“I did not lie to get on this trial to fry Scott (Peterson). I did not.”
If his appellate attorneys succeed in getting the former Modesto man a new trial “based on something I didn’t do, it would be devastating to me,” Richelle Nice said.
In 2004, she and 11 other jurors found Peterson guilty and sentenced him to die for the murders of his pregnant wife, Laci, and the couple’s unborn son, Conner. Scott Peterson remains on death row pending appeals. The latest focused like a laser on Nice, now 47, accusing her of deceiving the judge and attorneys because she allegedly wanted so badly to sit in judgment of the notorious defendant.
“Scott’s appeal lawyers are making up this story. The story is not accurate,” Nice said in an exclusive interview in front of the courthouse where the blockbuster trial unfolded 13 years ago. At the time, trial observers – not knowing any juror’s identity – nicknamed her “Strawberry Shortcake” for her flamboyant hair dye, and shortly after the trial, TV cameras captured her saying things she now regrets.
Four years before that, when Nice was pregnant, her then-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend vandalized his car and kicked in their door. Nice obtained a judge’s temporary restraining order to keep the woman away, because Nice was “in fear for her unborn child,” reads her application for the order.
Peterson’s habeas appeal claimed that Nice wished “in part to punish him for a crime of harming his unborn child – a crime that she personally experienced when (the assailant) threatened her life and the life of her unborn child.”
The issue featured prominently in A&E Network’s finale of “The Murder of Laci Peterson,” which aired Tuesday. A Peterson attorney said his camp would have explored in pretrial questioning whether she could remain unbiased, but didn’t because she had not indicated in a written questionnaire for prospective jurors that she had been a crime victim.
Peterson’s defense attorney at trial, Mark Geragos, told A&E that Nice was a “stealth juror” and mocked her for having “retrograde amnesia” when completing the questionnaire.
Peterson’s legal team is blowing out of proportion what really happened when Nice was pregnant, she told The Modesto Bee. The assailant served a week in jail for vandalism, not murdering two people, say court documents from the prosecution’s side.
“She never threatened to kill me, to kill my unborn child, to beat me up,” Nice said. “When I filled out that questionnaire, my situation never came into my mind because it was not similar at all.”
A few months after obtaining the restraining order, she dropped it, Nice said, and she has been friendly with the woman in recent times. They hugged at the Aug. 26 wedding of mutual friends, Nice said.
“She loves my kids,” said Nice, who has four children and three grandchildren. “My kids love her.”
“Ms. Nice worked hard to get on the jury,” said the appeal, filed in late 2015. It noted that Judge Al Delucchi initially started to excuse her because her employer would not pay for more than two weeks of absence, while the trial was expected to go on for five months, and jurors cannot be forced to endure that sort of financial hardship. “Despite her admission that she would not get paid for her time as a juror, Ms. Nice said she was willing to serve,” the appeal reads, concluding that she had a “darker motive” for sitting in judgment of Peterson.
In reality, it was Geragos – not Nice – who asked the judge to reconsider, after Delucchi initially excused her and after she stood to go. When Geragos said, “I think she’s willing,” she agreed, saying her boyfriend would cover their bills, and Delucchi allowed her to stay in the pool of prospective jurors. She later was selected as an alternate and inserted as a voting juror when another was excused during the panel’s deliberations five months after the trial started.
“I never heard that any juror has ever been able to ask, ‘May I be on this trial?’ Geragos fought to keep me on,” she said.
Those standing by Peterson, now 44, “didn’t sit in that courtroom every day. They didn’t see all the evidence,” Nice said.
For example, A&E and other shows have noted several people who say they saw Laci walking the couple’s golden retriever in the neighborhood or nearby park after the time that Scott left to fish on Christmas Eve 2002, suggesting his innocence. Most said she wore black pants and a white top, matching what Scott told police – and the world – his wife was wearing when preparing to walk the dog.
But Laci’s torso was clad in tan pants when recovered nearly four months later on the shore of San Francisco Bay, near the spot Scott said he fished. Her sister testified that Laci wore tan pants on Dec. 23. Prosecutors believe she was killed that night and could not have walked the dog the next day.
“You can’t tell me these people kidnapped and killed her, took her and changed her clothes and drove out to Berkeley and dumped her where Scott was fishing, all to frame him. It’s not possible,” Nice said.
When an investigator from Peterson’s team asked to speak with Nice a couple of years ago, she assumed questions would focus on letters she exchanged with Peterson for a few months soon after he arrived on death row. Nice addressed that issue, saying, “I was never his pen pal. I wrote him because during the trial, we never heard from Scott,” as he did not testify, she said.
“My questions to him was why, why did he do this? There was no friendship. There was no pen pal.
“Did I expect he would confess? No. But I wanted to hear from him. That was my whole reason for writing to Scott,” she said.
In some post-trial interviews, Nice seemed to exult in Peterson’s fate, and she disclosed her personal nickname for Conner: “Little man.”
“Did I say some things after the trial that people are upset with? Yeah. I was pissed off at that point,” Nice said. “He murdered his wife and unborn child. He never gave Conner a chance at life. He could have easily left and walked away. Laci would have been just fine being a single mom.
“I wasn’t fixated on punishing Scott,” Nice said. “But Conner was not given a fair shake at life. He was taken away by his father, somebody that should have protected him, somebody that should have taught him to play ball, taught him how to play golf. He could have left Laci to raise him. He just didn’t give him a fair chance.”
Nice almost was excused later in the trial when her son had seizures, she said. Her employer, a credit union, let her go during proceedings, leading to her own legal battle. After the trial, people would stop her in public to comment or request an autograph. A year later, she had a nervous breakdown, and her last letter to Peterson informed him “how much he had (expletive) up my life,” she said.
“For a long time, every time I drove down (Highway) 80, I would cry,” Nice said. She now works a retail job.
“The trial took a toll on me. Here’s a man who probably told Laci he loved her every day, told her she was beautiful, and all the while he was planning to kill her. So that made me trust people less, how some people can be so deceiving. Even their family members, everyone thought they were this perfect couple. And deep down inside, he was a monster.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390