Laci Peterson disappeared 19 years ago: The tragic case that sent family, public on crusade for justice

Laci Peterson's death, Scott Peterson's subsequent arrest sent shockwaves throughout the nation

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Friday marked 19 years to the day since Laci Peterson disappeared from the Modesto, California, home she shared with her husband, Scott. 

Nearly two decades later, Laci’s remains – and those of the couple’s unborn son, Connor – have been found, and Scott is behind bars for their deaths. Earlier this month, after years of battling the courts over his jail terms – he was sentenced to death nearly 17 years ago – a California judge re-sentenced Scott Peterson to life in prison without parole. 

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Here is a look at key moments in the case that shook Modesto and the rest of the nation. 

LACI DISAPPEARS

Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Dec. 24, 2002, by her husband, Scott Peterson. Scott claimed he returned from a fishing trip at Berkeley Marina and discovered Laci, 27, was gone. 

Authorities searched for Laci, including in the waters near Berkeley Marina, over the course of the next several weeks. They ultimately turned their attention to possible foul play and Scott’s possible involvement. On Jan. 3, 2003, investigators announced they were seeking help from the public in confirming Scott Peterson’s whereabouts around the time of Laci’s disappearance. 

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In late January, a woman named Amber Frey revealed she was involved in an extra-marital affair with Scott Peterson, to which he later admitted. Frey also said Peterson told her his wife was dead.

CASE TURNS TO HOMICIDE; SCOTT PETERSON ARRESTED 

Officials announced on March 3, 2003, that Laci Peterson was believed to have been the victim of a homicide. 

The remains of Laci and Connor were discovered in the San Francisco Bay in April 2003. Scott Petereson was arrested and charged with capital murder just days later. At the time of his arrest, Peterson was allegedly carrying his brother’s passport and large sums of cash. 

Investigators said that on Christmas Eve, Peterson dumped the bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.

And in the weeks following her disappearance, but before the bodies washed ashore, he sold his wife’s car, looked into selling their house, and turned the baby nursery into a storage room.

Scott ultimately pleaded not guilty.

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Peterson was convicted in 2004 of first-degree murder in the death of his wife and the second-degree murder of their unborn son. He was sentenced to the death penalty in 2005. 

But years later, in August 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned his 2005 death sentence, citing "significant errors" in jury selection.

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The justices said the trial judge "made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase."

It agreed with his argument that potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office later announced it would discontinue its efforts to restore the death penalty. The DA said the decision was made in consultation with Laci Peterson’s family.

He was moved to the Stanislaus County jail after officials decided not to re-seek the death penalty. Prior to that, he had been in San Quentin State Prison, home to California’s death row, since he was condemned to death in March 2005. 

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Peterson was re-sentenced to life without parole in December 2021.

During the emotional hearing announcing the re-sentencing, Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, addressed Peterson directly as he sat expressionless, handcuffed in a red and orange jail uniform.

"I still feel the grief every day, after 19 years," she said. "Your evil, self-centered, unforgivable selfish act ended two beautiful souls. And for what reason? There was no reason other than that you just didn’t want them anymore. You didn’t want a baby nor the responsibility of being a father. You’re a coward."

"I have dreams about her," she added about her daughter, who was 27 and eight months pregnant when she was killed carrying the boy the couple planned to name Connor. "And sometimes when I wake up, I cry because they’re so realistic, and I know I’ll never see her again."

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She also envisions what Connor would be like now, at age 18, had he lived.

Fox News' Laura Ingle contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.