Scott Peterson was convicted in 2004 of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner

By Steve Helling
August 24, 2020 03:29 PM
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Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson
| Credit: ZUMA Press

Scott Peterson has been on California's death row since 2005, convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2002 death of his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner.

But Peterson, now 47, has scored a surprising legal victory.

PEOPLE confirms that the California Supreme Court has reversed Peterson's death penalty conviction and ordered a new sentencing trial for him.

The court decision does not overturn the murder conviction and allows the prosecutors to try again for the death penalty in the high-profile case.

In its ruling, the court said that Peterson's guilty verdict will stay in place.

"Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case," the court said in its ruling. "We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder."

But the court went on to say 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."

Scott Peterson

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Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared from her Modesto home on Christmas Eve day of 2002. Her body was found in April 2003 in San Francisco Bay. Peterson claimed that Laci was killed as she walked the couple’s dog after Peterson left to go on a solo fishing trip on Christmas Eve morning.

But as the case moved forward, jurors heard about Peterson's dark secrets, including a months-long affair with a woman named Amber Frey, who was unaware that Peterson was married when she started dating him.

Frey later worked with prosecutors, taping damning phone calls with Peterson. During trial, she testified for several days about her relationship with Peterson, her realization that he was still married and that his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, had vanished. Frey first called police in Modesto, California, in late December 2002 to disclose the affair.

Frey's testimony proved crucial in the court proceedings. Peterson was convicted by a Redwood City jury in 2004 and in 2005 was sentenced to death. He has remained on death row while his appeal worked its way through the courts.

A new penalty phase trial date has not yet been set.