Saturday marks 20 years to the day that expectant mother Laci Peterson disappeared from the California home she shared with her husband, Scott. What started as a case of a missing woman soon spiraled into an investigation that rocked the nation as two families pursued their versions of justice.
After years of heavy media and law enforcement scrutiny, followed by months of a tumultuous trial, a jury found Scott Peterson killed Laci and their unborn son, Conner.
Just Tuesday, a judge closed a chapter when she ruled Peterson would not be granted a new trial despite allegations a juror in his original trial was biased and untruthful.
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Two decades since her disappearance and death, Peterson has maintained his innocence despite his conviction years earlier. He remains in the custody of the California state prison system.
Despite a consistent flow of headlines related to Laci’s and Conner’s murders, much of recent news has been focused on Scott. Today, Laci Peterson would have been 47, and Conner would be 19.
Here’s a look at Laci Peterson’s life, her death and her family’s seemingly unending pursuit for justice.
Laci Denise Peterson, 27, was eight months pregnant on Dec. 24, 2002, when her husband, 31-year-old Scott, reported her missing from their Modesto, California, home. Known for her dimples and big smile, Laci and Scott had already named their son Conner.
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Peterson, born Laci Denise Rocha, met Scott in San Luis Obispo, and the pair married in 1997. According to reports from the time, friends said they never saw them arguing, and they seemed like a happy couple.
Laci and Scott opened a cafe in San Luis Obispo but later sold the business and moved to Modesto, closer to where Laci’s family was located, according to reports. Scott took on a full-time job, while Laci reportedly worked part-time as a substitute teacher.
A woman named Margarita Nava recalled cleaning the Petersons’ single-story home Dec. 23, 2002, when she said Laci appeared tired from spending the day shopping. But Laci had typically been the same way other times Nava had seen her, The Associated Press reported.
Scott allegedly told police he last saw Laci around 9:30 a.m. on the day of her disappearance, when she left the home to walk their dog. Scott then left home to go fishing in nearby Berkeley Marina. He returned later that day and said Laci was nowhere to be found.
Amy Rocha, Laci’s sister, testified during pretrial proceedings that Laci thought “the world” of Scott.
Laci’s mother reportedly said Scott called at 5:17 p.m. to say Laci was missing.
Laci’s and Conner’s remains were discovered just one day apart in March 2003, over three months after her disappearance.
Their remains were discovered separate from each other and at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay but did not wash ashore until weeks later, according to an Oakland Tribune report from April 2003.
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Laci’s and Conner’s remains washed ashore just one day apart on April 13 and 14, 2003.
Peterson’s head, neck, forearms and a portion of one leg were missing. A pathologist testified at a preliminary hearing that the body’s exposure to saltwater and sea life left investigators unable to determine the cause of her death or what kind of weapon was used, the AP reported.
While there were no reported signs Peterson had given birth, her son’s remains were no longer intact with her body.
The baby was found to have had plastic tape around his neck, though defense attorneys questioned the tape’s origins.
Amy Rocha, Laci’s sister, testified that Scott had told her on Dec. 23 that he planned to spend the next day golfing, not fishing like he later told police.
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After Laci’s and Conner’s remains were located, police reportedly kept quiet out of a concern that Scott might flee.
Police ultimately arrested Peterson just days later. By that time, they had received nearly 10,000 tips.
Investigators pulled over Peterson’s car roughly 30 miles from Mexico and discovered he was carrying $10,000 cash and his brother’s passport, had grown a goatee and had dyed his hair. He was charged with capital murder for Laci’s and Conner’s deaths and pleaded not guilty.
Investigators later said Peterson had converted the baby’s nursery into a storage room, sold Laci’s car and looked into selling their Modesto home in the weeks after she disappeared.
Prosecutors later revealed that Peterson had been in the throes of an affair with a woman named Amber Frey, who later came forward and testified against him. Frey testified that she and Peterson had begun dating a month before Laci’s disappearance, when he claimed his wife had died.
They argued that Peterson had dumped the victims’ bodies in the San Francisco Bay from his fishing boat.
Peterson’s defense team, led by Mark Geragos, argued that Laci was kidnapped by one or more people who then killed her.
More than 23 weeks after the trial began, Peterson was found guilty in 2004 of first-degree murder for Laci’s death and second-degree murder for Conner’s. He was sentenced to death, but the California Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence in 2020 after it came to light that prospective jury candidates had been improperly dismissed.
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For years, Peterson’s attorneys had argued that a new trial was warranted because juror Richelle Nice was biased and lied in her questionnaire to get on the jury.
