Scott Peterson Appeals Death Sentence

Scott Peterson was convicted 8 years ago of murdering his pregnant wife Laci. He was sentenced to death and has been incarcerated since then at Death Row on San Quentin.

Today his attorney filed his first appeal with the California Supreme Court. His brief is 423 pages.

TalkLeft has covered his case since 2003. If you want a refresher, all of our 130 posts are accessible here.

Some of the jurors held a press conference after the verdict, discussing among other things, why they ousted their jury foreman. The San Francisco Chronicle had this feature on life on death row at San Quentin in 2004. People Magazine a few weeks ago, in a feature on how several high-profile defendants over the past decades are doing in prison, reported Scott spends a lot of time doing Yoga and working on his appeal.

In 2004, the LA Times did a feature on the cost of the death penalty versus life imprisonment. One estimate was that it costs California taxpayers $90 million more a year to incarcerate death row inmates than those serving life without parole. There were 641 death row inmates in California at the time. There are now 725.[More...]

California's prison budget is an outrageous $9 billion a year. Last week, Governor Jerry Brown filed his plan (called the blueprint)to reduce costs and comply with federal court orders.

Here are the current complaints of inmates on San Quentin's death row.

No inmates have been executed since 2006 due to federal court orders, but 20 have committed suicide. 57 have died of natural causes.

Why the delay? It takes an average of 5 years to appoint a lawyer for a death row inmate. (Scott Peterson's appellate lawyer is retained.)

Appealing the death penalty in California takes decades for a variety of reasons. There are too few qualified attorneys to handle too many automatic death penalty appeals, resulting in inmates waiting about five years each for a public defender. Once an inmate is represented by counsel, it still takes additional years to put together the voluminous trial record that serves at the heart of the appeal.

...$4 billion has been spent on all facets of the state's death penalty since 1978, including $925 million on appeals.

California voters will vote in November on whether to abolish the death penalty.

[T]he SAFE California Act — would convert all death sentences to life in prison without parole and redirect $100 million from the death penalty system to be spent over three years investigating unsolved murders and rapes.

Nationally, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 140 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973 while awaiting execution.

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    Didn't They... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:12:46 PM EST
    ...convert all death sentences to life in prison, then bring back the death penalty ?

    It's why Manson is still eligible for parole, he was sentenced to death.

    This discussion is silly, the state is broke, death sentences cost an exorbitant amount of money.  For them to continue this policy is nothing but fiscal irresponsibility in the highest degree.

    Scott Peterson (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:26:22 PM EST
    Will never be put to death, as there are 600 + inmates ahead of him on the list.  The reason it is so expensive is because of the amount of appeals allowed. The costs of him staying on death row (minus the appeals costs) or having life in prison would be the same.

    (Note:  I am not saying he shouldn't be allowed to have appeals, nor arguing the merits / drawbacks of the death penalty in general, but rather, pointing out why it's so expensive).


    Procedurally, any person sentenced (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:30:38 PM EST
    to death under CA law has a direct appeal to the CA Supreme Court.  Then habeas writ(s) begin in federal district court.  

    Oh I know (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:34:27 PM EST
    I was saying that if the death penalty portion of his sentence is commuted to life in prison (as opposed to his convction overturned), his physical circumstances would not change.

    Not sure it as expensive to house LWOPs (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:40:29 PM EST
    as to house on death row.  Doubt it.  

    More expensive (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:42:02 PM EST
    to house in one cell in one wing than another?

    You are the expert and I defer to your knowledge.


    For example, Charles Manson is now (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:45:36 PM EST
    at Corcoran, which does not house death row inmates.  It does have a level IV facility for inmates with above a certain "score."  

    I seem to recall that this is true (none / 0) (#18)
    by sj on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:15:51 PM EST
    All the efforts -- from use of resources to cell assignment -- that are made to keep the prisoner separate from the rest of the inmate population makes housing him/her much more expensive.  And also more cruel actually.

    There is likely more to it than that, but that's what comes to mind.


    A prisoner (none / 0) (#20)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:39:57 PM EST
    Can be held in solitary confinement without having the death penalty - the costs are the same.

    Without the death penalty (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by sj on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:49:34 PM EST
    The endless solitary confinement is revealed for the torture that it is.  I would hope that commuting a death sentence doesn't still leave the prisoner in that state.

