Scott Peterson death sentence upheld, could get new life sentence

By Asit Ranjan Mishra , CNN (CNN) — Scott Peterson may have lost the appeal in his murder trial but a new ruling released Tuesday could leave him jailed for the rest of his…

Scott Peterson death sentence upheld, could get new life sentence

By Asit Ranjan Mishra , CNN

(CNN) — Scott Peterson may have lost the appeal in his murder trial but a new ruling released Tuesday could leave him jailed for the rest of his life.

The judge who oversaw Peterson’s trial in 2004 held a three-hour hearing at California’s Orange County Superior Court on whether he should impose a new life sentence for murdering his wife Laci and unborn son Conner.

Laci Peterson disappeared in Modesto, California, in 2002 and was never found. Her husband, former fertilizer salesman Peterson, was initially arrested and later convicted on her murder. The death penalty was later ruled out.

A jury found Peterson guilty of killing his 27-year-old wife and 2-year-old son.

In 2004, Orange County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli sentenced Peterson to death. But later he found himself presiding over an appeal where the California Supreme Court upheld Peterson’s death sentence.

Tuesday’s hearing was to determine whether Peterson should receive a new life sentence or simply serve a maximum of 140 years to life in prison.

The three-judge panel heard opening arguments from the prosecution and defense Tuesday.

Both sides spoke on the impact of Scott Peterson’s sentence, arguing whether his conviction could be challenged because of violations of a gag order, jury instructions and evidence.

The hearing lasted for hours and was so packed with reporters that some reporters were turned away when they attempted to enter.

Lomeli said the legal arguments would extend until at least Friday.

Under the guidelines set forth in state law, Lomeli could decide to grant Peterson a new life sentence, order him to serve a shorter sentence or simply return his death sentence to its original position.

Lomeli said Wednesday that it was fair to say he would not be ruling on Scott Peterson’s appeal until after he has taken all of the arguments under consideration.

“I’ve always said that my real purpose in doing this hearing is to decide whether there are all of the proper materials” at the hearing, Lomeli said.

Scott Peterson’s lawyers have never renounced their client’s innocence. He will now start serving his death sentence at the time of his release from prison.

Gag order

Peterson’s lawyers submitted an objection to the gag order Lomeli issued in 2008. In the filing, his lawyers said that in discussing the verdict outside of court the judge gave media outlets an “opportunity” to report information they should not have.

That was not allowed by Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown before Lomeli.

Lomeli is also under investigation for making remarks criticizing state prison officials in favor of Peterson.

“It’s a miracle that he’s still alive,” he said at a December 2005 hearing about Peterson’s execution. “I hope he stays alive forever.”

State prison officials released a statement saying that, “There was no malicious intent.”

County to pay attorney fees

The trial judge’s appointment came under public scrutiny during the appeal when Lomeli said Peterson’s lawyers weren’t “telling the truth” about his assets.

While the attorneys contended that Peterson was penniless, his private bank account has annual profits of $65,000. State law says that the county will pay attorney fees and costs in the court.

Peterson’s attorneys, Mark Geragos and Peter Allman, are to be paid about $2.4 million and cost $3.5 million to prosecute him.

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