On December 24, 2002, Laci Denise Peterson, who was eight months pregnant, was reported missing by her husband Scott. In an interview with police, Scott Peterson said he last spoke with his wife at their Modesto, California, home on the morning she disappeared. He then went fishing. When he returned home later that evening, Laci had seemingly vanished without a trace.
As reported by Biography, authorities became suspicious of Scott Peterson based on his demeanor and his refusal to cooperate. In addition to refusing to take a polygraph test, Scott seemed to be unusually calm about the disappearance of his wife and unborn child. The authorities’ focus on Scott only intensified when they learned he was having an affair with another woman.
In April 2003, the bodies of a woman and a fetus were found on the shore of San Francisco Bay. Four days later, they were identified as Laci Peterson and her son — whom she planned to name Conner. Biography reports Scott Peterson was arrested and charged with murder later that same day.
Scott Peterson was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Laci Peterson and second-degree murder of Conner. He was initially sentenced to death. However, as reported by Biography, his sentence was commuted to life in prison by the California Supreme Court in August 2020.
The trail of Scott Peterson was emotionally draining for everyone involved, including the families of Scott and Laci. However, it was also took a toll on the jurors.
Three jurors were dismissed during Scott Peterson's trial and deliberations
During Scott Peterson’s trial, and the subsequent deliberations, Judge Alfred Delucchi dismissed a total of three jurors. The first dismissed was Justin Falconer. Although Judge Delucchi did not explain why he was dismissed, CNN reports Falconer was seen talking to Laci Peterson’s brother, Brent Rocha, while they were passing through court security. Falconer said he told Rocha, “I’m ruining the shot for the news tonight. You’re not going to be on the news tonight.”
Falconer said he was jokingly referring to the fact that the media could not use video footage or photos with jurors included. However, some members of the media, who overheard the remark, said Falconer actually said, “You’re going to lose tonight.”
As reported by CNN, Juror number seven, who was later identified as Fran Gorman, was dismissed during deliberations for “conducting independent research” about the case. Per the court rules, jurors are prohibited from conducting their own research into a case and are instructed to base their decision solely on information presented during the trial.
Judge Alfred Delucchi also dismissed the jury foreman, who was later identified as Gregory Jackson, during the deliberations. Although Delucchi did not explain why he dismissed Jackson, CNN analysts said he likely “violated the judge’s instructions.”
Following the dismissals of Fran Gorman and Gregory Jackson, the jury was required to restart deliberations. However, Judge Delucchi refused to declare a mistrial.
Gregory Jackson's dismissal may have changed the jury's verdict
Prior to Judge Alfred Delucchi’s dismissal of Gregory Jackson, the jury was reportedly unable to agree on a verdict, and the case was headed for a mistrial. As reported by ABC News, Jackson, who is an attorney and a former medical doctor, was the only juror siding with the defense when he was dismissed.
After the conclusion of the trial, John Guinasso, who was juror number eight, said Gregory Jackson sided with the defense based on the testimony of Dr. Charles March.
The prosecution alleged Scott Peterson killed Laci on December 24, and her death ultimately caused the death of their unborn child. They also alleged Scott disposed of Laci’s corpse on the day of her disappearance and death. However, Dr. Charles March testified that Conner did not die on the same day as his mother.
As reported by ABC News, legal analysts suggested March “fumbled badly on the stand and did not come across as credible.” However, Gregory Jackson thought his testimony was credible and raised reasonable doubt.
John Guinasso said Jackson “became flustered” when the other jurors dismissed his opinion. At one point, Jackson reportedly said, “I want off the trial. I’ve never been at a meeting like this in my life and there’s too much hostility in the room.”
ABC reports Guinasso said, “My personal opinion is … if [Jackson] was to remain on the case I think we would have had a hung jury.”
A juror who remained on the case is now being accused of lying
One of the jurors who remained on the Scott Peterson case until its conclusion has since being accused of lying during jury selection. As reported by The Modesto Bee, Richelle Nice, who was juror number seven, was asked whether she was ever the victim of a crime during the jury selection process.
When questioned, Richelle said she was never the victim of a crime. However, it was later revealed that she sought and obtained a restraining order against her then-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend in the years prior to Scott Peterson’s trial. According to Richelle’s complaint, the woman was threatening and stalking her. At the time, Richelle was four months pregnant.
It was also revealed that Richelle Nice was the victim of domestic violence, which was perpetrated by another ex-boyfriend while she was pregnant with another child.
As reported by The Modesto Bee, Scott Peterson’s attorneys said Richelle Nice intentionally lied during jury selection “in order to serve on Peterson’s jury and punish him.” The attorneys said Richelle’s own experiences with threats to her unborn children would have excluded her from the jury. However, as she did not disclose the incidents, she was wrongfully allowed “to sit in judgment of Mr. Peterson for the crime of harming his unborn child.”
As reported by KRON4, Richelle Nice’s attorneys said the claims against their client “are false and without merit,” and Scott Peterson’s attorneys are simply “grasping at straws.”
Five jurors discuss their impressions during the trial
Jury selection in the Scott Peterson trial took a total of three months. As reported by Dr. Phil, the original jury was equally divided between men and women, and the jurors were predominantly white. In the months following the conclusion of the trial, five of the former jurors, who were identified only as John, Julie, Mike, Richelle, and Greg, discussed their time on the jury and their perceptions of the defendant and the evidence presented.
Jurors Julie and Mike both said they had favorable or neutral impressions of Scott on the first day of the trial. During the interview with Dr. Phil, Julie said he “did not look like a monster” and was “a handsome man.” Mike said he noted Scott was around the same age as his son, and clearly “had just suffered the loss of his wife and child.
Juror John said Scott looked like “the typical all-American boy,” but he acknowledged the defendant’s “eyes were eerie.” Juror Richelle said she was struck by Scott Peterson’s upbeat demeanor, as he was on trial for murdering his wife and unborn child.
In the interview with Dr. Phil, Juror Greg said he “never saw emotion out of Scott.” However, he “looked at him as actually being a victim of the process.” Greg admitted his impression of Scott changed throughout the trial. In his opinion, the testimony presented by Scott Peterson’s mistress, Amber Frey, proved that he was “a habitual liar.”
Jurors were frustrated when the death sentence was commuted to life in prison
Although the jury sentenced Scott Peterson to death by lethal injection, his sentence was commuted to life in prison in August 2020.
As reported by ABC News, Peterson and his attorneys appealed his conviction and original sentence citing an unfair trial. In addition to “the unusual amount of pretrial publicity surrounding the case,” Peterson’s attorneys argued that a number of prospective jurors were “erroneously dismissed” when they admitted they were opposed to capital punishment.
The California Supreme Court ultimately rejected Scott Peterson’s claim that his trial was unfair, and upheld his conviction for the murders of his wife and son. However, as reported by ABC News, the court did overturn Scott Peterson’s death sentence, as they determined “the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase,” (per ABC News).
In an interview with KTVU2, jurors Mike Belmessieri and John Guinasso expressed frustration with the California Supreme Court’s decision. Guinasso said he is “frustrated” that he and his fellow jurors made the unanimous decision to sentence Scott Peterson to death, “and it hasn’t been followed through yet.” Belmessieri said he blames the system. In his opinion, the legal system needs to become “a little more efficient than what it is.”
Neither Mike Belmessieri nor John Guinasso regrets their decision to convict Scott Peterson of murder or sentence him to death.
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