Scott Peterson case taken up by Los Angeles Innocence Project

Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his wife and unborn child in 2004.

January 18, 2024, 6:42 PM

The Los Angeles Innocence Project has taken up the notorious case of convicted wife killer Scott Peterson in new court filings, ABC News was first to report on Thursday. The group is seeking new evidence from the original trial.

Laci Peterson, who was 27 years old and eight months pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002. Her body was found in San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

Scott Peterson, 51, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife and second-degree murder in the death of their unborn son. He was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2005. He was later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

PHOTO: Scott Peterson listens during a a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Feb. 25, 2022.
Scott Peterson listens during a a hearing to determine whether he gets a new trial for the 2002 murder of his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and unborn son because of juror misconduct at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Feb. 25, 2022.
Jeff Chiu/AP

Attorneys with the LA Innocence Project claimed that Scott Peterson's state and federal constitutional rights were violated, including a "claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence," according to the court filings.

"New evidence now supports Mr. Peterson's longstanding claim of innocence and raises many questions into who abducted and killed Laci and Conner Peterson," the filings state.

His attorneys are seeking dozens of items they say they could not locate after reviewing the trial files from his prior counsel "after a thorough search," according to the filings. The items include evidence from the investigations into a December 2002 burglary of a home across the street from the Petersons' in Modesto in Stanislaus County, Laci Peterson's missing Croton watch, and a van fire in the Airport District on Dec. 25, 2002, according to the filings. They are also seeking documents from interviews with several witnesses.

Paula Mitchell, the director of the LA Innocence Project, said she found "deficiencies" while reviewing the discovery of Scott Peterson's case and sent a letter to Stanislaus County District Attorney Jeff Laugero on Nov. 14, 2023, "seeking informal production of numerous specific items of post-conviction discovery," according to a declaration included in the filings.

The letter "includes private identifying information concerning numerous citizens, potential material witnesses, and possible suspects -- as well as sensitive investigative leads relating to Mr. Peterson's claim of innocence-information that was referenced throughout various police reports, tip sheets, and other investigative materials from both the prosecution and the defense that I reviewed," she said in her declaration.

Mitchell also said during her investigation, she has come across "numerous witnesses" who have expressed hesitation or "outright unwillingness" to provide information due to the high-profile nature of the case.

Scott Peterson, who pleaded not guilty, has maintained his innocence and claimed he received an unfair trial based on possible jury misconduct. His lawyers have previously claimed that a woman, known as Juror 7, had not disclosed involvement in other legal proceedings.

In 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned Scott Peterson's death sentence, citing that his jury was improperly screened for bias against the death penalty, according to court documents.

He was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in December 2021 and moved off death row in October 2022.

In December 2022, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo denied Scott Peterson "relief" in his appeal based on stealth juror accusations.

Scott Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, said in a statement to ABC News on Thursday that they are "thrilled to have the incredibly skilled attorneys at the LA Innocence project and their expertise becoming involved in the efforts to prove Scott's innocence."

The LA Innocence Project -- which provides pro bono legal services to people incarcerated in Central and Southern California who may have been wrongfully convicted -- said in a statement later on Thursday that it is representing Scott Peterson and "investigating his claim of actual innocence."

"We have no further comment at this time," the organization said.

Mike Belmessieri, who served as a juror in Scott Peterson's trial, told ABC News on Thursday that there isn't a day that goes by where he hasn't thought about the case. He said he supports the LA Innocence Project's review of the case.

"If they think they're going to find something different, that sheds light on something new, I fully support it," Belmessieri said.

Alex Stone reports for ABC Audio:

ABC News' Nicholas Cirone contributed to this report.

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