On Aug. 11, 2022, Peterson, his attorneys and Stanislaus County prosecutors convened for a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court regarding the potential for a retrial.
Defense attorneys pointed to evidence that Nice had neglected to share during jury selection that she had applied for a restraining order in 2000 while she was pregnant. They said she told authorities at the time that she “fears for her unborn child,” The AP reported at the time.
During his arguments to the court in August, Peterson attorney Cliff Gardner said Nice contradicted herself in multiple statements and later changed her answers to certain questions regarding her personal experiences and feelings. He argued she was inconsistent and uncooperative.
Gardner said Nice refused in 2015 to speak to the defense or the prosecution and only testified in 2022 because she was granted immunity.
He also said Nice responded “no” to a question asking whether she could base her decision entirely on the evidence produced in court and not from outside or preexisting opinions or attitudes.
But Judge Anne-Christine Massullo questioned why Peterson’s attorneys at the time did not ask for Nice to clarify some of her responses. She noted that there were several inconsistencies in the prospective juror questionnaire in the original trial.
David Harris with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office told the court that Nice, when asked why she considered herself a “fair person,” responded, “I know what it’s like to be judged.”
The prosecution said Nice was a single mom who had never been on a jury before this trial and thought it would be a part of her civic duty.
The 23-page questionnaire had 163 questions, and “she did the best that she could,” he said.
“She’s inconsistent on her answers,” he told the court. “But being wrong does not necessarily make it false or make her a liar. It just might be that she’s really bad at filling out forms.”
Harris later added, “Nice showed sometimes that she could be a little bit confused about things.”
He further pointed to the evidence police had gathered against Peterson during the course of his investigation into Laci’s and Conner’s deaths.
Harris explained: “From the simple fact that Laci and Conner, whose bodies washed ashore 90 miles from their home, but within sight of where Peterson admitted he went fishing on the day that they disappeared; to the research Peterson did on bay currents in the weeks preceding her disappearance; and the fishing boat he bought but mentioned [to] no one; to Peterson’s inability to explain what he was fishing for in the middle of the day; to his repeated subsequent, serendipitous trips to the marina in the weeks after her disappearance; to the many steps he took in the weeks after she went missing — selling her car, exploring sale of the house, turning the nursery into a storage room — that indicated that he already knew Laci and Conner were never coming back.”
Nice previously told a court she did not have any bias against Peterson until after hearing the evidence presented at trial.
Massullo wrote in her 55-page decision that Nice had acted out of emotion rather than a bias against Peterson, and she had made “honest mistakes.”
“The Court finds that several of the answers provided by Juror No. 7 on her juror questionnaire were false in certain respects,” she wrote. “The Court concludes that Juror No. 7’s responses were not motivated by pre-existing or improper bias against Petitioner, but instead were the result of a combination of good faith misunderstanding of the questions and sloppiness in answering.”
Peterson, now 50, is serving a life sentence at California’s Mule Creek State Prison.
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Laci Peterson’s mother, Sharon Rocha, did not respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment. In a statement obtained by The Associated Press from the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, she said Massullo’s decision affirmed that Peterson received a fair trial.
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“We appreciate Juror No. 7 for her courage and honesty during this process. No juror should have to go through what she endured,” Rocha said.
Frey, whose 2004 testimony helped to secure Peterson’s conviction, said in a statement to Fox News Digital it was “relieving to hear” that Peterson would not receive a new trial.
“I would have been willing to testify again. However, I am relieved that my testimony will not be necessary,” she said in a statement provided to Fox News Digital by her longtime attorney, Gloria Allred. “If I were called to testify, I would give truthful testimony again, for the truth doesn’t change over time.”
Pat Harris, Peterson’s attorney, wrote in a statement provided to Fox News Digital that he was “disappointed” in the ruling, but the case was “far from over.”
“Just in the last few months, we have learned new information that will prove Scott Peterson did not murder his wife, Laci. And we are going to continue to push forward until he is freed,” he wrote. “As for the ruling, the judge does concede that Juror No. 7 committed misconduct but excuses that misconduct by writing that her background, her contentious relationship with her boyfriend and her frequent memory lapses are all excuses for her misconduct. We respectfully disagree.”
Peterson’s sister-in-law and outspoken advocate, Janey Peterson, told Fox News Digital Scott “is innocent” and “did not have an impartial jury.”
“We will not stop fighting until Scott is free, and we find who murdered Laci and Conner,” she wrote in a message minutes after Tuesday’s news. “Twenty years ago this week, Laci Peterson was seen alive walking her dog after Scott had left for the day. Sometime after that walk, the evidence shows she encountered men burglarizing the home across the street. Those men kidnapped her and later killed her.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.