Scott Peterson Case

A new trial for Scott Peterson? No way, new court filing contends

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager talks about Laci Peterson five years after she went missing, in 2007
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager talks about Laci Peterson five years after she went missing, in 2007 Modesto Bee

Scott Peterson’s celebrity attorney did not botch his blockbuster 2004 trial, and a juror did not lie in order to punish the man accused of murdering his pregnant wife and unborn son in Modesto’s infamous double-murder, authorities say in a new document fighting the appeal of Peterson’s death sentence.

Questioning the performance of Mark Geragos, a television personality and Los Angeles attorney representing Peterson, ignores other “overwhelming evidence” that the Modesto man killed 27-year-old Laci Peterson just before Christmas 2002 and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay, reads the document filed Thursday with the California Supreme Court.

That other evidence includes “his expressed wanderlust and desire to be responsibility-free, which he conveyed to his mistress as the birth of his son neared; buying a boat mere weeks before Laci’s disappearance; ‘fishing’ with the wrong gear on Christmas Eve morning in inclement weather; surreptitious trips to the marina in various rented vehicles after Laci’s disappearance; lies to friends and family concerning his whereabouts;

“The sale of Laci’s car and inquiry into selling their home, including furnishings; subscribing to pornography channels while the search was ongoing; Laci’s and Conner’s bodies washing ashore not far from (Scott) Peterson’s location on the bay; condition of the bodies correlat(ing) with the timing of Laci’s disappearance; and (Scott) Peterson’s disguised appearance and possession of survival gear and copious amounts of cash at the time of his arrest,” the 150-page document says.

The filing is the state Attorney General’s response to Scott Peterson’s habeas corpus appeal, the second of two appeals challenging his death sentence and asking for a new trial. The latest attacked Geragos for failing to call certain witnesses and for essentially ignoring a burglary across the street from the Peterson home, all of whom might shed doubt on Peterson’s guilt.

We disagree that (Geragos) affirmatively told the jury the defense would be presenting numerous witnesses whose testimony would exonerate Peterson.

Donna Provenzano, supervising deputy attorney general

In his opening statement at the riveting trial, Geragos seemed to promise jurors that he would exonerate Scott Peterson with eyewitness testimony from people who said they saw Laci Peterson in her La Loma neighborhood or a nearby park after her husband left to fish in the bay, making it impossible for him to have murdered her. Those purported witnesses – many of whom appeared in Modesto Bee reports, and who are expected in a seven-hour series premiering Tuesday on A&E Network – were not put on the witness stand.

Neither were burglars, identified later, who took a safe and other items from a home across Covena Avenue.

None testified, the document says, because the neighborhood witnesses were not believable and because the burglary likely happened on Dec. 26, not the morning of Dec. 24, when Laci vanished as Scott left to fish.

The timeline largely was established by a next-door-neighbor who found the Petersons’ golden retriever wandering in the street, leash attached, before the alleged sightings of Laci and her dog. Also, the burglary victims left home after the dog was found. Those credible witnesses unravel Peterson’s claim of discovering new evidence, contends supervising deputy attorney general Donna Provenzano.

“Purported sightings of Laci were legion,” Provenzano said in the document, noting 74 reported sightings in 26 states and overseas. “Most were not viable and none were corroborated,” she said.

Provenzano “did a really good job of debunking the defense allegations,” said Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager. She was chief deputy DA when she led the team prosecuting Peterson, whose trial was moved to San Mateo County to escape pervasive publicity in Modesto.

The letters (from juror Richelle Nice to Scott Peterson, in prison after trial) can be fairly said to depict an effort to try and comprehend why Peterson, with so much going for him, went so far as to murder his wife and child. There is nothing in the letters that demonstrates actual bias.

Donna Provenzano, supervising deputy attorney general

Peterson’s habeas appeal also accused juror Richelle Nice, nicknamed “Strawberry Shortcake” by trial observers for her flamboyant hair dye, of failing to mention that she had been assaulted while pregnant four years earlier, for fear that coming clean before jurors were seated would keep her out of contention.

But the relevant pretrial question asked about prospective jurors’ involvement “in a lawsuit,” Provenzano noted – not a restraining order, which Nice had sought. To characterize Nice as having “personally experienced the threat of losing a child” and to compare her experience to cold-blooded murder is beyond hyperbole, the attorney wrote.

“For (Peterson) to equate his actions with those of (Nice’s assailant, who was convicted of vandalism) borders on the ridiculous; the two events are not remotely similar,” Provenzano said in the brief.

Peterson’s team had argued that Judge Al Delucchi should not have allowed evidence that a tracking dog indicated picking up Laci’s scent at the Berkeley Marina four days after her husband launched his boat, supposedly with her body inside. But that was small potatoes, the new document contends, compared with dog-scent evidence that the judge tossed out before the trial, indicating that Laci’s body had traveled between home and her husband’s warehouse – where the boat was parked – and then down Highway 132 toward the Bay Area.

Peterson’s trial counsel, despite endeavoring to gently fall on the sword here, performed in accord with constitutional mandates.

Donna Provenzano, supervising deputy attorney general

“The excluded testimony was far more damaging to Peterson’s defense,” Provenzano wrote, helping to understand why Geragos did not do more to fight the marina evidence.

The new document came earlier than expected; authorities previously indicated it might wait until year’s end. Next will come Peterson’s reply – the final document expected in both appeals, after which the Supreme Court would schedule oral arguments.

Fladager praised Provenzano’s brief as “truly an example of the highest caliber of professionalism that all attorneys should strive to emulate.”

Peterson’s first appeal, called a direct appeal, was based on what happened at trial and focused largely on the judge’s rulings; it was filed in 2012, and its last document wrapped up in 2015. The habeas appeal, filed in late 2015, says constitutional rights of Peterson, now 44, were violated because he was deprived of effective legal counsel at trial.

A&E’s “The Murder of Laci Peterson” begins airing Tuesday with an episode each week for six weeks, stretching a total of seven hours. It features Scott Peterson’s then-girlfriend Amber Frey, five jurors, various print and broadcast anchors and reporters, detectives, lawyers and experts. Viewers will hear the voice of Scott Peterson as he calls sister-in-law Janey Peterson in June from San Quentin Prison.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390