Murder of Laci Peterson: Timeline as Scott Peterson's case picked up by Innocence Project (2024)

More than 20 years have passed since the murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn child, a case that garnered ongoing national attention after she initially went missing in December of 2002.

Her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted of two counts of murder in 2004 in a controversial decision that was later upheld by the Supreme Court of California. Peterson's death sentence was commuted to life in prison after several appeals, but he has remained behind bars despite questions about the circ*mstantial evidence presented by the prosecution during the trial.

Twenty years after the original sentencing, however, The Innocence Project, an organization that seeks to exonerate wrongful convictions, has picked up Peterson's case, saying new evidence has surfaced that supports Peterson's claims of innocence.

Already a case full of twists and turns, these new developments have re-sparked interest in what exactly happened to Laci Peterson. Here is a timeline of the events thus far.

Innocence Project takes on case: Scott Peterson, convicted of killing wife, Laci, has case picked up by LA Innocence Project, report says

Dec. 24, 2002: Laci Peterson reported missing

Murder of Laci Peterson: Timeline as Scott Peterson's case picked up by Innocence Project (1)

Laci Peterson, then eight months pregnant, is reported missing. The day prior, Laci and Scott had visited her sister, Amy, at the salon where she worked around 5:45 p.m. At 8:30 p.m. that night, Laci's mother, Sharon, talked to her daughter on the phone. These interactions were the last time Laci was seen or heard from by anyone besides Scott.

Scott told police he had last seen Laci around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24, before he left their Modesto, California home to go fishing. Multiple people later testified that Scott had said he was out playing golf that day. Several neighbors reported seeing the couple's dog, McKenzie, wandering by herself outside between 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. Later, Scott returned home to find the dog in their backyard, Laci's car in the driveway and the house empty. After showering and changing his clothes, knocked on a neighbor's door to ask if they had seen his wife.

He then called Sharon, asking if Laci was with her. This is when it was discovered Laci was nowhere to be found and both Scott and her stepfather reported her missing to police around 6 p.m.

Scott told police that he had been out that afternoon fishing for sturgeon at theBerkeley Marina, about 90 miles from the couple'shome. The case quickly drew national attention as authorities launched a search.

December 2002: Scott Peterson became a prime suspect

Police later told news stations that they suspected Scott off that bat due to his cold, calculated demeanor when they arrived to search for his wife. They also cited his refusal to take a polygraph test as another point of suspicion.

It was soon revealed that Scott had had an extramarital affair with his massage therapist, Amber Frey, who came forward when she found out he was a suspect in the case. In January, it was revealed he'd had two other such affairs before the one with Amber. Amber also claimed that Scott had told her on Dec. 9, weeks before Laci's disappearance, that those would be his first Christmas without his wife who had died that year.

By March, Laci's case was reclassified from a missing person to a homicide. Local and federal police along with thousands of volunteers aided in the massive search, which eventually advertised a reward of $500,000.

April 13-14, 2003: Bodies found

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On April 13, 2003, the mutilated body of a full-term fetus was found on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay by a couple walking their dog.

The following day, the badly decomposing body of a woman was found a few miles north of the Berkeley Marina, where Scott told investigators he had been fishing the day of Laci's disappearance, and about a mile away from the fetus. The corpse was decapitated and missing limbs.

April 18, 2003: Body identified, Scott Peterson arrested

By April 18, DNA testing confirmed the identity of the bodies as Laci and her baby. The same day, Scott Peterson was arrested.

He was found inLa Jolla, California, with his dark hair dyed blonde and his car filled with $15,000 in cash, four cell phones, two driver's licenses (one being his brother's) several changes of clothes, and survival/camping gear. Because he was near the Mexico border, prosecutors accused him of planning to flee the country.

April 21, 2003: Scott Peterson charged

Murder of Laci Peterson: Timeline as Scott Peterson's case picked up by Innocence Project (3)

Scott pleaded not guilty on counts of capital murder during an arrangement at Stanislaus County Superior Court and was appointed a public defender.

Dec. 19, 2003: Laci Peterson's parents sue Scott Peterson

Laci's mother Sharon Rocha filed a wrongful death suit against Scott, seeking $5 million in damages.

June 1, 2004: Scott Peterson murder trial begins

The trial was moved to San Mateo County and opening statements were made June 1, 2004.

The prosecution alleged that Peterson killed his wife and unborn child because he wanted a responsibility-free life and to pursue a relationship with his mistress. Prosecutors relied heavily on circ*mstantial evidence throughout the trial.

The defense admitted his infidelity was not the best choice, but that it did not prove he was capable of murder. Peterson's defense team focused specifically on the lack of hard evidence presented in the trial.

The trial lasted five months and called more than 180 witnesses. During deliberation, one juror was replaced with an alternate after it was found they had conducted research on the case outside of the courtroom. The jury foreman was also removed at his request after allegedly clashing with other jurors.

Nov. 12, 2004: Scott Peterson found guilty

Scott Peterson was found guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Laci and second-degree murder for the death of their child on Nov. 12, nine days after the jury began deliberation. The finding was controversial, as the prosecution had never presented a murder weapon or physical evidence linking Scott to Laci's death.

However, the verdict was met with cheers from the crowd gathered outside the courtroom, many of whom were holding signs calling for Scott's conviction.

Dec. 13, 2004: Scott Peterson sentenced to death

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Following 11 hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a recommended sentence of death. The decision was made unanimously amongst the 12-person panel.

March 16, 2005: Judge sentences Scott Peterson to lethal injection

Laci's family was allowed to make victim-impact statements prior to the judge's final sentencing. After hearing an emotional testimony, Judge Delucchiupheld the jury's suggestion of the death penalty, sentencing Peterson to death by lethal injection. Scott was sent to San Quentin State Prison.

The following month, on April 30, Laci's parents dropped their civil suit against Scott.

July 5, 2012 & Nov. 24, 2015: Scott Peterson's attorney appeals

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Scott's automatic appeal was submitted to the California Supreme Court on July 5, accompanied by a 423-page brief document from Scott's attorney contesting the trial had been unfair.

A second appeal was filed on Nov. 24, re-hashing most of what was in the first but also naming a replacement juror, alleging she had lied about being involved in past legal proceedings.

Aug. 24, 2020: Peterson's death sentence overturned

The Supreme Court of California issues a 7-0 decision on Aug. 24, upholding Scott's conviction but overturning his death sentence.

Dec. 8, 2021: Peterson resentenced

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California Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullosentenced Peterson on Dec. 8, giving him life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Laci and a 15-year sentence for the death of his son, set to run concurrently.

Dec. 20, 2022: Peterson denied new trial

In December, Judge Massullo denied a habeas petition filed by Scott in October, which alleged a juror had tainted the pool by lying about her history of domestic abuse during selection. Massullo found there was no evidence to suggest this history had influenced her decision, nor was there an intention to conceal the information.

Jan. 18, 2024: LA Innocence Project picks up the case

The Innocence Project, an organization made up of lawyers who work to exonerate incarcerated people through DNA testing and other scientific advances, told ABC News they would be taking up Peterson's case in January of 2024.

Representatives for the Los Angeles branch told ABC News that new evidence has surfaced proving Scott's innocence and argued his constitutional rights were violated during the original proceedings.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Laci and Scott Peterson case timeline: from missing to murder sentence

Murder of Laci Peterson: Timeline as Scott Peterson's case picked up by Innocence Project (2024)
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