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What to know: The Scott Peterson murder case timeline

Convicted killer Scott Peterson is making another bid to get a whole new trial — this time, with new lawyers who say they plan to present critical, previously-overlooked evidence.

It’s the latest bend in the road for Peterson’s long journey through the justice system, which started more than twenty years ago. In 2004, a jury convicted him of killing his wife and their unborn son, and several months later, a judge sentenced him to death. Here’s what’s happened so far in the case that had the world’s attention focused on a courtroom in Redwood City — starting back where it all began, almost 100 miles away in Modesto.

December 2002: Laci Peterson is reported missing

Laci Peterson was reported missing on Christmas Eve, 2002. She was eight months pregnant with a baby boy. She and Scott had planned to name their son Connor.

Scott Peterson said everything seemed fine when he left their house that morning. Prosecutors say he told a neighbor he was going to play golf. But that’s not where he went. Instead, he drove to the Berkeley Marina, almost 90 miles away, where he later told police he went fishing in a little aluminum boat he’d recently purchased — one his family never even knew he had.

The search for Laci began. But a month later, the story took an unexpected turn.

January 2003: Amber Frey speaks out

“Scott told me he was not married,” she said to a room full of journalists. “We did have a romantic relationship.”

The woman speaking was Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, who’d said she’d been quite in love with her new boyfriend Scott Peterson before finding out he was actually married and expecting a baby.

Prosecutors say Peterson told Frey he’d “lost” his wife, and would be spending his first Christmas alone — even though, at the time of that conversation, Laci was still very much alive.

March 2003: Police rule it a homicide

By March, police had classified the missing persons case of Laci Peterson as a homicide investigation, and began executing search warrants on the Petersons’ property. Scott Peterson, still front and center in the effort to bring Laci home, began to feel growing pressure from the public and the media.

April 2003: Bodies found in the Bay

“The body is an adult female,” a police spokesman told reporters in a late night press conference.

It was at Richmond’s Point Isabel, just a few miles from where Scott Peterson went fishing, that the bodies of Laci and her unborn son had washed ashore. The two bodies were found separately, a mile apart, in gruesome condition.

April 2003: Peterson arrested

After identifying the bodies, police went looking for Scott Peterson. They found him near San Diego, with bleached hair and a goatee, carrying a huge pile of cash. Police took him into custody, and drove with him for ten hours back to Modesto, where he was booked into jail.

At his arraignment, Peterson pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder, and then hired Mark Geragos, a defense lawyer with a long list of celebrity clients.

January 2004: Change of venue

Even before a jury was selected, the case had already gotten so much attention that a judge in Stanislaus County ruled Peterson couldn’t get a fair trial in his hometown. There was nonstop national news coverage, primetime TV specials, and even a made-for-TV movie.

The judge ordered the case moved to San Mateo County, where Peterson would stand trial at the courthouse in Redwood City.

February 2004: Lifetime movie

In February, a feature-length movie, “The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story” made its debut on Lifetime TV. It was a ripped-from-the-headlines crime film starring Dean Cain as Scott Peterson. The film re-enacted press conferences and recorded phone calls word-for-word, and featured “missing” posters with Laci’s real photo on them.

June 2004: Trial begins

For five months, Scott Peterson’s murder trial played out to a packed courtroom.

Over the course of the trial, two jurors were thrown out for misconduct, and a third left over arguments in the jury room. One of the replacement jurors was Richelle Nice, who became known as the Strawberry Shortcake juror for her crimson-dyed hair and accompanying pink outfits.

November 2004: Peterson is found guilty

On November 12, the verdict was read in court. The jury found Peterson guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his wife Laci, and second-degree murder in the death of his baby son, Connor.

March 2005: Sentenced to death

In March, by the jury’s unanimous recommendation, Peterson was sentenced to death — even though police never found a crime scene or a murder weapon. He was sent to San Quentin, where his story could’ve ended on California’s infamous death row. But it didn’t. 

Instead, 16 years later, Peterson was brought back to that very same courthouse in Redwood City.

December 2021: Moved off death row

The California Supreme Court agreed to hear Peterson’s appeal, and decided that the judge in his murder trial had overstepped his authority by excluding jurors who said they were against to the death penalty. The high court ruled that the judge had no right to pre-screen jurors in that way.

In the midst of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Peterson was brought into court wearing a turquoise N95 mask and a red jail uniform, with his hands shackled to his waist. No longer condemned to death by execution, he appeared calm and in good spirits as he was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

December 2022: Appeal for a new trial

A year later, Peterson’s next appeal centered around the Strawberry Shortcake juror, Richelle Nice — who it turns out wasn’t fully honest in jury selection.

On a questionnaire for prospective jurors, Nice didn’t disclose that she’d recently filed a restraining order against someone who threatened her while she was pregnant — a fact that could have disqualified her from serving on the jury.

A judge heard the case, but ruled that Nice’s failure to disclose her ongoing legal matter wasn’t enough to get Peterson a new trial.

March 2024: New evidence?

That brings us back to the present day, when a 51-year-old Scott Peterson, with long hair pulled back in a ponytail, appeared remotely before a judge in Redwood City from a room inside Mule Creek State Prison, outside Sacramento.

“Good morning, Mr. Peterson, can you both see and hear the proceeding, sir?” asked Judge Elizabeth Hill.

“Yes, Your Honor, I can, thank you,” Peterson replied.

Along with some of the same prosecutors who tried his original case, there were new lawyers in the courtroom for this hearing. Peterson’s new defense team comes from the Los Angeles Innocence Project, a two-year-old nonprofit that’s independent from the national Innocence Project, and works with the forensic science institute at Cal State L.A.

“We are eager to get our investigation underway,” said Paula Mitchell, the L.A. Innocence Project’s director, speaking to Judge Hill from the defense table.

Peterson’s new lawyers are hoping to re-try his case by finding new evidence — especially DNA evidence from challenging samples for which the technology to obtain an accurate DNA sequence has improved since Peterson’s original conviction.

They asked Judge Hill for access to perform DNA testing on material from a burned-out van with what appeared to be a bloody mattress inside, found after a burglary near the Petersons’ house. They also asked to test numerous items of clothing and debris that surfaced along with the bodies.

“The defense was entitled to this at the time of trial,” Mitchell argued in court.

But so far, the only new DNA test the court has agreed to allow is a single piece of duct tape that was found on Laci Peterson’s pants during the autopsy.

All this time, Scott Peterson has maintained he’s innocent. But this latest effort could be his last chance to show there’s reasonable doubt about whether he’s guilty.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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