Juror misconduct hearing in Scott Peterson case set to close
Prosecutors and lawyers for convicted murderer Scott Peterson will give closing arguments in late June before a California judge decides whether Peterson deserves a new trial in the slaying of his pregnant wife 20 years ago.
The arguments will follow an anticlimactic two final days of testimony into whether juror Richelle Nice was biased and lied to get on the jury that convicted Peterson in 2004 and put him on death row for the murders of Laci, 27, and the unborn child they planned to name Conner.
The California Supreme Court overturned Peterson's death sentence in 2020 and tasked Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo with deciding if he received a fair trial.
On Friday, she ordered Stanislaus County prosecutors and Peterson's attorneys to submit written arguments by May 25 and reply briefs by June 9. They'll return to court June 29 to provide oral arguments before she takes the case under submission for a later decision.
“I think everyone is anxious to get this in," she said.
She also ordered Peterson returned to San Quentin State Prison until June, where he previously had been on death row, after his attorneys said they were having trouble communicating with him while he has been recently housed in the San Mateo County Jail.
Massullo had delayed the final two days of the hearing from early this month after Peterson's attorneys said they had surprise testimony from documentary producer Shareen Anderson.
Anderson had belatedly told an investigator that Nice and other co-authors of a post-trial book about the case had discussed a book deal during the trial, which would have been improper.
That was contradicted by other testimony, and Peterson's attorneys quickly dropped the allegation when Anderson subsequently said her recollection was “fuzzy” and she wasn't sure whether the book deal was discussed during or after the trial.
But they still flew Anderson in from New York this week with the expectation that she would testify Thursday about a photograph on Nice's wall that she recalled seeing while she was working on the television documentary “The Murder of Laci Peterson" in 2017.
Anderson abruptly refused to testify, however, saying through her attorney that she hadn't been properly legally served with an order to appear, and that her testimony couldn't be required because she was acting as a journalist while producing the documentary.
The attorneys eventually settled on a simple stipulation: As Anderson was leaving Nice's home after an interview, she observed a photo on Nice's wall of a small child wearing pajamas imprinted with the words, “Little Man.”
Peterson's attorneys say Nice referred to Conner during jury deliberations as “little man,” which they say are among indications that she was biased against their client.
They contend that she lied about her lack of bias to get on the jury, and lied again in a sworn declaration in 2020.
Nice testified earlier that she held no bias against Peterson until after she heard the evidence that he dumped his wife’s body into San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.
Nice failed to disclose during jury selection that she sought a restraining order while pregnant in 2000, saying she “really fears for her unborn child” because of threats from her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.
She said in her sworn declaration 20 years later that she didn’t “feel ‘victimized’ the way the law might define that term.”
As their final witness, Peterson's attorneys called to the stand on Friday her former attorney, Negad Zaky, to testify about his communications with the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office while preparing Nice’s declaration.
Zaky said he had discussions with prosecutors but that they didn't tell him how to write the declaration that Nice later signed under oath.