REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF) — The last time Scott Peterson sat inside a San Mateo County courtroom, he heard a judge sentence him to death for the Christmas Eve 2002 murder of his wife, Laci, and the couple’s unborn child.
On Wednesday, he is scheduled to return once again, more than 17 years after that fateful December 2004 day. His death sentence was overturned on appeal by the California Supreme Court in August 2020, but the justices let his murder conviction stand.READ MORE: Scott Peterson Moved From Death Row To San Mateo County Jail
“Once he was convicted and then sentenced to the death penalty, I think people pretty much said okay, it’s time to move on. But here we are,” LaDoris Cordell, a retired superior court judge, told KPIX 5.
He will be sentenced to life without parole, but not before emotions could run high in the courtroom during the sentencing statements.
“The California Supreme Court said there was sufficient evidence of his guilt. So, they weren’t concerned about whether or not there was an issue with the guilty verdict, their concern was with the sentencing,” she said.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo has issued an order allotting 16 seats in the courtroom for the friends and family of Laci and 16 for Peterson’s friends and family.
Peterson is also expected to be in the courtroom after being transferred to county jail from San Quentin’s Death Row for the hearing. They all could makes statements including Peterson.
The state’s high court last year said that there was considerable circumstantial evidence incriminating Peterson in the slayings, but it’s up to Massullo to decide if he should get a new trial on the charges.
“The allegation is that a female juror lied when answering questions about her background and her own experience, specifically, with whether or not she’d ever been a victim of domestic violence,” Cordell explained. “Any time there’s juror misconduct, it doesn’t automatically mean the case gets thrown out. The judge has to determine, did this juror’s misconduct deny Scott Peterson a fair trial?”
Peterson continues to plead his innocence and fight to have his conviction overturned based on allegations that a juror on his case was untruthful when she filled out a juror questionnaire. A hearing on the juror misconduct claim is scheduled in late February.
Peterson, now 49, has spent nearly two decades on death row for the crime that capture the nation’s attention. He was convicted in the San Mateo court after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County due to the massive pre-trial publicity that followed Laci’s Christmas Eve 2002 disappearance and the massive search that followed.
Investigators say Peterson — who was having an affair at the time — took the body of his pregnant wife from their Modesto home and dumped her remains from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.
Appearing on CBS News’ 48 Hours in May, former Modesto police detective Jon Buehler said the evidence in the case still all points to Peterson killing Laci during the Christmas holidays in 2002 and dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay.
“There’s nothing that has come out to change my view that Scott got a fair trial and that Scott is the one who killed Laci,” Buehler said.READ MORE: Scott Peterson To Be Re-Sentenced For 2002 Christmas Eve Murder Of Pregnant Wife
He said that two men arrested in a burglary in the Peterson’s Modesto neighborhood around the time of Laci’s disappearance were cleared of any involvement in the case.
“Both told consistent stories that were backed up by other independent witnesses,” Buehler said.
He also points out that in the densely packed subdivision, no neighbors saw Laci get abducted in broad daylight.
“How come nobody saw Laci get abducted?,” he said. “Nobody saw an abduction in broad daylight where a girl had a dog, and the dog would be barking, and a girl would be screaming. Tell me how that is going to happen because I don’t see it.”
Buehler also discounts claims by Peterson’s sister-in-law, Janey, that Laci’s body was dumped in the area of San Francisco Bay where Peterson told investigators he was fishing on the day of his wife’s disappearance to frame him.
“What is the likelihood that somebody is going to abduct Laci, and then all of a sudden the media has intense scrutiny and attention to it,” he said. “And then they’re going to take her 90 miles to San Francisco Bay, and they’re going to put her in the exact same area that Scott said he was fishing in? All the while we’re doing searches up there, all the while that the media is camped out over there, that you’ve got cops and deputies and other agencies over there looking into this.”
“You want to try and make that stretch with me that somebody is going to drive from Modesto to Berkeley to take a body out there in the midst of that?,” he added. “Well, I guess possible. But you know, there’s still people that believe the earth is flat too.”
Janey Peterson, meanwhile, has turned a room within her family business into a war room to aid in her efforts to free Scott. It is lined with maps, photos and notes.
“The justice system has failed here, and a lot of aspects have failed,” she said on 48 Hours. “And it started with the Modesto Police Department. And it started with the fact that they didn’t follow up on evidence that showed Laci was alive the morning of December 24.”
Meanwhile, a pivotal witness in the case is again ready to take the stand according to her attorney if the murder charges are retried.
Amber Frey testified that she did not know Peterson was married at the time she began dating him in the months before Laci’s death. The ruse included a call from Peterson where he claimed he was in Paris celebrating New Year’s Eve.
When she saw news reports of Peterson’s missing wife, she called Modesto police and began cooperating in their investigation, recording his phone calls to her. Some of those calls were played for jurors at the trial.
“Amber has said the truth is the truth,” her attorney Gloria Allred said on CNN in May. “So if, as, is when the court decides to grant habeas corpus petition to Scott Peterson and decided there should be a new trial — in otherwise not only on the death penalty phase but essentially the case in chief. The guilt phase. She’s willing to testify and she will testify.”MORE NEWS: Attorney: Amber Frey Will Testify If Scott Peterson Is Retried; 'The Truth Is The Truth'
Max Darrow contributed to this report.