The People of the State of California v. Scott Peterson


Scott Peterson now sits in San Quentin State Prison in California. He is there serving a sentence which will ultimately end in death by lethal injection once his appeals run out. He is serving this sentence for murder of his wife, Laci Peterson, and his unborn son, Conner, who he reported missing on Christmas eve, 2002. At first, this case seemed like it was more of a missing person case, not necessarily a murder case, and Scott was initially definitely not a suspect as Laci’s family and friends stood behind him and maintained their belief that he was innocent. It was not until other matters came to light that they began to question Scott’s involvement in the disappearance of Laci, which eventually led to Scott being where he is today.

The first issue was Scott’s inconsistencies in the stories that he was telling the police. The things he was telling them from one day to the other were different. That he had a business meeting initially, then he retracted that story and said that he was in the marina fishing and came home to find Laci gone, but when asked what he was fishing for, he could not provide a good answer. Then of course it came out that Scott had a mistress, as well as other extramarital affairs. The mistress, Amber Frey, sought the police’s assistance when she realized that the man she was “in love” with was actually married and that his wife had disappeared, therefore she also feared for her safety. Around the time that it came out about Scott’s affairs, the family and friends that once supported him began to withdraw, believing that Scott in fact did murder Laci and Conner, not because of his affairs per se, but because he told Ms. Frey, 15 days before Laci disappeared, that he “lost” his wife and that this would be his first Christmas alone.

On April 14, 2003, a male fetus washed ashore north of the marina where Scott had been boating the day Laci disappeared, which was positively identified as Conner. The next day, a female torso, missing her head, hands and feet washed ashore in the same area. These remains were positively identified as Laci’s. Autopsies could not be performed on the bodies due to the significant decomposition, so a specific cause of death could not be determined. On April 18, 2003, Scott Peterson was arrested in the parking lot of a golf course. At the time of his arrest, Peterson was carrying $15,000, four cell phones, credit cards belonging to multiple family members, camping equipment, shoes, clothing, and his brother’s driver’s license. His hair and beard color had also been changed from brown to blonde.
Peterson went on trial in June of 2004, not in the city of Modesto, due to the fact that there may not be a fair trial, but instead to nearby Redwood City. The prosecution said the motive behind Peterson’s actions were due to his affair with Amber Frey as well as money. They believed he killed his wife due to insurmountable debt as well as his desire to be single. The defense argued that there was no direct evidence to connect Scott Peterson to the murders of Laci and Conner, but that all the evidence uncovered was circumstantial. In fact, the only DNA evidence that was found was one of Laci’s hairs in a pair of pliers on Scott’s boat. The defense went on to say that a satanic cult had murdered Laci in some sort of sacrificial ritual. There was no cause of death, no time of death, no murder weapon, no evidence as to how she was killed, no identifiable crime scene, no eyewitnesses, no confessions. Everyone in America knew Scott Peterson's alibi was that he was fishing in the bay within a few days of her disappearance. It would be a logical place for the killer to dump the body, thereby framing Scott (because an exact time of death could not be determined). In fact, that was the defense’s argument, but the jury didn't buy it. The state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott Peterson killed Laci and Conner.

On March 16, 2005, Scott Peterson was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the double murder of his wife and unborn son as well as ordered to pay $10,000 towards Laci’s funeral. At some point later on after sentencing, the judge who sent Peterson to jail (Alfred Delucchi) expressed some doubts about the imposition of the death penalty on Scott. The death penalty was an option because Peterson was convicted of murdering two people. Under California law, a fetus is considered a person in this context, which is why he was convicted of a double murder. California has determinant sentencing laws, meaning the judge may impose one of three terms – low term, mid term or high term of a person convicted of a felony. These are exact terms and not on the same line as a person convicted in another state of “two to five years”. Crimes of heat or passion versus premeditated, cold-blooded murders are what differentiate life sentences from the death penalty. Of the states that allow the death penalty, California is the slowest in moving toward executions. It could easily be 10 to 20 years before Scott Peterson is injected. There are more than 600 inmates on death row and since 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated in California, only 11 people have been executed.

Peterson’s case is on appeal as of his sentencing date (due to automatic appeal), though at this time, according to the California Appellate Court website there is no other data available regarding this case. The appeals process is sometimes a lengthy one, but it can be guaranteed that once the arguments against his conviction are heard, it will once again become news.

References
California Appellate Courts Website - http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov
Merritt, J. (2005). Scott Peterson Sentencing. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40569-2005Mar16.html
Montaldo, C. (2008). The Scott Peterson Trial. Retrieved from
http://crime.about.com/od/current/a/scott.htm

Related Essays Current Issues