Scott Peterson does not yet know that he has won a reprieve from the death penalty, his lawyers said on Monday night, because coronavirus restrictions prevent them from entering the prison where he is housed.
The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned Peterson’s planned death by lethal injection, owing to errors in the trial, but ruled that the conviction still stood.
Peterson, now 47, was found guilty in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in a notorious case that held the tabloids and cable news channels in thrall, and spawned at least one made-for-TV movie.
Mark Geragos, his attorney, told Fox News on Monday night that he has not been able to tell Peterson the news ‘because of the massive COVID issue’ and is not sure when he will get a face-to-face meeting.
‘I hope soon,’ he said, without saying when.
Peterson’s sister-in-law Janey Peterson also told Fox News that she hasn’t been able to get in touch with Peterson directly.
She said she did think, however, that he was aware of the decision.
‘We have not spoken with Scott today but we do believe he has heard the news,’ she said.
The last time she visited Peterson was on March 8, before the COVID-19 lockdown.
San Quentin is California’s oldest prison and home to the only death row for men in the state.
The prison has experienced the largest outbreak of coronavirus among prisoners in the state and at one time had more than a third of its population testing positive for COVID-19.
She said her family is ‘sincerely grateful that the California Supreme Court recognized the injustice of Scott’s death penalty.’
‘For a long and difficult 18 years, we have believed unwaveringly in Scott’s innocence, so today’s decision by the court is a big step toward justice for Laci, Conner and Scott,’ she said.
Peterson continues to maintain his innocence.
He was found guilty in 2004 of killing his 27-year-old wife Laci Peterson and their unborn son Conner on Christmas Eve 2002.
Her husband led the search for her for months but was arrested after Laci’s badly decomposed body and the fetus of their son washed up on a San Francisco shoreline in April 2003.
Peterson, who authorities say dumped the bodies off the side of his fishing boat, has been on death row since 2005.
In the ruling on Monday, the court said Peterson’s death penalty conviction was being removed because the trial judge made ‘clear and significant errors’ in jury selection that meant Peterson did not receive an impartial trial.
The court agreed with Peterson’s argument that potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.
‘While a court may dismiss a prospective juror as unqualified to sit on a capital case if the juror’s views on capital punishment would substantially impair his or her ability to follow the law, a juror may not be dismissed merely because he or she has expressed opposition to the death penalty as a general matter,’ the justices said in a unanimous decision.
Peterson contended on appeal that he could not get a fair trial because of the massive publicity that followed, although the proceedings were moved nearly 90 miles away from his Central Valley home of Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.
He also had contended on appeal that the trial court erred in deciding whether jurors and the defense were properly allowed to test whether Peterson’s new boat would likely have capsized if he dumped the weighted bodies over the side.