Written by DON THOMPSON Associated Press
(AP) – Northern California prosecutors said Friday they will again seek the death penalty for Scott Peterson in the slaying of his pregnant wife and unborn son nearly 19 years ago, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror.
Stanislaus County Assistant District Attorney Dave Harris announced that it is prosecutors’ intention to retry the penalty phase of the case, spokesman John Goold said after a court hearing. He said prosecutors otherwise won’t comment or discuss the decision.
Peterson, 47, wearing a buzz haircut and a mask, appeared remotely in the Modesto courtroom from San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco, home to the state’s death row.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager acted after the California Supreme Court in August overturned Peterson’s 2005 death sentence in a case that attracted worldwide attention.
The state’s high court upheld his conviction in that ruling. But the same justices in October ordered a new hearing in San Mateo Superior Court to determine whether his underlying murder conviction must also be tossed out if a juror committed “prejudicial misconduct.”
Pat Harris, who assisted in Peterson’s original trial, will represent him at the new proceedings.
Peterson was convicted in San Mateo Superior Court after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County due to the massive pre-trial publicity that followed the Christmas Eve 2002 disappearance of 27-year-old Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant with their unborn son, Connor.
Investigators say Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.
The Supreme Court said his death sentence could not stand because potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.
In the second ruling, it ordered a San Mateo judge to decide whether the conviction itself must be overturned because one juror failed to disclose that she had sought a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.
The juror said in seeking the order that she feared for her unborn child.
The San Mateo judge will have to decide if that was juror misconduct, and if so if it was so prejudicial that a new trial is warranted.
Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of his unborn son. Peterson was arrested after Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, told police that they began dating a month before his wife’s death, but that he had told her his wife was dead.
California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges, and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has a moratorium on executions for as long as he is governor.