Scott Peterson's lawyers 'eager' to begin investigation in wrongful conviction case

ByMeredith Deliso, Kayna Whitworth, Annie Pong and Tenzin Shakya ABCNews logo
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Scott Peterson case: Hearing set in one of the most infamous murder cases in recent decades
Scott Peterson, 51, is serving life in prison without parole for the murders of his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son.

New lawyers for Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife and their unborn son 20 years ago, said they are "eager" to get their investigation in his wrongful conviction case underway during a court appearance on Tuesday.

He appeared in court virtually on Tuesday after the Los Angeles Innocence Project filed three motions in the murder case earlier this year, including one seeking evidence from the original trial.

Laci Peterson, who was 27 years old and eight months pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002. Her body was found in San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

Scott Peterson, 51, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife and second-degree murder in the death of their unborn son. He was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2005. He was later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Attorneys with the LA Innocence Project claimed that Scott Peterson's state and federal constitutional rights were violated, including a "claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence," according to court documents filed in January.

Scott Peterson appeared in San Mateo County court via Zoom from Mule Creek State Prison, where he is serving out his life sentence. He had his hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Paula Mitchell, director of the LA Innocence Project, expressed frustration in court over what she called a lack of response from the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office regarding discovery. She stated that she gave them an informal request for "very specific" items of discovery on Nov. 14, 2023.

RELATED: Scott Peterson criminal probe: A timeline of events

"We spent a lot of time trying to suss out what, frankly, are very alarming deficiencies in the discovery that was provided to the defense at the time of trial," Mitchell said. "Mr. Peterson has been waiting 20 years to find some of these police reports and audio recordings and video recordings that should have been provided."

She asked that they begin receiving the discovery as soon as possible.

"We are eager to get our investigation underway," Mitchell said.

His attorneys are seeking dozens of items they say they could not locate after reviewing the trial files from his prior counsel "after a thorough search," according to the filings. The items include evidence from the investigations into a December 2002 burglary of a home across the street from the Petersons' house in Modesto in Stanislaus County, Laci Peterson's missing Croton watch, and a van fire in the Airport District on Dec. 25, 2002, according to the filings. They are also seeking documents from interviews with several witnesses.

The motion for post-trial discovery will be discussed in court on July 15.

Several filings from the LA Innocence Project were heavily redacted, which Mitchell said was to protect the identities of witnesses who are "fearful of retaliation by the Modesto Police Department." The LA Innocence Project filed a motion to seal some of the court records to protect identifying information of "potential material witnesses," which will now be discussed on April 16.

ALSO SEE: Former investigator says key evidence wasn't properly investigated in Scott Peterson case

The LA Innocence Project is also seeking DNA testing of more than a dozen items of evidence, including items from the burglary and van fire. A motion seeking a court order directing the testing of the evidence for the presence of DNA will be discussed on May 29.

Scott Peterson is set to appear via Zoom for the three hearings.

Scott Peterson, who pleaded not guilty, has long maintained his innocence. His previous attempt for a new trial was denied in December 2022.

In 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned Scott Peterson's death sentence, citing that during the penalty phase his jury was improperly screened for bias against the death penalty, according to court documents.

He was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in December 2021 and moved off death row, from San Quentin State Prison to Mule Creek State Prison, in October 2022.

RELATED: Scott Peterson case spotlights exoneration efforts in the US

The LA Innocence Project -- which provides pro bono legal services to people incarcerated in Central and Southern California who may have been wrongfully convicted -- previously said in a statement that it is representing Scott Peterson and "investigating his claim of actual innocence."

Scott Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, previously said in a statement to ABC News that they are "thrilled to have the incredibly skilled attorneys at the LA Innocence project and their expertise becoming involved in the efforts to prove Scott's innocence."

ABC News' Alex Stone contributed to this report.