REDWOOD CITY, California (AP) — A California judge dismissed a new murder case Tuesday for Scott Peterson, nearly 20 years after he was accused of dumping the bodies of his pregnant wife, Laci, and her unborn child. To San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.
Peterson claimed that the case that swept the world was tainted by a rogue jury who lied about his own history of abuse in order to get onto the panel that initially sent him to death row.
Supreme Court Justice Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that there was no evidence to support the defense claim that juror Richelle Nice misconducted during the jury selection.
Massullo wrote that Nice did not deliberately withhold information about his life in the jury poll or misrepresent his finances to stay on the jury, and he did not appear vengeful in his letters to Peterson later in prison.
Peterson, now 50, can appeal his decision.
It was indisputable that when Nice was elected to Peterson’s jury in 2004, four years ago she didn’t disclose that she wanted a restraining order while she was pregnant. Nice later said her boyfriend was “really scared for his unborn child” because of the threats from his ex-girlfriend.
In 2020, the California Supreme Court found that Nice’s actions required a hearing to determine whether they denied Peterson a fair trial and appointed Judge Massullo to the case. The supreme court separately rejected Peterson’s death sentence in 2020, and Stanislaus County prosecutors decided to seek Peterson’s execution again, even though they claimed he had a fair trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in December.
Peterson argued that despite Nice’s financial troubles, he struggled to join the jury and entered negotiations determined to avenge his nearly unborn child, the young victim whom Peterson nicknamed “Little Man”.
Nice, however, stated that he had no prejudices against Peterson until he heard the evidence against him.
In a sworn statement made in 2020, Nice said it had not occurred to her to include the threat to her unborn child in the jury form because she “did not feel ‘victimized’ in the way the law might define that term.” He then stated that he answered correctly based on his understanding of the questions.
“I didn’t write it in the survey because it never crossed my mind, never. It wasn’t done on purpose,” he swore during his two-day deposition in February.
He also objected to any financial justification for serving on the jury, swearing that he and the other jurors never discussed co-writing their book “We, the Jury” until the trial and verdict were over.
Prosecutors said it was his famous lawyer, Mark Geragos, who wanted Peterson on the jury. Geragos called Nice back as he prepared to leave after the court judge fired him for financial trouble, but Geragos said he would never have done so had he properly disclosed his personal history.
Nice also denied being biased, although she denied that her boyfriend at the time had been serially unfaithful and assaulted her despite being arrested for domestic violence.
Peterson was arrested in April 2003 only when his mistress showed up and said he had gone a month before his 27-year-old wife disappeared.
His lawyers provided Massullo with what they called a “Confidence Chart”, which he claimed showed contradictory statements by Nice.
“Miss. Nice simply forgot,” prosecutors respond in court filings, arguing that any mistake she made did not show bias.
“Her testimony and her demeanor … made it clear (Peterson) that she was not a vengeful, despised, punishing woman,” they argued.
Among other issues Massullo had to decide, there was also which side had the burden of proof.
Prosecutors said Peterson’s lawyers were unable to prove that Nice abused the jury. Unintentional or unintentional mistakes do not count, they argued.
Peterson’s lawyers have said that Nice openly concealed the facts, even unknowingly, during the jury selection, shifting the burden on prosecutors to prove that he was not biased.