Scott Peterson’s trial drew national attention in 2003. A tragedy that took center stage as Peterson stood accused of killing his wife, then 27-year-old, Laci Peterson and their unborn son.
Peterson, 42, was found guilty of the heinous crime and sentenced to death by lethal injection but today, more than a decade later, he’s still living, reportedly, comfortably on death row. The San Diego native had previously filed an appeal of the death sentence but remains in San Quentin. Capital punishment in California was put on hold in 2006 and is also currently being appealed.
Peterson’s case is set to be profiled on the latest episode of Murder Made Me Famous on Reelz channel. The episode is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Saturday night. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Peterson Reported His Wife, Laci, Missing on Christmas Eve 2002
Laci Peterson was reported missing from the home she shared with her husband Scott on December 24, 2002. She was eight months pregnant at the time and it was Peterson who had initially reported the disappearance.
Police did not originally identify Peterson as a suspect, largely because Laci’s family and friends maintained that he would not have done anything to hurt either his wife or unborn child. However, inconsistencies in his stories caused authorities to grow suspicious and as reports of several extramarital affairs came to light, Peterson’s character came into question. On January 17, 2003 Amber Frey approached police about Peterson, claiming that the two had just begun dating.
Frey worked with police, allowing authorities to tape her conversations with Peterson in an effort to get him to confess. He did not confess to the murders on tape but did tell Frey that he had traveled to Paris to celebrate the holidays in the days after Laci first went missing. Peterson reportedly made one of his phone calls to Frey while attending a candlelight vigil for Laci.
2. He Was Arrested in April 2003 at the Torrey Pines Golf Course
The remains of a fetus were found along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay on April 13, 2003, the same location where Peterson had been boating on the day of Laci’s disappearance. The next day a partial female torso, missing its hands, feet and head, was found int he same area. An autopsy confirmed that the bodies were that of Laci Peterson and her unborn child.
Peterson was subsequently arrested by San Diego police on April 18, 2003 in the parking lot of the Torrey Pines Golf Course. At the time of his arrest, Peterson was in possession of dozens of items, including approximately $15,000 in cash, multiple credit cards belonging to several family members, a shovel and several changes of clothing.
Peterson had also bleached his hair and beard, claiming that the lighter color was the result of swimming in a friend’s pool. However, its owner testified that Peterson had never been in the pool.
3. Peterson’s Lawyers Based Their Case on a Lack of Direct Evidence
The trial, the People of the State of California vs. Scott Peterson began in June 2004 and the defense was led by Mark Geragos, who had previous experience in high-profile criminal defense work. Peterson’s defense team based their case on the lack of direct evidence and played down the significance of circumstantial evidence.
The defense suggested that the fetal remains were of a full-term infant and added that someone had kidnapped Laci, held her until she gave birth and then dumped both bodies in the bay. This theory, however, was proved incorrect when the prosecutions medical experts testified that the baby was not full term and died at the same time as his mother.
As the trail progressed, the defense focused on Peterson’s affairs, with Geragos calling his client “a cad” for cheating on Laci but not a murderer.
4. On March 16, 2005 Judge Alfred A. Delucchi Sentenced Peterson to Death
Despite several changes to the jury, the group was ultimately able to come to a decision on December 13, 2003, returning a verdict of death. Members of the jury stated that they felt Peterson’s demeanor, mostly his lack of emotion, indicated his guilt.
On March 16, 2005 Judge Alfred A. Delucchi formally sentenced Peterson to death by lethal injection, calling the murder of Laci “cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous.” He also ordered Peterson to pay $10,000 towards the cost of Laci’s funeral. Laci Peterson’s brother, Brent Rocha reacted to the ruling, telling Peterson:
You’re evil and still have the readiness to commit evil. How does it feel to be a baby killer? I think that my sister’s head is probably rolling around in the bottom of the bay.
Peterson was transported to San Quentin State Prison on March 17 where he joined the death row inmates while his case on automatic appeal to the Supreme Court of California.
5. The Case Received Heavy Media Attention & Spawned Two TV Movies
The Peterson trial drew almost non-stop media attention with constant TV and news coverage. It also spawned two different TV movies. The dramatic portrayal of the trial drew criticism by some, who questioned if the focus on Peterson and the case were over the top and unnecessary.
In 2004, Lifetime premiered The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story with Dean Cain as Scott Peterson. Then, in 2015, Amber Frey: Witness for the Prosecution debuted on TV as well, this time with Nathan Anderson portraying Peterson.
On July 6, 2012, Peterson’s lawyer Cliff Gardner filed a 423-page appeal of the guilty sentence, citing a jury affected by hostile publicity and unreliable evidence.