Scott Peterson’s attorney says his legal team is “cautiously optimistic” that he will receive a new trial at a hearing in February after they present evidence of alleged juror misconduct in Peterson’s original 2004 trial for murdering his wife and unborn son.
Lawyer Pat Harris spoke with Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview on TODAY Thursday about the prospects of getting a new trial for Peterson, 49, who has been in prison for the past 17 years.
He was resentenced to life in prison without parole by a California judge on Wednesday for the 2002 murder of his wife, Laci Peterson, and unborn son.
The hope for a retrial hinges on the claim by Peterson’s legal team that juror Richelle Nice committed “prejudicial misconduct” by failing to disclose that she was the victim of domestic violence while she was pregnant, which would have presented a conflict during jury selection.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Harris said about a retrial. “I think there’s a great deal of evidence that the juror did commit misconduct, essentially when she filled out the juror form, the juror questionnaire, and also when she was questioned in court, she did not tell the truth about incidents in her own life when she was a victim of domestic violence while she was pregnant.
“I think that was obviously a very important thing for her, part of her life, and if she had been honest about it, she would not have been selected for the jury.”
Nice, who co-authored a book on the case with other jurors, has denied that she was influenced by her experience with domestic abuse when it came to Peterson’s case.
Harris acknowledged that “the bar is high” to win a retrial and he expects the hearing, which begins on Feb. 25, to last several days.
If Peterson is granted a retrial, Harris said his legal team is “absolutely” prepared to present new evidence they believe will exonerate Peterson.
Harris also said they have evidence that a burglary that Modesto, California, police said occurred across the the street from the Petersons’ home on Dec. 26, 2002, actually occurred on Dec. 24, the day of Laci Peterson’s disappearance. Peterson’s attorneys believe the men involved in the burglary were also involved in Laci’s death.
“We believe we have evidence that the people who actually were involved (in the burglary) are people who have a very violent criminal history, and we believe we can prove that that is much more likely as to what happened than rather than Scott having killed his wife,” Harris said.
The California Supreme Court, which overturned the death penalty in his case, also found that there was considerable circumstantial evidence incriminating Peterson. That evidence included the fact that Laci Peterson’s body washed ashore within sight of where Peterson said he went fishing that day, the research he did on bay currents, and a fishing boat he bought.
Peterson had hoped to speak about his conviction in court on Wednesday, but he was denied the request to make any comments by the judge. He has not spoken about the deaths of his wife and son in court since his 2004 trial.
“Essentially what Scott wanted to do was to make it clear that how he’s been presented in the media and in court isn’t who Scott Peterson is,” Harris said. “When you have things like a billboard outside the courtroom with his picture saying ‘man or monster,’ that he is not a monster, that he did not commit this crime.”
“He wants the opportunity for people to know that he is innocent, and that he would never have hurt Laci and Connor, and I think it’s frustrating for him,” Harris added.
Laci Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, faced Scott Peterson in person for the first time in 17 years during Wednesday’s proceeding. She addressed him directly while delivering an emotional impact statement as he sat shackled in a red jumpsuit with a mask on.
“Laci’s dead, Scott, because she loved you,” Rocha said. “She trusted you and she believed in you, and you betrayed her and your son and everybody else.”
“Everybody here wanted her,” she continued. “But you chose to get rid of her. You didn’t want a baby nor the responsibility of being a father.”
Christmas Eve will mark 19 years since the death of Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant with their son, Connor. Their remains washed ashore in an area of the San Francisco Bay just miles from where Peterson said he had been fishing on the day of their disappearance.
Peterson received the death penalty in 2005 after being convicted of murder a year earlier, but his sentence was reduced to life without parole last year after the California Supreme Court found “significant errors” in jury selection at his trial because potential jurors opposed to the death penalty were excluded.
Janey Peterson, Scott Peterson’s sister-in-law, was there in support of him at Wednesday’s hearing and has been pushing for a retrial.
“There is no forensic evidence,” she said at a news conference outside the courtroom. “There is no timeline to this crime. Scott Peterson is innocent, and now we’re trying to reverse that.”