NATIONAL NEWS

California judge rejects new murder trial for Scott Peterson

Dec 21, 2022, 12:00 PM
Scott Peterson and his lawyer Mark Geragos, left, are seen during defense closing arguments in the ...
Scott Peterson and his lawyer Mark Geragos, left, are seen during defense closing arguments in the penalty phase of his murder trial at the courthouse in Redwood City, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004. Peterson was convicted of two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, pool )
(AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, pool )

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California judge on Tuesday rejected a new murder trial for Scott Peterson, nearly 20 years after he was charged with dumping the bodies of his pregnant wife, Laci, and the unborn child they planned to name Conner into San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.

Peterson, 50, alleged the resulting trial that gripped the world was tainted by a rogue juror who lied about her own history of abuse to get on the panel that initially sent him to death row.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo found that Juror No. 7, Richelle Nice, committed misconduct by providing false answers during jury selection — but that she did not commit enough misconduct to require a new trial because she wasn’t biased against Peterson.

Nice did not intentionally conceal information about her life or misrepresent her financial situation to stay on the jury, and did not appear vengeful toward Peterson in letters she later wrote him in prison, Massullo ruled in San Mateo County Superior Court.

“The Court concludes that Juror No. 7’s responses were not motivated by pre-existing or improper bias against (Peterson), but instead were the result of a combination of good faith misunderstanding of the questions and sloppiness in answering,” the judge wrote.

Defense attorney Pat Harris said he was disappointed in the decision, which he said excused Nice’s misconduct.

“We believe this sets a bad precedent for future cases where jurors purposefully commit misconduct but nevertheless know it will be excused by simply shrugging it off with ‘I forgot,’ ” Harris wrote. “Jury questionnaires and the attorneys who read them depend on the honesty of the answers in order to get a fair trial. It will make it difficult if jurors believe they can lie and there will be no repercussions.”

Peterson’s defense team plans to “push forward until he is freed,” Harris said.

It was undisputed that Nice failed to disclose as she was being selected for Peterson’s jury in 2004 that she had sought a restraining order while she was pregnant four years earlier. Nice said then that she “really fears for her unborn child” because of threats from her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

The California Supreme Court in 2020 found that Nice’s actions required a hearing to determine if they denied Peterson a fair trial, and assigned Judge Massullo to the case. The high court separately threw out Peterson’s death sentence in 2020 and Stanislaus County prosecutors decided against again seeking his execution even as they argued he received a fair trial. He was resentenced to life in prison in December.

Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson’s mother, said Tuesday that the judge’s decision confirms that Scott Peterson did receive a fair trial.

“We appreciate Juror No. 7 for her courage and honesty during this process. No juror should have to go through what she endured,” Rocha said in a statement provided by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.

Scott Peterson argued that Nice fought to join the jury despite her financial hardship and that she entered deliberations determined to enact revenge for Peterson’s nearly full-term unborn child, the young victim she nicknamed “Little Man.”

But Nice testified that she had no bias against Peterson until she heard the evidence against him.

Nice said in a sworn declaration in 2020 that it did not occur to her to include the threat to her own unborn child on her juror form because she did not “feel ‘victimized’ the way the law might define that term.” She later testified that she answered truthfully based on her understanding of the questions.

“I didn’t write it on the questionnaire because it never crossed my mind, ever. It wasn’t done intentionally,” she swore during two days of testimony in February.

She also disputed any financial motive to serving on the jury, swearing that she and other jurors never discussed jointly writing their book, “We, the Jury,” until after the trial and verdict.

And it was Peterson’s celebrity attorney, Mark Geragos, who wanted her on the jury, prosecutors said. Geragos called Nice back as she prepared to leave after the trial judge dismissed her for financial hardship, though Geragos said he never would have done so had she properly disclosed her personal history.

Nice also denied being biased even though she said her boyfriend at the time was serially unfaithful and denied that he ever assaulted her despite his arrest for domestic violence.

Peterson was arrested in April 2003 only after his mistress came forward to say he told her his 27-year-old wife was gone a month before her actual disappearance.

His attorneys provided Massullo with what they called a “Credibility Chart” purporting to show Nice’s conflicting statements.

“Ms. Nice simply forgot,” prosecutors responded in court filings, arguing that any mistakes she made did not demonstrate bias.

“Her testimony and her demeanor … clearly showed she was not a vengeful, scorned woman who sought to punish (Peterson),” they argued.

Among other issues Massullo had to decide was which side had the burden of proof.

Prosecutors said Peterson’s attorneys failed to prove Nice committed juror misconduct. Inadvertent or unintentional mistakes don’t count, they argued.

Peterson’s attorneys said Nice clearly concealed facts during jury selection, even unknowingly, which they said shifts the burden to prosecutors to prove that she wasn’t prejudiced.

____

Associated Press writers Brian Melley and Don Thompson contributed.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference after a Federal Open M...
Christopher Rugaber, AP Economics Writer

Fed lifts rate by quarter-point and signals more hikes ahead

The Federal Reserve extended its fight against high inflation Wednesday by raising its key interest rate by a quarter-point, its eighth hike since March.
14 hours ago
Six-year-old Mason Stonehouse was playing on his dad’s phone before bedtime and spent about $1,00...
CNN

Michigan six-year-old orders $1,000 worth of food on Grubhub

A six-year-old as playing on his dad's phone before bedtime and spent about $1,000 on Grubhub orders.
14 hours ago
FILE - U.S. Secret Service agents are seen in front of Joe Biden's Rehoboth Beach, Del., home on Ja...
Eric Tucker, Colleen Long and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Biden lawyer: FBI finds no classified docs at beach house

The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched President Joe Biden's vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Wednesday without finding any classified documents, the president's personal attorney said.
14 hours ago
Soundgarden performs on stage for Guitar Hero game...
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

Missy, Willie and George Michael among Rock Hall nominees

Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden, Cyndi Lauper, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow and the late George Michael are nominees for 2023 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a list that includes a mix of country, soul, hip-hop, metal, pop, rap-rock and grunge.
14 hours ago
Mourners sit next to a candle display during a vigil for Tyre Nichols at Regency Community Skatepar...
Aaron Morrison and Travis Loller, Associated Press

‘We’re all Tyre’: Family prepares to lay Nichols to rest

The family of Tyre Nichols plans to lay him to rest Wednesday, three weeks after he died following a brutal beating by Memphis police that was captured on disturbing video that prompted nationwide protests and renewed calls for police reform.
14 hours ago
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Supe...
Associated Press

Tom Brady retires, insisting this time it’s for good

Tom Brady has announced his retirement. Brady won a record seven Super Bowls for New England and Tampa.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
California judge rejects new murder trial for Scott Peterson