Scott Peterson in court as LA Innocence Project pushes for DNA testing and missing reports

Scott Peterson appears via video call for a status hearing at San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Andy Alfaro/The Modesto Bee via AP, Pool)
Scott Peterson appears via video call for a status hearing at San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Andy Alfaro / Associated Press)

One of California's most notorious convicted murderers, Scott Peterson, appeared in court via video Tuesday in an effort to get DNA testing of evidence that he says could exonerate him in the killing of his pregnant wife and unborn son.

Peterson's attempt to clear his name is now backed by the Los Angeles Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal group with a reputation for exonerating wrongfully convicted criminals. Peterson appeared from Mule Creek state prison in a blue prison shirt nearly two decades after he was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and tossing her body into San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002.

Laci Peterson, 27 vanished Christmas Eve from their Modesto home. Four days after she and their unborn son, Conner, turned up in San Francisco Bay in April 2003, Scott Peterson was arrested for murder. It would become one of the state's highest-profile murder cases when it was revealed that he had a secret girlfriend whom he had told his wife was dead.

Peterson, now 51, was convicted in 2004 and initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was subsequently overturned and he is now serving life without parole.

In a San Mateo County courtroom Tuesday, Paula Mitchell, executive director of the Innocence Project, began what she described as one of several motions in an effort to show Peterson's constitutional rights were violated, including a "claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence."

Mitchell told the judge that for decades since Peterson's 2004 trial, vital evidence connected to the conviction has been withheld and that prosecutors continue to thwart and delay the discovery of potentially exculpatory evidence.

Read more: The Scott Peterson Murder Trial

"Mr. Peterson’s been waiting for 20 years for police reports and audio recordings and video recordings that should have been provided,” she said “We are eager to get our investigation underway.”

Key to the Innocence Project's efforts is a van that was set on fire on Dec. 25, 2002 in Modesto, a day after a burglary at a home near the Petersons' residence. Inside the van was a mattress with what one investigator has said appeared to be bloodstains. That van was found a mile from the Peterson home, raising the possibility that it could have played a role in the murder.

The Innocence Project alleges that it has evidence from the van owner that shows that the van did not have a mattress inside it before it was stolen and before Laci Peterson's killing.

Mitchell on Tuesday also said she had given prosecutors an informal request for "very specific" items of discovery on Nov. 14, 2023, and continues to wait for access to those items including audio recordings, interviews notes and police reports.

"We spent a lot of time trying to suss out what, frankly, are very alarming deficiencies in the discovery that was provided to the defense at the time of trial," Mitchell said.

Peterson appeared via a monitor in the courtroom and smiled at one point when asked if he could hear. His hair was pulled back into a man bun or ponytail and answered briefly when the judge asked if he understood.

Peterson has maintained his innocence since his arrest and in court papers noted that there is no physical evidence tying him to the killings.

Read more: Scott Peterson Arrested in Wife's Slaying

A judge set hearings for April 16 and May 29 to discuss the wider discovery and DNA issue. The judge told prosecutors they needed to address both issues as Mitchell repeatedly expressed concerns about delays by prosecutors.

“Today’s hearing was just the first step in a long process. We have not commented on our motions, and we will continue to present our case in court — where it should be adjudicated,” Mitchell said in a statement.

Peterson was resentenced in 2021 after the California Supreme Court determined that the jury in his trial had been improperly screened for bias against the death penalty. Prosecutors settled for life without parole rather than new proceedings. He was moved off death row the following year.

Last year, a judge rejected an effort by his lawyers to get the jury verdict overturned. They had argued that a juror was biased. That juror had not divulged on a jury questionnaire that she had gotten a restraining order while pregnant.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.