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Scott Peterson’s conviction faces surprising challenge 20 years later

OpinionScott Peterson’s conviction faces surprising challenge 20 years later

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Twenty years after his conviction, Scott Peterson has been given a small hope regarding his possible innocence in the murder of his wife, Laci Peterson and unborn son, Conner.  

It was an investigation and court case that’s been covered in great detail, by multiple outlets, with strong feelings from the public about the outcome. It’s hard to imagine there’s a silver lining for him as he continues his life sentence without parole.  

However, the announcement of the Los Angeles Innocence Project at the beginning of this year has reactivated the case. Their stance is that Peterson’s state and federal constitutional rights were violated during the initial trial.  

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The Innocence Project is dedicated to helping people seek proof of their wrongful convictions and performing legal work pro bono. Though a national organization, the LA division is independently operated and is the group that issued the court filing on January 18, 2024. 

Scott Peterson convicted killing Laci Peterson

The LA Innocence Project has taken up the case of Scott Peterson, according to reports. He was convicted of killing his wife Laci and unborn son.  

Lawyers for the Los Angeles Innocence Project expanded on previous arguments during the time of the trial that Laci was still alive when her husband left on the morning of December 24 and present the possibility of other suspects in a robbery taking place nearby.   

New DNA testing ordered 

Defense lawyers for the case pointed out other robbers might have been involved in the crime. In 2022, two witnesses came forward to report a man who had previously been referred to in court filings as “D.M.” They said “D.M.” also robbed the house and took part in Laci’s abduction after she caught them mid-crime.  

The Los Angeles Innocence Project is requesting DNA testing of the hammer the robbers are believed to have left at the scene, which may lead to evidence of other potential accomplices. There’s also been demands for DNA testing on cloth from a blood-stained mattress found on December 25, 2002, in a burned-out van parked in the nearby area. 

Although this blood was previously tested for DNA in 2019, lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project say new tests would be “more discriminating” and could contradict prior test results. Additionally, DNA testing of tarp and plastic bag debris found on the shore near Laci and Conner’s bodies has also been called for.   

It seems like a potentially long stretch that any new evidence will be uncovered that will exonerate Peterson, though the results of the testing remains to be seen. 

Media coverage and speculation about wrongful conviction cases 

Numerous TV shows, news programs and podcasts have weighed in on the innocence of Peterson over the years. Attorney, advocate and podcaster Rabia Chaudry covered the case in her podcast “Rabia and Ellyn Solve the Case” in a 2022 episode, in which she points out similar details to the Los Angeles Innocence Project regarding possible other suspects.  

Chaudry is famously linked to another overturned conviction case stemming from the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Chaudry holds the belief that her family friend, Adnan Syed, was wrongfully convicted and has tirelessly advocated for his freedom for years.  

The case became part of everyday conversation in 2014, thanks to the in-depth reporting and coverage from the popular podcast, “Serial.” Eight years after the podcast season debuted, Syed’s conviction was vacated and he was freed after spending more than 20 years in prison. 

Scott Peterson and attorney

Scott Peterson, foreground, sits as his attorney, Pat Harris, walks behind him during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. In 2004, Peterson was convicted of the murders of his wife, Laci Peterson, 27, who was eight months pregnant, and of the unborn son they planned to name Conner. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool)

However, the case quickly took another turn in March 2023, when a Maryland appeals court reinstated the conviction and sentencing, and ordered a new hearing based on the failure to give Lee’s family sufficient notice of the hearings in which Syed’s murder conviction was vacated. 

Will a high level of advocacy and publicity give Peterson a similar outcome? 

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What’s needed to overturn a conviction? 

In August 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned a death sentence for Peterson but upheld the conviction. Then, at the end of 2022, Peterson was denied a new trial based on a juror failing to disclose involvement in other court proceedings and improper screening for bias against the death penalty 

To take on a case as infamous as Peterson’s, lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project must have a great deal of faith or knowledge they’ve yet to share regarding new evidence to be presented.  

The Los Angeles Innocence Project is requesting DNA testing of the hammer the robbers are believed to have left at the scene, which may lead to evidence of other potential accomplices. There’s also been demands for DNA testing on cloth from a blood-stained mattress found on December 25, 2002, in a burned-out van parked in the nearby area. 

True innocence claims are hard to prove in appeals as the court works under the assumption the jury delivered the right verdict. Doubt, in this case, may not be enough to overturn a conviction.  

However, DNA evidence could be the catalyst which would absolve Peterson of his guilty conviction. Even then, the evidence alone only leads the way for the case to be reopened and potential of a new trial.  

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With that being said, is it enough to ensure an impartial jury? And will the outcome set the tone for other high-profile cases to follow suit?  

It’s interesting to consider how decades-old cases still present new developments today because of the evolution of DNA testing and other technology. Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out.  

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM KELLY HYMAN

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