SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The California Supreme Court overturned the 2005 death sentence for Scott Peterson in the slaying of his pregnant wife.
The court says prosecutors may try again for the same sentence if they wish in the high-profile case. It upheld Peterson's 2004 conviction of murdering his wife Laci Peterson.
Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant with their unborn son, and investigators said that on Christmas Eve in 2002, Scott Peterson dumped the bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay.
The court on Monday said the trial judge made several significant errors in jury selection that undermined Peterson's right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.
The court ruled potential jurors for the death penalty phase were improperly dismissed after saying they disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to impose it.
"The trial judge made a mistake by kicking those people off the jury, so the only people that sat on the jury were in the death penalty camp," said criminal defense attorney Gretchen von Helms.
Prosecutors will now decide whether to retry the sentencing phase.
While the sentence was overturned, the court affirmed the murder convictions.
"The sentencing was a positive step. The other decision (convictions affirmed) was about what we expected. Now we go to the habeas appeal," said Lee Peterson, Peterson's father.
The court will examine the case again when it decides a separate habeas corpus challenge, based on evidence. not presented at the original trial. Peterson's father declined to talk about the arguments in the appeal, but says he's expecting a development within the next four months.
Peterson's family issued this full statement in response to the court's decision:
Our 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.
Now our family will do two things: First, we wait for Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager to decide whether to pursue a new penalty phase trial. If the DA elects to do so, a new jury would be seated, and they would hear all the evidence. They would then decide only Scott’s sentence: life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. While we hope for the opportunity to present the new evidence to a jury, it is not likely that this penalty phase trial will happen. The case against Scott has weakened to the point where no jury would ever sentence him to death again and the District Attorney is aware of these facts.
Second, we wait for the court to address the new forensic and eyewitness evidence we have submitted that shows Laci was alive the morning of December 24th and demonstrates Scott’s innocence. When the court reviews this in the coming months, we are confident they will grant Scott a new guilt phase trial.
Our family has been deeply moved by the outpouring of support not only from family and friends but also from the hundreds of people from all walks of life who have shared their faith in Scott’s innocence. For more information on the case, please visit our website at ScottPetersonAppeal.org.