    I somehow still expect better of us.  In spite of the near constant disillutionment.


    It depends (none / 0) (#23)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:51:26 PM EST
    Scott Peterson was convicted of killing a fetus / child - whatever you want to call it.  Even in prison, there are certain taboos and generally, even hardened criminals don't take kindly to the Scott Petersons of the world.

    Great, (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by NYShooter on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:04:57 PM EST
    You've solved the dilemma. No need for judges, panels, or juries; we've got "hardened criminals" to fill that roll.

    <slap on the forehead> See how easy once intractable problems can be solved if we just put our minds to it.


    Are you (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by sj on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:05:06 PM EST
    certain that fact would keep him in isolation?  Or are you just throwing that out there because?

    He's Famous (none / 0) (#28)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:35:09 PM EST
    He would be kept in isolation and obviously no one will ever know that, but judging other famous criminals, it's a pretty good bet that he would not be safe.

    Someone killed Dahmer for the notoriety, which was a shame because he was willingly let people examine him.  But there are always idiots who got nothing to lose and getting on TV for killing a media sensation seems pretty appealing.

    I am pretty sure the prisons have plenty of pregnant wife killers in general population, they just don't fit the media profile for news.

    No way GZ would ever be put in GP for the same reason.


    Peterson may be in protective custody (none / 0) (#32)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 07:05:15 PM EST
    but that isn't solitary confinement.  Some inmates don't want to be protected, as they don't have as much access to canteen and some other features.  

    I think (none / 0) (#46)
    by jbindc on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 11:58:50 AM EST
    You are confusing the reality of what goes on all the time with what you think my opinion is?

    And I think you're making assumptions (none / 0) (#53)
    by sj on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 10:11:05 PM EST
    And confusing those assumptions with reality.  Not all situations are equal.

    This whole case (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by Zorba on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 02:27:01 PM EST
    was a clusterf*ck from the very beginning.  While my own personal opinion is that Peterson did, in fact, kill his wife, if I had been on that jury, I would have voted "Not guilty."  (Or maybe preferably, if I could have, as under the Scottish court system, "Not proven," which also leads to an acquittal.)

    I followed this case rather closely back then.  The prosecution simply did not provide proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."

    In any case, I don't condone the death penalty.  I do not believe that it is up to the state to kill people.  Keep them away from society to protect society, yes, but kill them, no.  But that's just my opinion.  YMMV.      

    Agreed... (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 02:57:28 PM EST
    Then give it a different name and draft an infinite amount of safeguards, but it is still nothing more then state sponsored murder.

    What really bothers me is how we neglect to realize there is nothing more inhumane then taking life, as we discuss which method causes the least amount of discomfort.

    "Scott we are are going to kick you in the groin as hard as we can, but you're getting a reprieve so we can figure out the most humane landing surface for your certain fall, because we want to make sure you are comfortable."

    this case was very similar to (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by cpinva on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:16:11 PM EST
    to the O.J. case, the state simply didn't prove its case, beyond a reasonable doubt. in the O.J. case, there was at least a cause of death established, not so in the peterson case. this was among many weaknesses overall. mr. peterson was convicted, not because the state proved he committed murder, but because it proved he committed capital adultery.

    i have no idea whether mr. peterson actually committed the crime for which he was convicted (and neither did the jury, based on post-trial interviews), although i suspect he did. the trial itself was a fraud on our criminal justice system however.


    I am surprised you reached a verdict (5.00 / 2) (#33)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 07:07:10 PM EST
    w/o being a sworn juror sitting in the courtroom to eyeball the witnesses, hear their sworn testimony, examine the evidence admitted, hear closing argument, and jury instructions.  

    I (none / 0) (#30)
    by lentinel on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 06:37:50 PM EST
    have an ambivalent feeling about the death penalty.

    Someone who has committed a heinous crime against a child, for example, deserves to die.

    The problem for me is that I think giving the State the power to do the killing is a big mistake. It revels in power. The power to kill citizens and keep them in line. And those representing the State have no scruples.

    For me, there is no solution that I can find for these disparate feelings.

    When a funky presence, Nixon for example, departs this Earth, I feel as if there is a little more fresh air to breathe.

    And what is a suitable punishment for someone like W.? For the slaughter of hundreds of thousands?

