STANISLAUS COUNTY (CBS13/AP) – After consulting with the family of Laci Peterson, prosecutors will not pursue the death penalty for convicted killer Scott Peterson after his sentence in the 2002 murder case was overturned last summer, court documents confirmed.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager filed the paperwork on Friday.
The documents read, in part, "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, the family has decided this process is simply too painful to endure once again."
Peterson was convicted in 2005 in the San Mateo court after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County due to the massive pre-trial publicity that followed the Christmas Eve 2002 disappearance of 27-year-old Laci, who was eight months pregnant.
The California Supreme Court threw out his death sentence last August, blaming a judge error at trial. That dropped his sentence to life in prison, giving prosecutors a chance to go for the death penalty again in the sentencing phase.
Peterson maintains his innocence and a second outstanding issue means Scott Peterson could get an entirely new trial because a juror failed to disclose she was a crime victim.
No decision has been made on that just yet. If no new trial is granted, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Investigators say Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them from his fishing boat into the San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.
One of Peterson's attorneys said Friday's announcement is not a precursor to a plea deal and that his client will seek a new trial if a judge decides his first one was tainted by juror misconduct.
Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said she hopes to make a decision this year whether Peterson merits a new trial.
It's not clear if prosecutors could again seek the death penalty if there is a new trial and he was again convicted, said defense attorney Pat Harris, who is handling the death sentence portion of the case.
A different attorney, Andras Farkas, is representing Peterson on the issue of whether he gets a new trial. Farkas did not respond to an email requesting comment.
"It's not clear to me that they're saying no matter what, we're taking the death penalty off the table ... or they're saying if we go back to trial we're reserving the right to put the death penalty back up again," Harris said. "It sounds like they're kind of holding back that if the judge orders a new trial, they could put the death penalty back on the table."
That could be cleared up at what was supposed to be a procedural hearing on Tuesday, he said.
The district attorney's office did not comment.
Harris noted that prosecutors had earlier said the family supported again seeking the death penalty, and contended that their new motion is a gambit to avoid a new airing of the case.
"I believe they took it off the table because they know we can prove his innocence," Harris said.
In early May, Peterson's sister-in-law Janey Peterson told CBS13 she had evidence that would exonerate him. She said Modesto police ignored a handful of tips and leads in this case, including a burglary across the street from Scott and Laci's home.
"At Scott's first trial, there were a lot of unanswered questions, and we have been able to answer them and we have a way better understanding of what happened that day," Janney Peterson told CBS13. "Everything we know about that day points to Scott's innocence."
Harris plans to introduce new evidence if Peterson's conviction is overturned. He says Peterson's defense has evidence to prove that the break-in that happened across the street from the couple's home that investigators previously have stated happened on December 26, actually occurred on the 24, the same day Laci went missing.
"We are wanting very much to have another day in court," Harris explained. "An unbiased jury will find him innocent."
If prosecutors were to proceed with a new penalty phase, they would essentially have to retry the entire case before a new jury — so that new evidence would come out even if jurors could not acquit him and could only recommend a sentence of death or life in prison, he said.
"The truth will have come out. Bottom line is people will know what happened even if he doesn't receive a new trial on his guilt or innocence," Harris said.
Janey Paterson said she just wants the truth.
"When you stop and pause and realize they are not going to stick a needle in his arm, there is a sense of great relief that comes with that," Janey Peterson said. "We are not going to stop and we are not going to give up. Scott is innocent, we need justice for Laci and Conner."
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