he hasn’t thought about the case. He said he supports the LA Innocence Project’s review of the case.”

“If they think they’re going to find something different, that sheds light on something new, I fully support it,” Belmessieri said.

In previous coverage, the Vanguard noted a number of problems in the case, raised first in the appellate brief filed by Cliff Gardner, who filed the brief and argued the case before the California Supreme Court.  Investigators called into question the timeline including the time of death based on updated forensic practices.

Mark Godsey, Director of the Ohio Innocence Project, in his three-part analysis on the Peterson case from 2018, warns against using “demeanor evidence” whereby many believe Peterson acted guilty after the disappearance of his wife and his suspicious behavior.

But Godsey and others believe such evidence has been found to be unreliable.

He writes, “Peterson undeniably appeared ‘aloof’ and ‘unemotional’ if not cocky when caught on camera by the paparazzi during the investigation and then at his trial.”  The jury found him “remorseless” and that was “the most critical factor that caused them to convict him and send him to death row.”

But Godsey argues: “Despite what our intuition tells us, demeanor evidence just doesn’t mean that much and can’t be taken to the bank. And that’s been proven not just by the thousands of innocents who were wrongfully convicted after the police or jury disbelieved them and thought their demeanor indicated guilt, but by clinical studies as well.”

Mark Godsey in part three writes: “There were three types of ‘scientific’ evidence presented by experts at Scott’s trial, including a hydrologist’s conclusions regarding water drift and where Laci Peterson’s body would have been dumped in the water, the estimate of Connor’s fetal development to show the date of his death, and the reactions of dogs trained to detect the scent of Laci Peterson when taken to the marina where the prosecution alleged that Scott departed in his boat to dump her body in the bay.”

Godsey, for his part, argues all of the scientific evidence in this case is problematic, and believes that, instead, what happened is that “the experts were made aware by the prosecution of the ‘right answer’ before they started.”

It remains to be seen what else the LA Innocence Project will unover.

Pat Harris, Peterson’s attorney, told NBC, “I will confirm that we are thrilled to have the incredibly skilled attorneys at the LA Innocence Project and their expertise becoming involved in the efforts to prove Scott’s innocence.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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