Watch CBS News

Judge denies convicted killer Scott Peterson a new trial

Final arguments begin in Scott Peterson's bid for new trial
Final arguments begin in Scott Peterson's bid for new trial 01:38

REDWOOD CITY -- A San Mateo County Superior Court judge on Tuesday denied convicted killer Scott Peterson's plea for new trial, ruling that former juror Richelle Nice was not guilty of misconduct during his original trial.

Peterson's defense team grilled Nice for several days during an August hearing, particularly on her omission on a pre-trial jury questionnaire that she had sought a restraining order in 2000 against her then-boyfriend's former girlfriend, saying then that she feared for the safety of her own unborn child.

"The court concludes that Juror No.7's (Nice) responses were not motivated by pre-existing or improper bias against Petitioner (Peterson) but instead were a combination of good faith misunderstanding of the questions and sloppiness in answering," Judge Anne-Christine Massullo wrote in the ruling.

The defense team claimed Nice was biased and not objective when she reach a guilty verdict along with her fellow jury members at Peterson's highly publicized 2004 trial for murdering his wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son Connor.

They also entered into evidence 17 letters Nice wrote to Peterson after his conviction and the eight letters Peterson wrote to Nice.

The defense team claimed those letters were further evidence of bias.

"The letters also evidence a juror who, despite all she had heard and saw, was trying to get the Petitioner (Peterson) to come to peace with what he did and the impact it had on his life and the life of Laci's family," the judge wrote in the denial of a new trial.

"The letters do not demonstrate a state of mind of contrivance or hatred to support a conclusion that at the time Juror No. 7 (Nice) filled out the questionnaire, her goal was to lie to sit on the jury and punish the Petitioner (Peterson)."

Peterson, now 50, can appeal the judge's decision.

It was undisputed that Nice failed to disclose as she was being selected for Peterson's jury in 2004 that she had sought a restraining order while she was pregnant four years earlier. Nice said then that she "really fears for her unborn child" because of threats from her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.

The California Supreme Court in 2020 found that Nice's actions required a hearing to determine if they denied Peterson a fair trial, and assigned Judge Massullo to the case. The high court separately threw out Peterson's death sentence and Stanislaus County prosecutors decided against again seeking his execution even as they argued he received a fair trial. He was resentenced to life in prison in December.

Peterson's defense team argued that Nice fought to join the jury despite her financial hardship and that she entered deliberations determined to enact revenge for Peterson's nearly full-term unborn child, the young victim she nicknamed "Little Man."

But Nice testified that she had no bias against Peterson until she heard the evidence against him.

Nice said in a sworn declaration in 2020 that it did not occur to her to include the threat to her own unborn child on her juror form because she did not "feel 'victimized' the way the law might define that term." She later testified that she answered truthfully based on her understanding of the questions.

"I didn't write it on the questionnaire because it never crossed my mind, ever. It wasn't done intentionally," she swore during two days of testimony in February.

She also disputed any financial motive to serving on the jury, swearing that she and other jurors never discussed jointly writing their book, "We, the Jury," until after the trial and verdict.

And it was Peterson's celebrity attorney, Mark Geragos, who wanted her on the jury, prosecutors said. Geragos called Nice back as she prepared to leave after the trial judge dismissed her for financial hardship, though Geragos said he never would have done so had she properly disclosed her personal history.

Last year, the convicted killer was resentenced by Massullo to life in prison without parole under the glaring eyes of Laci Peterson's family.

"No matter what happens, no matter what transpires in the future, there are two things that will never change," Laci's mother Sharon Rocha said during the victims statements at the resentencing. "Laci and Connor will always be dead. And you will always be their murderer."    

Massullo also was tasked with determining if Scott Peterson deserved a new trial on the murder charges. On Tuesday, she ruled he did not.

Peterson has been moved from death row at San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco to Mule Creek State Prison east of Sacramento.

A new mugshot shows Peterson with salt-and-pepper stubble compared to his previous clean-shaven look.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.