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The L.A. Innocence Project Believes Scott Peterson May Be Innocent: What to Know About Wife Laci's Murder

Scott Peterson, 51, was convicted in 2004 of murdering Laci, his wife of five years, and their unborn son

<p>Modesto Police Dept/ZUMAPRESS.com</p> Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson

Modesto Police Dept/ZUMAPRESS.com

Laci Peterson, Scott Peterson

• Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Conner, after a 2004 trial

• The L.A. Innocence project has taken on Scott's case, saying in legal filings that "new evidence now supports Mr. Peterson's longstanding claim of innocence"

• From the start, Scott, now 51, has maintained his innocence

On the day before Christmas 2002, Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant with her first child, vanished, unleashing what would become one of the most high-profile and closely watched murder cases in the nation’s history.

Four months after she disappeared, the badly decomposed bodies of Laci, 27, and her unborn son, Conner, were found in San Francisco Bay.

The prime suspect? Her husband, Scott Peterson, who said he was fishing when his pregnant wife vanished. Convicted in 2004 of two counts of first-degree murder, Scott was sentenced to death row in 2005, a sentence that was overturned in 2020.

Laci's family has been unwavering in their belief that he killed Laci and Conner.

From the start, Scott, now 51, has maintained his innocence.

Now with the help of the Los Angeles Innocence Project, he is trying for a chance at freedom.

Here’s what to know about the case:

Dec. 2002: Laci Goes Missing

Wed on Aug. 9, 1997, after meeting at California Polytechnic State University, Laci and Scott Peterson were living in affluent Modesto, Calif., in May 2002 when she found out she was pregnant. The excited mom-to-be began decorating the nursery for the son she and Scott were expecting, who they named Conner.

Life for Laci seemed blissful until shortly before Christmas. On the night of Dec. 23, 2002, Laci talked to her mother, Sharon Rocha, on the phone. It was the last time Rocha would ever talk to her daughter. Shortly after 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 24, 2002, a neighbor found the couple’s dog, McKenzie, roaming the neighborhood and brought it back to their yard. There was no sign of Laci. Scott, then 31, was allegedly fishing in San Francisco Bay, about 90 miles from Modesto.

Laci Peterson
Laci Peterson

Jan. 2003: Amber Frey Comes Forward

Worried about Laci, her parents called 911 at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2002, to report her missing. Police launched a massive search for her in the Modesto area, saying they suspected foul play.

A month later, on Jan. 24, 2003, Amber Frey came forward at a police press conference saying she had started seeing Scott, who told her he was a widower, about a month before Laci vanished. When she saw news reports about Laci’s disappearance, she contacted the authorities, working with police to surreptitiously record her conversations with Scott.

Related: Laci Peterson's Family 'Devastated' Scott Peterson Is Off Death Row: 'It's Beyond Painful'

April 2003: Bodies Discovered in S.F. Bay

Four months later, on April 13, 2003, a couple discovered the body of a late-term male fetus in the San Francisco Bay. A day later, the body of a recently-pregnant woman washed onto the shore one mile away from where the baby's body was found. DNA tests verified that they were the bodies of Laci and Conner.

Authorities were unable to determine a cause of death because the bodies were badly decomposed — and Laci's body was missing the head and both forearms.

<p>PAUL CHINN/San Francisco Chronicle via AP</p>

PAUL CHINN/San Francisco Chronicle via AP

April 2003: Scott Arrested

On April 18, 2003, police arrested Scott, who had dyed his brown hair blond, near a golf course and charged him with two felony counts of murder with premeditation and special circumstances. He pleaded not guilty. Investigators were suspicious of the items Scott had with him when they made the arrest, which included survival gear, camping equipment, $15,000 in cash, two driver's licenses and four cell phones, which they viewed as an indication that he was planning to flee to Mexico.

Related: Laci Peterson's Family Feels 'Relief' After Scott Peterson Denied a New Trial: 'Best Christmas Gift Ever'

Prosecution Lays Out Motive

Laci Peterson's family sought the death penalty for Scott. The district attorney did too. During the trial, jurors heard testimony from Amber Frye and Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha. Prosecutors also showed the jury two photos in which Peterson was smiling widely while his wife was missing. The prosecution contended that his motive was to collect a $250,000 insurance policy on his wife.

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Nov. 2004: Conviction

On November 12, 2004, Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in Laci's death and second-degree murder in Conner's death. In subsequent interviews, jurors said Peterson's lack of emotion and his behavior with Amber Frey indicated that he was guilty. The judge sentenced Peterson to death, calling Laci and Conner's murder "cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous."

Related: L.A. Innocence Project Takes Scott Peterson's Case, Says New Evidence 'Supports' Claim He Didn't Kill Wife Laci

2020: Scott's Death Sentence Overturned

Over the years, Scott fought to clear his name, winning two major legal victories in 2020. In August, he was given the chance to face a new penalty phase trial after his death penalty sentence was overturned by California Supreme Court, who cited jury selection errors by the trial judge. Then, in October of that year, the California Supreme Court ruled that a lower court should take a second look at his case to determine whether his guilty verdict should be overturned. In court in 2021, Scott's death sentence was officially vacated, resentencing him to life in prison. The following year, a San Mateo County Superior Court Judge denied Peterson's bid for a new trial.

Aug. 2021: Scott's Sister-in-Law Claims He's Innocent

In 2021, Scott’s sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, said on the Today show that she believes there is evidence showing that Laci was killed after Christmas Eve 2002. "There's evidence that was completely ignored that shows Laci was alive after [Scott] left for the day," Janey, who is married to Scott's brother, said on the show. "But also, there was no evidence that he had anything to do with what happened to Laci."

She said she felt Scott's months-long affair with Frey, helped seal his fate. Being a cheater, she said on the show, does not mean that her brother is a killer. "I don't think you can take that leap," she told  the morning news show.

Jan. 2024: L.A. Innocence Project Takes Case

Now, the L.A. Innocence Project has taken on the case. The organization is seeking new evidence in Scott's original trial, saying that Peterson's state and federal constitutional rights were violated, according to ABC News. Filings entered on Wednesday and first obtained by the outlet say that "new evidence now supports Mr. Peterson's longstanding claim of innocence and raises many questions into who abducted and killed Laci and Conner Peterson."

Attorneys for the L.A. Innocence Project cite updated witness statements that point to multiple areas of interest including a December 2002 burglary of a Modesto home across the street from the Petersons. Scott's attorneys have previously argued his wife was killed after she witnessed the men breaking into the neighbor's house during a dog walk while Scott was on a solo fishing trip Christmas Eve morning.

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