A judge denied convicted murderer Scott Lee Peterson a retrial on Tuesday for killing his then-27-year-old wife Laci Denise Peterson and their unborn Conner Peterson, rejecting his bias allegations against one of his jurors.
Peterson, 50, sought another chance to fight the charges by arguing that Richelle Nice, a juror in the original trial, had prejudged the well-publicized case and lied on her juror questionnaire about being the victim of a crime. For example, she had previously filed for a restraining order against the ex-girlfriend of her then-boyfriend.
“Had I known any of the circumstances that have been alleged by Petitioner regarding Juror 7’s background I would have challenged Juror 7 for cause,” Peterson’s trial attorney Mark Geragos said in a declaration cited in court records. “There is no way I would have wanted such a juror on the jury which would decide Mr. Peterson’s fate. If the trial court did not grant a four-cause challenge, I would certainly have exercised a peremptory challenge on this juror.”
Nice told The Modesto Bee in a 2017 report that the Peterson case and hers were very different. The ex “never threatened to kill me, to kill my unborn child, to beat me up,” she said. “When I filled out that questionnaire, my situation never came into my mind because it was not similar at all.”
Ultimately, the court found such a stance credible.
In her ruling, Judge Anne-Christine Massullo evaluated the friction in the relationship between Nice, the then-boyfriend, and the ex-girlfriend. It “can be described, for lack of a better word, as a love triangle,” she wrote. It was not a traumatic experience for Nice, she wrote.
Before filing for the restraining order, Nice had previously called the woman to “try to put a stop” to her behavior. When that did not work, she went forward with the restraining order to avoid “handl[ing] it on the streets.” She did not want to get into a physical fight while pregnant.
In order words, the restraining order was de-escalation tactic. Nice did not consider herself a victim.
BREAKING: Judge rules Scott Peterson will NOT get a new trial. Peterson was convicted in the murders of his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn son.
Originally sentenced to death, that has been overturned to Life without Parole. He was seeking a new trial. #ScottPeterson pic.twitter.com/7zKtQdChhO
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) December 20, 2022
The court also took a look at the letters Nice sent Peterson after the conviction. In these letters, she discussed the case and questioned him on why men cheat.
“At best, the letters demonstrate that Juror No. 7 was emotionally impacted by her participation in the trial,” the court wrote. “In her letter dated December 3, 2005, Juror No. 7 writes: ‘The jury is going to get together on the 16 of Dec. just for support.’ ‘Scott, I just want you to know that [it’s] not at all a happy day for us. Each one of us felt like we were just struck by a Mac truck.'”
This was not evidence of predetermined bias, the judge ruled. She was showing a strong emotional reaction to trial evidence. Those letters did not reveal a “hidden agenda” or mindset to punish defendant Peterson.
“The letters also evidence a juror who, despite all she heard and saw, was trying to get Petitioner to come to peace with what he did and the impact it had on his life and the life of Laci’s family,” the court wrote.
All told, Peterson’s recent court actions were a mixed victory. Though he failed to get a retrial, the California Supreme Court ruled that the trial court improperly dismissed potential jurors who simply voiced an opposition to capital punishment. With his death sentence found unconstitutional, prosecutors chose not to redo the penalty phase, citing the deep pain of the victim’s family and the prospect of reopening old wounds.
“No matter what happens, no matter what transpires in the future, there are two things that will never change,” Laci’s mother Sharon Rocha said during a victim impact statement. “Laci and Connor will always be dead. And you will always be their murderer.”
Peterson’s ex-girlfriend Amber Frey also welcomed the ruling.
“It’s relieving to hear Scott Peterson will not get a new trial,” Frey said in a statement. “I would have been willing to testify again. However, I am relieved that my testimony will not be necessary. If I were called to testify, I would give truthful testimony again, for the truth doesn’t change over time.”
Read the ruling here.
[Mugshot via California Department of Corrections]
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