Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son in 2004

By Steve Helling
June 01, 2021 03:09 PM
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Scott Peterson
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For more than 18 years, the family of Laci Peterson has grieved the loss of the bubbly, pregnant 27-year-old who was killed by husband Scott Peterson on Christmas Eve, 2002.

Peterson was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2002 death of Laci and their unborn son, Conner. He was sentenced to death in 2005.

"This has been with them every single day," a family source tells PEOPLE. "Their only comfort has been that Scott has been where he belongs, on death row. That he was going to pay for what he did to Laci. It was closure."

But now, the family's sense of closure is in jeopardy.

Peterson, now 48, scored two major legal victories in 2020. The first victory was in August, when his death penalty sentence was overturned, meaning that he would face a new penalty phase trial. The second victory came in October, when the California Supreme Court ruled that a lower court should take a second look at his case to determine whether his guilty verdict should be overturned.

Last Friday, Peterson scored another victory. In a San Mateo Superior Court filing, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said she won't retry the penalty phase of the trial, meaning that Peterson will no longer be on death row.

Peterson will now be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

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Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson
| Credit: ZUMA Press

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"The People have met and discussed with the victims' family what a new penalty trial would involve, pursuant to their rights under Marsy's Law," the court documents read. "While the family of Laci and Conner believe there is no doubt that defendant is guilty of these crimes and that his conduct warrants the death penalty and defendant is deserving of the punishment of death, the family has decided this process is simply too painful to endure once again."

The family source tells PEOPLE that Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, is still "devastated" by her daughter's murder and the subsequent decisions by the courts.

"She has been so strong for so long," the source says. "But she can't go through reliving this again and again. It has taken such a toll on her. It's beyond painful for her. And as much as she wanted to see Scott be placed back on death row, she can't do it. No one in the family really can. It would be opening up old wounds."

Now as Peterson's future is uncertain, Laci's family is figuring out how to keep Laci and Conner's memories alive.

"They are trying to focus on the Laci they knew and loved," says the insider, "rather than thinking about Scott. They've given him enough of their thoughts over the years. They don't need to give him any more."