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Scott Peterson, who killed pregnant wife, faces death penalty at resentencing

“At this point in time, we are on track to retry" the death penalty case, a prosecutor told a judge in California on Friday.
Image: Scott Peterson
Scott Peterson is escorted by San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies in Redwood City, Calif., on March 17, 2005.Justin Sullivan / Reuters file

Californiaprosecutors disclosed Friday they will seek the death penalty, again, against convicted killer Scott Peterson, two months after his capital sentence was overturned.

Peterson appeared remotely from the San Quentin State Prison, his home for more than 15 years since he was convicted of killing his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son.

“At this point in time, we are on track to retry the (death penalty) case," Stanislaus County Assistant District Attorney Dave Harris told a judge in Modesto.

Defense lawyer Pat Harris said this was the first he and his client had heard about the DA's decision to seek death again — and that they'll need time to prepare.

"Well, it's been 15 long years and as you can imagine there are ups and downs," Harris told reporters outside court. "But overall he's very happy that the court has basically taken a look at the motions, taken a look at the evidence."

Peterson wore a blue shirt and a blue mask during the brief court appearance. He only had one moment to speak, telling Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Leo that he understood the proceedings and agreed to his next court date, Nov. 6.

The California Supreme Court earlier this year overturned Peterson's death sentence, citing problems with jury selection during his trial

"Before the trial began, 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," the state's high court ruled.

"While a court may dismiss a prospective juror as unqualified to sit on a capital case if the juror’s views on capital punishment would substantially impair his or her ability to follow the law, a juror may not be dismissed merely because he or she has expressed opposition to the death penalty as a general matter."

The underlying conviction still stands, and prosecutors are free to seek the death penalty again,

“Peterson contends his trial was flawed for multiple reasons, beginning with the unusual amount of pretrial publicity that surrounded the case," according to the state high court ruling. “We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder.”

Laci Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant when she vanished around Christmas Eve 2002.

Scott Peterson, now 47, had maintained he went fishing the day she disappeared. The remains of Peterson and her unborn child washed up later along the shore of San Francisco Bay, not far from where Peterson said he had gone fishing.

Laci Peterson's disappearance and the ensuing arrest and trial of Peterson was one the most closely watched cases of the early 21st century.

The couple lived in the Central California city of Modesto, but the case was tried about 90 miles west in Redwood City, south of San Francisco, due to pretrial publicity.

Friday's hearing was in Modesto.

After court, defense lawyer Harris told NBC Bay Area he'll move for the penalty phase to be contested outside of Stanislaus County, just like the original trial.

But Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman, who closely followed the original trial, said he doubts there'll be the kind non-stop cable news coverage that'd necessitate a change of venue.

"There'll be a whole bunch of people coming in to serve jury duty who have never heard of this case," the law professor said.