It was a case that gripped the nation. On Christmas Eve in 2002, Laci Peterson, then 27 years old and eight months pregnant, went missing. Four months later, her body and that of her unborn son, Connor, were found in San Francisco Bay. Her clean-cut husband, Scott Peterson, became the prime suspect after it was discovered he’d been having an extramarital affair. And in March 2005, he was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death (he was later resentenced to life in prison without parole).
In the nearly two decades since his conviction, Scott has fiercely proclaimed his innocence. Now he may just get a chance to prove it. The Los Angeles Innocence Project — which provides free legal services to incarcerated people who may have been wrongfully convicted — has taken up his case, claiming in legal filings that new evidence “supports Mr. Peterson’s long-standing claim of innocence.”
In light of the new investigation, people close to the case are speaking out. A cousin of Laci’s said the Los Angeles Innocence Project is “barking up the wrong tree,” adding, “As far as we’re concerned, it’s a done deal: He killed Laci.” A source exclusively tells In Touch the thought of having the case upended is “a nightmare” for Laci’s mom, Sharon Rocha. Meanwhile, Scott’s family is hopeful. “They’re looking forward to their day in court,” says the source. “With the [Los Angeles] Innocence Project on their side, Scott and his lawyers believe they will triumph.”
The Cal Poly grad was arrested in April 2003 and pleaded not guilty to murder charges. During his trial, the former fertilizer salesman and his lawyers claimed Laci had been abducted and killed when she was out walking the couple’s dog on the morning of December 24 while Scott was out on a solo fishing trip. Prosecutors in the case argued that Scott had killed his wife and dumped her body from his newly purchased boat, adding that he appeared to be attempting to flee the country when he was arrested, with dyed blond hair and $15,000 in cash in his car.
According to reports, Scott — who’s currently serving his time at the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California — contacted the Los Angeles Innocence Project last summer, asking for their help. Their involvement in the case has sparked some confusion and outrage. “It’s bizarre to many people that they would take on Scott’s case when they usually focus on the most vulnerable people in society,” says the source, noting, “Scott’s family can certainly afford lawyers.”
The Los Angeles Innocence Project will focus on key pieces of evidence, including potential accounts from witnesses who may have seen Laci after Scott left for his fishing excursion, police reports from their investigation of a December 2002 burglary near the Petersons’ Modesto, California, home as well as a torched van discovered less than a mile from the residence December 25, reportedly containing a bloodstained mattress.
Bryan Spitulski, a former fire investigator with the Modesto Fire Department, told ABC News the van was found the day after Laci was reported missing. (The Los Angeles Innocence Project has filed a motion to have items from the van tested or retested for DNA evidence; they state “limited” testing conducted in 2019 on the cloth detected the presence of human DNA.)
Spitulski agrees the van wasn’t properly investigated. “You kind of wonder … why it wasn’t brought up?” he noted. “I don’t know that I was tying the moment to Laci. I was more tying the moment that it was human blood. It made it like this was much more important than just a burned vehicle that somebody was just wanting to get rid of or cover up a simple crime.” (Scott’s former lawyer Mark Geragos also questioned the report that the robbery took place two days after Laci’s disappearance, when the media was already on the scene: “Do you really want us to believe that that burglary happened with all of the nation’s press corps sitting 25 feet away?”) The theory is that Laci interrupted the burglary December 24 and was killed as a result.
The source says local police and the prosecutors who worked on the case aren’t thrilled about the new investigation. “Police and prosecutors will maintain the original case was thoroughly investigated until every avenue of inquiry was exhausted. If new evidence exists, it’s bound to reflect badly on law enforcement and the D.A.’s office.”
Scott is confident he’ll be exonerated.“I believe this additional information will assist in determining what happened to my family and prove that I am innocent and had nothing to do with these horrible crimes that were committed against my wife and son,” he said in a statement contained in the Los Angeles Innocence Project’s court filings. Geragos has said when people tell him there was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” against Scott, he says, “No, frankly, all of the circumstantial evidence was debunked.”
As Laci’s family braces to relive the horrific details of Laci and Connor’s deaths, Scott is planning on cashing in after prison. “Publishers are drooling over the chance to get the story,” says the source. “He’ll probably want to get away to someplace nice and quiet where he won’t be recognized, like Mexico. He’d have a lot of free time there to write that book.”
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