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Los Angeles Innocence Project takes Scott Peterson's case, decades after conviction

An Oct. 21, 2022, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Scott Peterson. The convicted murderer's case is now being taken up by the Los Angeles Innocence Project.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP
An Oct. 21, 2022, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Scott Peterson. The convicted murderer's case is now being taken up by the Los Angeles Innocence Project.

Twenty years after he was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson has a new ally in his fight to prove he didn't commit the crime. The Los Angeles Innocence Project is now working with Peterson, according to news outlets in California.

It's an important shift in Peterson's case. Up to now, many of his attorneys' efforts have focused on overturning his death sentence — an effort that succeeded in 2020. Peterson, 51, is now seeking exoneration and to free himself from serving a life sentence.

In a statement to NPR, the Los Angeles Innocence Project said it "represents Scott Peterson and is investigating his claim of actual innocence."

Laci Peterson and her unborn child, Connor, disappeared in December of 2002. Scott Peterson, who was found to be having an affair, was charged with murder in April of 2003, almost immediately after his wife's decomposed body was found along the shore of San Francisco Bay. He pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence in the years since.

At the end of a five-month trial, a jury convicted Peterson in November of 2004, after two jurors were dismissed from the panel during deliberations.

A jury approved the death penalty for Peterson, only to have that punishment rolled back by a finding that jurors hadn't been properly screened. In December of 2022, a court rejected Peterson's call for a new trial.

This week, Peterson's team filed a discovery motion, referring to evidence related to his case, according to records at the San Mateo Superior Court. His attorneys also filed a motion for DNA testing, as well as a motion to seal some court records. They're the first new court filings in his murder case in a year.

Comments from Peterson's current and former lawyers suggest the new effort may focus on a burglary near the family's home in Modesto, Calif., around the time Laci Peterson disappeared, according to ABC, which first reported the Los Angeles Innocence Project's involvement in his case.

In 2022, the Los Angeles Innocence Project used DNA evidence to overturn the wrongful murder conviction of Maurice Hastings, who spent more than 38 years in prison.

The organization says its mission is "to exonerate the wrongly convicted; free the wrongfully incarcerated; uncover and remedy past misuse of forensic and other scientific evidence in the courtroom," and push for improvements in the criminal legal system, including standards for using forensic evidence in the court.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.