MODESTO -- Scott Peterson's attorney formally appealed his death sentence late Thursday, seeking freedom more than seven years after he was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their unborn son.
The filing is his first step toward leaving death row, his father told The Modesto Bee on Friday. Laci Peterson's family said a strategy for speeding up the appeal process could backfire, putting Scott Peterson on a fast track to the death chamber.
Jurors were unduly swayed by massive publicity, Berkeley attorney Cliff Gardner said in the 470-page appeal, even though the 2004 trial was moved from Modesto to Redwood City, "only 90 miles away," the document reads.
"The case against Mr. Peterson was anything but overwhelming," Gardner argued. "There were no eyewitnesses, no confessions, no admissions and scant physical evidence connected him to the crime."
Substitute teacher Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she disappeared Christmas Eve 2002. Her husband said he had been fishing in a newly purchased boat in San Francisco Bay and returned to an empty house.
"From Day 1 on, Mr. Peterson said he was innocent," the appeal reads.
The badly decomposed bodies of mother and fetus washed ashore nearly four months later. He was tried and convicted in a blockbuster trial stretching for most of 2004, and arrived on death row in March 2005.
"This (appeal) is a first step toward getting an innocent man out of San Quentin," his father, Lee, said on the telephone Friday, citing an "astounding ... lack of evidence."
Faster than usual
Although it's been seven years, the Peterson appeal is considered quick relative to other California death penalty cases, which are automatically appealed and typically languish more than a decade. His family hired Gardner, an attorney specializing in California Supreme Court work, in hope of freeing Scott Peterson soon.
Ron Grantski, longtime companion of Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, said: "I think he's crazy. Let him go ahead. Once the appeal's met, he's pretty much on the starting line for death, that's the way I look at it."
Birgit Fladager, a Peterson prosecutor elected as Stanislaus County district attorney in 2006 and re-elected two years ago, said it's refreshing for a death row inmate not to stall as a tactic to stay alive.
Her attorneys are cooperating with the state attorney general's office, who will write a reply to Gardner's appeal. "I don't know when," she said, "but it won't take seven years."
No juror ever contacted by The Bee over the years has second-guessed the unanimous decision, and two reaffirmed that Friday.
"He got probably one of the best juries he could have had," said Richelle Nice, nicknamed "Strawberry Shortcake" by a media horde because jurors' identities were kept under wraps until after the trial. "We looked at everything up and down, backward and forward," she said Friday.
Mike Belmessieri, another juror, said: "We were right to put Scott where he is now. I've never felt any different about that, never."