The Los Angeles Innocence Project is taking up the case of Scott Peterson, who was convicted in the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, in 2004, a case that captivated the nation. In a statement, the LAIP said it was “investigating his claim of actual innocence.”
Peterson, now 51, was originally sentenced to death in 2005 but was resentenced to life without parole after the California Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that members of Peterson’s jury were wrongly dismissed because of their opinion on the death penalty. Peterson pleaded not guilty and says he was not the killer.
Peterson was 32 when he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Laci Peterson, 27, and second-degree murder for his near-term son, The Washington Post reported at the time.Prosecutors said Peterson killed his wife and dumped her body in the San Francisco Bay after he had an affair with a massage therapist who believed he was single. Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002.National news outlets and local newscasts led with daily updates on the search for Laci Peterson as the case turned into a “24-hour media extravaganza,” The Post reported. Peterson told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that his wife had known about the affair before she disappeared, that they were working through it and that nothing “would break us apart.” About three months later, in April 2003, the remains of Laci and the fetus washed ashore.Peterson was arrested days later just north of the Mexican border, carrying nearly $15,000 in cash, his brother’s license and camping gear. He had dyed his hair and facial hair blond.
The jury convicted Peterson at the end of a trial that included five months of testimony and two juror replacements.
Prosecutors depicted Peterson as a deceitful person who had told the massage therapist that his wife was dead and gave conflicting stories after Laci Peterson disappeared, The Post reported. He had said that he was playing golf all day. Or that he was out fishing the day she vanished — after buying a boat without telling anyone — near the same spot where her remains would wash up.
Prosecutors said he dumped her body into the water from his fishing boat. The coroner at the time couldn’t determine the cause of death because the bodies were so decomposed.
But Peterson and his defense team continued to say he wasn’t the killer. Peterson’s attorney Pat Harris, who confirmed to The Post that the L.A. Innocence Project was on the case, has noted that burglars were nearby the day of Laci Peterson’s disappearance.
When the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 2020, it wrote that the trial judge “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.”
But it rejected Peterson’s claim that the widespread publicity that followed the case made it difficult to receive a fair trial.
The LAIP works to exonerate people who it says were wrongly convicted and to “remedy past misuse of forensic and other scientific evidence in the courtroom.” The organization provides pro bono services to people in Central and Southern California who, it says, are innocent.
In October 2022, the LAIP helped free 69-year-old Maurice Hastings after 38 years in the carceral system. The group pointed to new DNA test results that showed another suspect was responsible for a robbery-homicide in Inglewood, Calif.
It did not comment on Peterson’s case beyond confirming that it was taking it up.