Notorious US killer appeals conviction

07-06-2012, 18h28

A US man convicted eight years ago of murdering his wife and unborn son in a high-profile case has appealed to California's Supreme Court, officials said Friday.

Scott Peterson is on death row after being found guilty in 2004 of suffocating his pregnant wife Laci and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002, but has always maintained his innocence.

The former fertilizer salesman's attorney, noted death penalty lawyer Cliff Gardner, filed a 427-page appeal to California's highest court on Thursday, said court clerk Cecilia Wong.

Peterson claims his wife was killed sometime after he left their home in Modesto, California on December 24, 2002, to go fishing in San Francisco Bay, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Her remains and those of the fetus of their son, to be named Connor, were found on the shore of the Bay four months later.

Peterson's attorney says media coverage surrounding the case influenced the jury, even though the trial was moved from Stanislaus County to San Mateo County in order to reduce the impact of publicity.

"Before hearing even a single witness, nearly half of all prospective jurors admitted they had already decided Mr Peterson was guilty of capital murder," his lawyer said in the legal filing, obtained by AFP.

"San Mateo County was saturated with publicity about the case including print media, radio coverage, network television and cable, they added.

"This publicity, some of which was plainly inflammatory, continued unabated from the time of the crime itself until the time of trial."

This made a fair trial impossible "by creating a belief in Mr. Peterson's guilt through presentation of both admissible and inadmissible evidence as well as the views of prominent public officials as to Mr. Peterson's guilt," the document said.

He highlighted notably the fact that a radio station posted a large billboard outside the courthouse with a telephone number to vote on the question "Man or Monster. Vote innocent or guilty."

"Mr. Peterson recognizes, of course, that he was not entitled to a perfect trial. But he was still entitled to a fair one... Scott Peterson received neither," he added.

The California Supreme Court clerk meanwhile said that, following Thursday's filing by Peterson's lawyer, a brief by prosecutors is due on May 21, 2015, "but there could be some kind of paperwork filed in between."

If he loses the case in California's top court, he is entitled to pursue his appeal in the US federal court system.