Jun 02, 2020
(NBC Los Angeles) - An attorney representing Scott Peterson -- the Modesto fertilizer salesman who received the death penalty in 2004 for murdering his pregnant wife Laci Peterson -- made the case Tuesday his client didn't get a fair trial and deserves his conviction reversed.
Attorney Cliff Gardner made the points during a virtual hearing before California's Supreme Court as part of an automatic appeal granted in capitol cases. Peterson has been on California's Death Row at San Quentin prison since 2005. The prison sits a short distance from the Berkeley Marina where Peterson is alleged to have launched his boat just before Christmas Eve 2002 to dump his wife's body in the bay.
Gardner argued several points before court justices who listened remotely -- claiming one of the jurors lied in her jury questionnaire, jurors during the trial were allowed to conduct experiments on Peterson's boat without defense attorneys present, and that the case was prejudiced by extensive publicity.
"My position in a nutshell," Gardner said, "if this isn't an extreme case then what is?"
In court filings, Peterson's legal team alleges his high profile trial attorney Mark Geragos failed to call witnesses who could've shown Laci was walking the family dog through the neighborhood at the time when her husband was supposedly dumping her body in the bay -- just before Christmas Eve 2002.
The filings describe a mailman who told police he noticed the family dog was missing at the family's Modesto home -- suggesting Laci was walking him. The appeal also mentions a burglar who claimed he saw a homeless man pushing a woman into a van, which Peterson's defense team said could have been Laci.
During Tuesday's hearing, Donna Provenzano, an attorney with California's Attorney General's Office refuted Gardner's claim Peterson's trial was unfair.
"There is no contention in this appeal that that quantity of evidence was insufficient," Provenzano said. "Because it wasn't."
Even though Peterson was convicted in 2004, the appeal has dragged on as his family sought out an attorney to take the case. The trial, which was moved to Redwood City and lasted six months, gripped national headlines. Scott Peterson appeared on several talk shows including Diane Sawyer claiming his innocence.
The partial remains of Laci and the couple's unborn son Connor washed up in April of 2003, spurring investigators in their pursuit of Peterson as a suspect. He was arrested later that month near a golf course in La Jolla. He had dyed his hair blonde and was carrying camping equipment, $15 ,000 in cash and four cell phones.
Police said Peterson's motive was he was having an affair with Fresno hairstylist Amber Frey and wanted to be single.
Legal expert Dean Johnson who reviewed Peterson's appeal and watched Tuesday's hearing said Peterson's team is attempting to chip away at the evidence used to convict him.
"They are attacking the reliability of the prosecution's evidence," Johnson said. "They're saying that evidence simply wasn't sufficient to convict anybody."
Johnson said the defense is numerous issues with the hopes one will resound with the justices who will consider the appeal over the coming months. Depending on the issue, the court could overturn the death penalty or even reverse the entire conviction altogether.
"At this point there is a significant probability," Johnson said, "that we could see Scott Peterson II somewhere many years down the road."
[ed. - click to view the appeal (5.8mb .pdf)]