    I suppose life in prison would be suitable. He should be available for viewing 24/7 in his cell by curious onlookers - like a zoo.

    But his presence on Earth would still be felt.

    I don't know what to say.


    Well, there is -- literally! (none / 0) (#31)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 07:01:35 PM EST
    lentinel: "When a funky presence, Nixon for example, departs this Earth, I feel as if there is a little more fresh air to breathe."

    After all, for all his obvious and too-numerous-to-mention-here faults, let's remember that part of President Nixon's legacy is the Clear Air Act, along with the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Growing up as I did in metropolitan L.A. (Pasadena), I can't begin to tell you what a profound difference that particular piece of legislation made in improving life in Southern California as we know it. The air quality there today is infinitesimally better that it was 40-45 years ago.

    But back on topic, like you, I can think any number of criminals, convicted or otherwise, whom I believe to be deserving of the death penalty -- and that's precisely why I oppose it. Its implementation is both arbitrary and capricious. Its result is final, and cannot be undone -- and as we've all seen, there have been many times when the innocent have been convicted and sentenced wrongly.

    While we can't give back someone the years that were wrongfully taken away, we can make serious amends. But we can't give back life to the dead, or revive a deceased parent for an orphan.



    Capital punishment is ... (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:08:21 PM EST
    ... modern-day barbarism. I fail to see any useful social purpose to be served by executing someone some 12 to 14 years after the crime for which they were condemned was committed.

    Speaking for myself only.

    I agree, Donald (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Zorba on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:23:05 PM EST
    I would have hoped that we could have gotten beyond this, in this day and age.  As cpinva says below, it's "revenge."  You are speaking for me, too, my brother.

    Of course it is revenge (none / 0) (#39)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 09:24:58 PM EST
    One of the reasons the state started trying and executing people was that it removed the revenge factor from the victim's family and stopped some messy blood feuds.

    it's called (none / 0) (#14)
    by cpinva on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:16:58 PM EST

    I fail to see any useful social purpose to be served by executing someone some 12 to 14 years after the crime for which they were condemned was committed.

    "The People" want revenge? Fine. (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:45:03 PM EST
    Then we should compel "the People" to watch. Let's bring back public hangings in the town square, and turn them into community spectacles where we can bring the kids and grandma.

    Heck, let's also broadcast them on live television, and have a lottery so some lucky citizen can win the privilege of pulling the level to drop the trap door.

    Americans today are too soft. They like to talk tough, but they want their killing done in a vicarious fashion, out of sight and out of mind.

    Yeah, let's go to war, but heaven forbid that the mainstream and cable networks broadcast live reports from the front on the evening news, lest we become too upset to watch Wheel of Fortune afterward.

    So yes, America, it is entirely fitting that we envision ourselves today as the country of John Wayne and Ronald Reagan.

    Because lest we forget, both John Wayne and Ronald Reagan consciously chose to stay home in Hollywood during the Second World War and make movies and become big movie stars, while their contemporaries (and primary competition) -- men such as James Stewart, Eddie Albert, Jeff Chandler, Gene Autry and Clark Gable -- were serving overseas, and actually under fire.



    oh, i absolutely agree. (none / 0) (#35)
    by cpinva on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 08:45:23 PM EST
    i have advoated bringing back public executions for years, if one of the stated purposes is as an example to others. hard to do that behind closed walls.

    and scott, the state acts as agent for the victim, providing a "civilized" method of exacting revenge upon the perpetrator, as opposed to the unruly, many times incorrect, mob of angry villagers. execution is the highest level of state power, used by monarchs and dictators to show the populace who's in charge. in a democracy, it serves whatever purpose the people say it serves.


    As to your last sentence, stated purpose (none / 0) (#36)
    by oculus on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 08:57:31 PM EST
    is punishment and deterrence.  

    For Who ? (none / 0) (#27)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:15:07 PM EST
    I assume revenge is something one who was actually hurt by the person, or family/friend.  But what do you and I get out of it ?

    We get the state saying murder is a heinous crime unless we do it.

    And at what point are costs of revenge to much to bear.  Personally, I think humanity would benefit far more on spending that revenge money on feeding children and helping people who really need it, than exacting some stone age human urge.

