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Court Overturns Scott Peterson Death Sentence, But Gives State Second Chance to Seek Capital Punishment

Scott Peterson

Convicted murderer Scott Peterson will die in prison. The question is when. The Supreme Court of California overturned his death sentence on Monday, though his guilty verdict remains in place. The state’s high court said that the trial court made a mistake by dismissing prospective jurors who simply voiced an opposition to capital punishment.

“Here, the trial court erroneously dismissed many prospective jurors because of written questionnaire responses expressing opposition to the death penalty, even though the jurors gave no indication that their views would prevent them from following the law — and, indeed, specifically attested in their questionnaire responses that they would have no such difficulty,” the court said. “Under United States Supreme Court precedent, these errors require us to reverse the death sentence in this case.”

The state gets another chance to push for the death penalty if they choose to do so, however. The court is remanding the case for a new penalty phase.

Peterson was convicted in 2004 in first-degree murder with special circumstances for killing his wife Laci Peterson in 2002. Laci went missing on Christmas Eve. He was also found guilty of second-degree murder because she was pregnant with their unborn son Conner Peterson.

Police said he killed his wife, wrapped her body in tarp, and sunk her in the Berkeley Marina using four eight-pound weights. His alibi is that he was out fishing. It turned out he had been dating a woman named Amber Frey; he lied to her about not being married.

Peterson notoriously agreed to be interviewed about his wife’s disappearance on a number of occasions.

If Peterson succeeds at the new penalty phase, his sentence will be life in prison. That functionally might still be his fate even if the state wins another death sentence. California has had a moratorium on capital punishment in place since March 2019. The state wasn’t even prolific in executing inmates in recent decades, and hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, even though there are hundreds of inmates on death row.

Jesse Weber and Colin Kalmbacher contributed to this report.

[Mugshot via California Dept. of Corrections]

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