The California Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence of Scott Peterson, who was convicted of first-degree murder of his pregnant wife Laci Peterson in a highly publicized criminal case nearly 16 years ago, CBS San Francisco reports.
While the court decision leaves Peterson’s murder conviction in place, it has ordered a new penalty phase trial, with room for prosecutors to try again for a death sentence.
“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case. We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,” the court stated, but added that the judge in the trial “made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”
It went on to agree with the argument from Peterson and his lawyer Cliff Gardner, who specializes in post-conviction appeals, that potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after stating that they were against the death penalty but were willing to follow the law and impose it.
Peterson has been housed on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison since November 12th, 2004. He claims that his wife Laci was killed sometime after he left their Modesto, California home on the morning of December 24th, 2002, to go fishing in the San Francisco Bay. In a 423-page document with the court calling for an appeal, Gardner argued that Peterson was sentenced to death without the trial ever determining the “how, where or when” of the murder that occurred.
Furthermore, Gardner has blamed the ruling on the trial’s highly publicized nature. “Before hearing even a single witness, nearly half of all prospective jurors admitted they had already decided Mr. Peterson was guilty of capital murder,” he argued. Most notably, a radio station ordered a large billboard outside the courthouse where the parties would select a jury, featuring a photo of Peterson in a jumpsuit and a telephone number call in and vote whether Peterson was a “man or monster.”