    And that's not even accounting for the very real possibility that the revenge might be taken out on an innocent person.

    And why is hanging/shooting a bad way to seek revenge, but chemicals Okay Dokay.


    the death penalty (none / 0) (#17)
    by friendofinnocence on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:46:39 PM EST
    As if the Corey's of this world don't have enough power, the death penalty gives prosecutors the ultimate power - sign this paper or we'll do everything in our power to kill you.

    I've often wondered how many innocent people have confessed in order to avoid being killed by the state.  Those innocents who do take a long prison sentence to get the death penalty "off the table" can actually end up serving more time than others, because they can't get parole without admitting to something they didn't do.


    It boggles my mind that, here we are, (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 03:40:16 PM EST
    in 2012, still fooling ourselves that, because we use lethal doses of drugs to kill people, we are somehow more civilized than if we were still throwing the condemned to the lions, or burning them at the stake.  

    That some people actually are fooled into believing we stand on higher moral ground because our methods appear to be less violent, well, that kind of boggles my mind, too.  Killing people for killing people just never made any sense to me; it's at the end of a spectrum that includes, "you want something to cry about?  I'll give you something to cry about!  Whack!" and "I will now spank the crap out of you for hitting your sister."

    I don't know if Scott Peterson did what he was charged with doing, but I do know that enough people have been eventually exonerated who were either executed or about to be executed that I don't think we should handing out penalties that, once carried out, cannot be reversed.  

    You mean (none / 0) (#21)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:40:39 PM EST
    I don't know if Scott Peterson did what he was charged with doing...

    You don't know if he did what he was convicted of doing...


    Wasn't he convicted of the crimes (none / 0) (#26)
    by Anne on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 05:09:50 PM EST
    with which he was charged?

    Yes (none / 0) (#45)
    by jbindc on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 11:57:16 AM EST
    But your statement made it sound like you were trying to keep the "presumption of innocence".

    Think about it (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by NYShooter on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 04:22:13 PM EST
    You're trying to explain to a Martian how America got labeled the "Beacon on the Hill, " or some other such pithy platitude. "Yes sir!  After generations of class warfare in Europe and elsewhere, America was founded with the principal of "We The People," from which all power is derived. No more Aristocracy giving a tiny minority all that power. No sirree Bob! In America, the King (the State) has no more power than the lowliest Serf (a.k.a. the middle class)

    In America, if you're accused of a capital murder charge you're not at the mercy of some King or dictator. No Way! You get to go to "Court," and everyone is "Equal" in Court. The State has infinite money, resources, and manpower. The "accused" has a Legal Aid lawyer, who may get the spelling of your name correct, if he/she can only find your folder in that stack of hundreds more just like it. "

    What could be fairer than that?

    Of course it isn't fair (none / 0) (#38)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 09:22:50 PM EST
    That's why LWOP makes sense.

    BTW - Would you give fewer resources to the state or more to the defense?


    LWOP seems like (none / 0) (#40)
    by NYShooter on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 10:22:14 PM EST
    the only fair alternative.

    Re.the 2'nd. part. What we have now is justice for sale. No money, no justice. Of course, if we're going to be honest, and truly believe in fairness for all in our criminal justice system, both sides should be should be equally financed.


    We agree on the result (none / 0) (#44)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 07:21:10 AM EST
    But how would you accomplish it?

    Could we split the prosecution in half, with one side dedicated to giving the defense whatever resources it needs?


    Ah, the $64,000 question (none / 0) (#47)
    by NYShooter on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 12:10:19 PM EST
    It all comes down to politics. (like always)

    First, you'd need a public relations campaign to try and get a majority agreeing with the principal, "Justice shouldn't go to the highest bidder." And, then, like with all bills, fight like cats and dogs, embarrassing ourselves in the process and wondering again whether we're a country that really can govern ourselves.


    star witness for the defense (none / 0) (#4)
    by friendofinnocence on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:33:09 PM EST
    This is still the only case I've ever heard of in which the state hypnotized the defense's main witness, thus precluding her from testifying for the defense due to California law.

    The defense's main witness (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 01:38:31 PM EST
    Dr. March, turned out to be a disaster.

    what? (none / 0) (#42)
    by desmoinesdem on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 11:02:04 PM EST
    I didn't follow this trial closely--what are you talking about?

