Laci Peterson, 20 years later: Reexamining her life, death and the legal saga that followed

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. 

Flying drone with camera

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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A missing person's poster offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson is displayed on a tree at the East La Loma Park Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif.

A missing person’s poster offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson is displayed on a tree at the East La Loma Park Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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. 

HER LIFE

A missing person poster shows Laci Peterson, who has not been seen since Dec. 24, 2002.

A missing person poster shows Laci Peterson, who has not been seen since Dec. 24, 2002.
(Getty Images)

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. 

Volunteer Stacey Boyers folds yellow ribbons near a bottle displaying a label with a picture of the missing Laci Peterson Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif.

Volunteer Stacey Boyers folds yellow ribbons near a bottle displaying a label with a picture of the missing Laci Peterson Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.  

A young child stops to look at a makeshift memorial and a missing person banner offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson at the East La Loma Park Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif. 

A young child stops to look at a makeshift memorial and a missing person banner offering a $500,000 reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson at the East La Loma Park Jan. 4, 2003, in Modesto, Calif. 
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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. 

This undated photo shows Laci Peterson, who has not been seen since December 24, 2002.

This undated photo shows Laci Peterson, who has not been seen since December 24, 2002.
(Getty Images)

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. 

HER DEATH

After a trial that attracted nationwide attention, California fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson, 32, was found guilty Nov. 12, 2004, in the Christmas Eve 2002 murder of his pregnant wife Laci.

After a trial that attracted nationwide attention, California fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson, 32, was found guilty Nov. 12, 2004, in the Christmas Eve 2002 murder of his pregnant wife Laci.
(REUTERS/Lou Dematteis LD/MR)

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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With the San Francisco skyline in the background, a police boat patrols the waters for signs of missing woman Laci Peterson Jan. 4, 2003, in Berkeley, Calif.

With the San Francisco skyline in the background, a police boat patrols the waters for signs of missing woman Laci Peterson Jan. 4, 2003, in Berkeley, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.

A boat and truck that belong to Scott Peterson. It was learned later in the case that he used the boat to transport Laci Peterson before she went missing.

A boat and truck that belong to Scott Peterson. It was learned later in the case that he used the boat to transport Laci Peterson before she went missing.
(AP)

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. 

Scott Peterson arrives at county jail after being charged with murdering his wife and unborn child in April 2003.

Scott Peterson arrives at county jail after being charged with murdering his wife and unborn child in April 2003.
(AP)

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. 

Photo provided as part of the court's exhibits in court for the Scott Peterson trial shows Peterson and Amber Frey together.

Photo provided as part of the court’s exhibits in court for the Scott Peterson trial shows Peterson and Amber Frey together.
(People’s exhibits)

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.

SCOTT’S CONTINUED FIGHT

(L to R) Danny Lewin, Geoff Shenk, Katherine Lewin and Katie Lewin read the Extra edition put out by the Redwood City Daily News after the verdict was read in the Scott Peterson murder trial Nov. 12, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif.

(L to R) Danny Lewin, Geoff Shenk, Katherine Lewin and Katie Lewin read the Extra edition put out by the Redwood City Daily News after the verdict was read in the Scott Peterson murder trial Nov. 12, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif.
(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

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. 

Juror Richelle Nice, center, hugs attorney Gloria Allred after speaking at a news conference after the formal sentencing of Scott Peterson in Redwood City, Calif., March 16, 2005.

Juror Richelle Nice, center, hugs attorney Gloria Allred after speaking at a news conference after the formal sentencing of Scott Peterson in Redwood City, Calif., March 16, 2005.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

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. 

In this Dec. 13, 2004, photo, Juror No. 7 Richelle Nice adjusts her hair as members of the jury speak with the media in the Old San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City, Calif. 

In this Dec. 13, 2004, photo, Juror No. 7 Richelle Nice adjusts her hair as members of the jury speak with the media in the Old San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City, Calif. 
(AP Photo/Lou Dematteis, Pool, File)

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.”

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo gestures toward attorneys during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Feb. 25, 2022. 

Judge Anne-Christine Massullo gestures toward attorneys during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Feb. 25, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool)

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.”

(L-R) Sharon Rocha, Brent Rocha and his wife, Rose Marie Rocha, sit during a news conference after the jury verdict sentence recommendation of death for Scott Peterson Dec. 13, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif. 

(L-R) Sharon Rocha, Brent Rocha and his wife, Rose Marie Rocha, sit during a news conference after the jury verdict sentence recommendation of death for Scott Peterson Dec. 13, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif. 
(Monica Davey-Pool/Getty Images)

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.” 

Scott Peterson, right, talks with attorney Cliff Gardner during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. 

Scott Peterson, right, talks with attorney Cliff Gardner during a hearing at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, Pool)

“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.

Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother, walks out to stand with her husband as he addresses the media outside the courthouse after the formal sentencing of Scott Peterson March 16, 2005, in Redwood City, Calif.

Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson’s mother, walks out to stand with her husband as he addresses the media outside the courthouse after the formal sentencing of Scott Peterson March 16, 2005, in Redwood City, Calif.
(John Green-Pool/Getty Images)

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.”

Allred represented Scott Peterson's mistress Amber Frey in 2003. Frey cooperated with law enforcement and ultimately helped prosecutors convict Scott of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

Allred represented Scott Peterson’s mistress Amber Frey in 2003. Frey cooperated with law enforcement and ultimately helped prosecutors convict Scott of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
(AP)

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.”

This Oct. 21, 2022, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Scott Peterson. 

This Oct. 21, 2022, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Scott Peterson. 
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

Peterson’s sister-in-law and outspoken advocate, Janey Peterson, told Fox News Digital Scott “is innocent” and “did not have an impartial jury.”

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“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. 


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