Why Scott Peterson’s Former Defense Attorney Thinks He Could Be Exonerated

Attorney Mark Geragos says the man convicted of killing his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner, is innocent

<p>ZUMA Press/ZUMAPRESS.com</p> Laci Peterson and Scott Peterson


Laci Peterson and Scott Peterson

Now that the Los Angeles Innocence Project has taken on Scott Peterson’s case, the convicted killer's former defense attorney, Mark Geragos, believes he has a good chance of getting out of prison.

“I do,” Geragos tells PEOPLE about his former client, Scott, now 51, an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. "I’ve always felt this way. You're talking to somebody who has been pilloried for the last 20 years for having the temerity to say that I think he's innocent.”

Though Geragos worked hard to defend Scott, the jury found him guilty of both counts of murder on Nov. 12, 2004.

Scott is serving a life sentence without parole for murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, 27, and their unborn son, Conner.

The longtime attorney thinks Scott is in good legal hands with the L.A Innocence Project.

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

Modesto Police Dept/ZUMAPRESS.com

Laci and Scott Peterson

“This is not some fly-by-night, headline attention-grabbing organization,” he says. “It's a very storied and well-respected team that's done great work.”

The nonprofit is reexamining what happened before and after Laci vanished on Dec. 24, 2002, while Scott said he was fishing 90 miles away from their Modesto, Calif., home.

Scott became a person of interest when massage therapist Amber Frey came forward in Jan. 2003 saying she had been romantically involved with Scott for a month before Laci had vanished. Frey said she had no idea he was still married, and said Scott had told her he was a widower.

Related: Relative Is Angry After L.A. Innocence Project Takes Scott Peterson's Case: We'd Like to 'Take Him on a 1-Way Fishing Trip'

He was arrested on April 18, 2003, four days after the bodies of Laci and Conner turned up in San Francisco Bay, and pleaded not guilty to their murders.

In 2005, he was sentenced to death. But in 2020, that sentence was overturned and the following year he was resentenced to life in prison without parole.

Since his 2003 arrest, Scott has maintained his innocence.

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

On Jan. 17, the L.A. Innocence Project filed a lengthy discovery motion in San Mateo Superior Court first reported on by ABC News and later obtained by PEOPLE, saying "new evidence now supports Mr. Peterson's long standing claim of innocence and raises many questions into who abducted and killed Laci and Conner Peterson."

The Burglary Across the Street

A portion of the evidence they want to retest centers around a Dec. 2002 burglary that took place across the street from the couple’s Modesto, Calif., home.

During Scott’s 2004 trial, Geragos argued that the burglary could have had something to do with Laci’s disappearance. Prosecutors nixed the idea, saying the burglary took place two days after Laci vanished.

Scott’s new lawyers say they have evidence that the burglary took place on Dec. 24, 2002, and that Laci was killed because she witnessed the crime.

Related: Here's the Evidence Prosecutors Presented that Led to Scott Peterson's Murder Conviction in 2004

Items they are asking to be tested for DNA “for the first time” includes cloth from a blood-stained mattress recovered from the back of an orange van parked near the couple’s house that had been set on fire on the morning of Dec. 25, 2002. “Limited” testing conducted in 2019 on the cloth detected the presence of human DNA, the motion states. Now they will try to figure out whether DNA from Laci was left behind.

Geragos believes the burglary took place on Dec. 24, 2002.

Prosecutors, he says, “cleared the burglars as suspects because they said it took place on the 26th and not the 24th. This is something that has irked me forever.

“The problem with that is — talk to any reporter who was then covering the case by Dec. 26 on that street, which is not exactly a thoroughfare. It was inundated with press who had camped out there. Do you really want us to believe that that burglary happened with all of the nation's press corps sitting 25 feet away?”

Missing Evidence?

Lawyers for the L.A. Innocence Project are also looking for evidence they were unable to find in Scott’s trial files, the motion says.

In the filing, says Geragos, lawyers for the organization “talk about all kinds of things that weren't turned over.”

During the trial, he says, “it was a constant stream of late-breaking discovery, in most cases exculpatory, that they had never investigated, that they had never turned over to us to allow us to investigate.

“So, yes, there's so much that should have, could have been turned over that was not.”

“You have to understand that there was a complete collapse of evidence in this case.”

Armchair Legal Critics

For the last 20 years, members of the public will sometimes confront Geragos about the case – “whether I'm at the gym or I'm out somewhere in a social setting” and go through a litany of the reasons why they believe Scott is guilty.

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“And I systematically divide every single one,” Geragos says.

When people say Scott was in love with Frey, he says he tells them, “Well, no, frankly. Amber admitted he'd never said he loved her.”

He tells people who say Scott didn’t want to become a father, “No, frankly, everybody said he did. He was very excited about it.”

When people insist that there was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence,” he says, "No, frankly, all of the circumstantial evidence was debunked and there was nothing.

“And inevitably it leads to the statement, ‘Well, I had a boyfriend just like him.’ How do you deal with that? That's a feeling that is almost visceral that can't be rebutted.”

He hopes the L.A. Innocence Project is successful.

“You can't have faith in the system and think that he should remain behind bars,” he says.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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