    These were two witnesses who (none / 0) (#54)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 02:52:10 AM EST
    who had seen a van with suspicious looking guys across the street from Scott and Laci's house.
    Here's a summary (and I could be a little off, it's been years since I've thought about this case, but at the time I knew the details since I commented on it regularly.)

    A third person had seen a similar looking van about a mile away, a few days after the disappearance with two guys holding onto a woman while she was squatting and ur*nating next to the van which was parked in public, and then a third guy helped grab her inside. The suggestion was that these guys might have kidnapped Laci.

    The defense theory was that Laci had been kidnapped and the baby cut out of her before they were dumped in the ocean. There was a lot of medical evidence on the gestation of the fetus and condition of Laci's body (She wasn't found for months, and by then, most of her organs were gone. But some ribs remained that the defense said could show a cut had been made to remove the baby, and they argued Connor was not inside Laci when they were dumped in the ocean. The state's expert thought the rib only showed a fray, not a cut, and said while it was a possibility someone had cut the baby out of her, he believed the baby came out naturally after she was dumped. The defense was trying to show that the baby was alive after Dec. 24 (and therefore Scott having taken a boat out that day had nothing to do with killing them. )

    One, if not both,of the first two witnesses were hypnotized by police by an unlicensed hypnotist. The other, whose statement the defense said the state only knew about because they had to turn over an investigatory report on its interview with her under reciprocal discovery rules, had her hypnotized, rendering her useless as a witness.  The court granted the defense motion to exclude the first witness for failure to comply with the Evidence code. The judge ruled the second witness' testimony could be exculpatory so he would allow her to testify. (The third witness, who arguably confirmed the second witness could testify wasn't hypnotized.)

    Here is the transcript of the hearing at which the judge rules. The defense won both motions but got screwed because if they put the second witness on, the state would call someone to impeach her about the differences between her pre and post-hypnotic statements. (I hope I have this right.)

    Geragos: There were two witnesses to this.  The woman has now died, through no fault of our own.  But we've now got one person who obviously I want to conditionally examine immediately, because they've indicated they're not calling it in the case in chief.  I've got to get to this person, I've got to get a sketch, I want to take that to Diane Jackson before this court rules Diane Jackson is not coming in because of whatever.  I think that the only remedy that this court can say at this point is Look, Mr. Geragos, I'm willing to let you have the pre-hypnotic statement that your investigator took.  I don't think that there's any appellate court that would say a defense, when they went and took the pre-hypnotic statement, and if I can link that up to -- by identification with another van that was sighted with Laci Peterson, that any court's going to say no, the prosecution can just go hypnotize a person and you eliminate them.  

    You know, I'm saying facetiously to Mr. Harris when we were discussing this, you know, it would be tantamount to me going down to Fresno, or wherever Amber Frey is, and pulling out a pocket watch and knocking on her door and saying Here, I've hypnotized you, and then saying Nah, nah, nah, nah, you can't call her as a witness now.  And -- and -- I mean, how could I do that?  How could that possibly be the law that somebody who is potentially either inculpatory, if they think it is, or exculpatory, if I think it is, being negated as a witness by virtue of the other side
    Mr. Geragos:  Okay.

    There were also allegations that a satanic cult was in the neighborhood and might have been responsible, but Geragos decided before trial he wasn't going down that path and would not introduce it.


    Scott Peterson was convicted of (none / 0) (#50)
    by IrishGerard on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 02:23:25 PM EST
    capital murder with special circumstance(s).
    the unborn baby being the special circumstance.

    I presume Perterson followed the Casey Anthony trial and, I'm sure, was dismayed by how she got away with murder and he was convicted with a similar evidence profile.

    IIRC, Peterson was convicted based entirely on circumstantial evidence?
    Dont get me wrong, there's no question he murdered his wife. I mean who else would have disposed of her body in the san francisco bay where he happened to be fishing some days (or weeks?) earlier.

    anyway, it seems plausible that might have a shot a the special circumstance aspect.

    a jury found him guilty (none / 0) (#55)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:01:32 AM EST
    Juries have found many people guilty who weren't.

    He claims he is factually innocent.

    I think the death sentence will be overturned - the voir dire issues are pretty compelling.

    There was also a lot of jury shenanigans.

    All the documents and defense theories are available here.