REDWOOD CITY – A former juror in Scott Peterson’s 2004 murder trial defiantly maintained on the witness stand Friday that she had never been a victim of domestic violence and didn’t lie about her past to become a stealth juror to get seated on the high-profile case.
Instead, she testified it was she who had been the aggressor with her former boyfriend in a fight a couple years earlier, before she filled out a courthouse questionnaire and was chosen for the jury.
“We went to our bedroom. I closed the door and I took off on him,” Richelle Nice testified Friday – the first day of an anticipated weeklong hearing on Peterson’s quest for a new trial. “I punched him. I hit him and he called the police on me.”
She had a bloody cut on her lip when police arrived, she said, but that was from yelling at him through her braces, which often caught her lip.
“I was not a victim of domestic violence,” she said.
Whether Peterson’s murder convictions for the killings of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son, will be overturned hinges largely on Nice’s testimony, which is expected to continue into next week.
Peterson, now 49 and serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, appeared in court in a red jail suit and shackles at his waist. His brother and sister-in-law and four other relatives or friends who have maintained his innocence sat in a cluster behind him, separated by several empty seats from Laci Peterson’s mother and brother and six others close to them. A therapy dog with a handler who had been asked to assist the Peterson family stood nearby.
Peterson’s lawyer, Pat Harris, attempted to prove Friday that his client didn’t receive a fair trial with Nice as a juror, that she never would have been selected had he and co-counsel Mark Geragos known about her secret past, and that Peterson should be granted a new trial. It will be up to Judge Anne-Christine Massulla to decide when the evidentiary hearing concludes.
Nice was granted immunity by the Stanislaus District Attorney Birgit Fladager, who had been a prosecutor on the original trial, after Nice had threatened to plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions. Without it, she could have been charged with perjury if her testimony contradicted what she had written on the jury questionnaire or other legal documents. She admitted as much under questioning from Harris.
Nice testified that she was being “spiteful” when she wrote in an application for a restraining order two decades ago that she feared her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend would harm her own unborn child. Nice was just a couple of months pregnant with her third child at the time.
“I was in fear if we fought – she wasn’t going to deliberately hurt my child,” Nice said, “but if we fought and rolled around like some dummies on the ground, yes, I would be fearful I would lose my child doing something stupid like that.”
After 9 months of jury selection and trial, Peterson was convicted of killing Laci and their unborn son on Christmas Eve 2002, putting her body in the back of a newly-purchased fishing boat, weighing her down with homemade cement anchors and throwing her into the San Francisco Bay. She and the baby washed up separately along the Richmond shoreline four months later after Laci’s womb gave way. Peterson was having an affair at the time and had told his mistress weeks before Laci disappeared that he had “lost” his wife.
Outside the courthouse Friday, legal analyst Steve Clark who had followed the original trial, said defense lawyers were making a strong case against Nice and that her “mincing words” about whether she was a victim didn’t really matter. The question is whether she was biased against Peterson, based on what she failed to disclose.
“You get a right to 12 impartial jurors, not 11,” Clark said.
Testimony continues into the afternoon Friday, and Nice is expected to be on the stand again when the hearing resumes Monday.
Check back for more on this developing story.