New evidence could exonerate Scott Peterson 20 years later

Posted at 7:59 PM, March 8, 2024

LOS ANGELES (Court TV) — On the heels of the Los Angeles Innocence Project’s announcement that it has taken on Scott Peterson‘s case, a California judge has granted the convicted murderer a status hearing.

Back in 2004, Peterson was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of his pregnant wife and unborn son. Peterson was initially sentenced to death but was later re-sentenced to life without parole. A 2022 bid for a new trial was unsuccessful.

Scott Peterson listens during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool)

Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Christmas Eve 2002. The remains of Laci and her unborn son, who was to be named Conner, washed up on the shore of San Francisco Bay in April 2003. Prosecutors argued that Peterson killed Laci on the night of Dec. 23 or in the early morning hours of Dec. 24 and dumped her body off his fishing boat at the Berkeley Marina.

Peterson is expected to join the March 12th hearing via Zoom, while counsel for the LA Innocence Project will appear in person before Judge Elizabeth Hill. Peterson, now 51, has served over 20 years in prison.

The fact that the LA Innocence Project is getting behind Peterson’s case is a big deal in and of itself. The LAIP only accepts cases on post-conviction appeal in which they say DNA testing can prove innocence.

In short, they believe Peterson’s state and federal constitutional rights were violated.

MORE: Revisiting the Scott Peterson case 20 years later

During an appearance on Court TV’s “Opening Statements with Julie Grant,” criminal defense attorney Kaysia Earley commented on the level of clout the LA Innocence Project brings to Peterson’s case:

“Ultimately, his constitutional rights were violated so if there was any exculpatory evidence that can exonerate him that they see, then it’s worth going after; and in this case, that exculpatory evidence is DNA evidence.”

Whether Peterson will be granted a new trial or even have his case overturned has yet to be seen. Still, the LAIP is adamant that 20 years of advancements in DNA technology will work in Peterson’s favor and ultimately exonerate him.

L to R: Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson (FILE)

The LA Innocence Project is asking the court for the opportunity to run DNA tests on certain items, including a hammer that was believed to have been left at the scene of a burglary that took place at the home across the street from the Petersons around the time Laci disappeared.

They are also asking for testing to be done on a blood-stained mattress that was discovered on Christmas Day 2002 in a burned-out van parked in the Peterson’s Modesto, California neighborhood.

According to the LAIP’s 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 documents state that not only were Peterson’s state and federal constitutional rights violated, but that there exists a “claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence.”

WATCH: Ted Rowlands Revisits the Scott Peterson Case 20 Years Later

If the court finds that Peterson’s due process was violated, they may order a new trial. That’s not to say that it won’t be an uphill battle. Peterson was not the most likable defendant: He cheated on his wife while she was pregnant, and her body was found in the same bay where Peterson claimed to have gone fishing on Christmas Eve morning in 2002.

Peterson’s popularity, however, is not on trial—and if the court agrees with the LA Innocence Project’s assessment, there is a chance he could walk free.

Cameras will be permitted in the courtroom, and Court TV plans to carry the proceedings live.