By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and unborn son and sentenced to death following a sensational 2004 trial, has filed an appeal to the California Supreme Court, saying he was denied a fair trial in part because of publicity surrounding the case.
The 39-year-old former fertilizer salesman, who has been held on California's death row at San Quentin State Prison since 2005, also challenged his death sentence on several grounds and said California's death penalty is unconstitutional.
Peterson "would like the process to move faster because he believes at the end of the day that he will be vindicated," Peterson's appellate attorney, Cliff Gardner, told Reuters.
A spokesman for the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Peterson, could not immediately be reached for comment on the appeal. Gardner said it would likely be several years before California's high court holds oral arguments and issues a ruling in the case.
Peterson reported his wife, Laci, missing from the home they shared in Modesto, California, on December 24, 2002, telling police he had gone fishing in San Francisco Bay early that morning and returned to find her gone.
Her body and that of her unborn child washed ashore from the bay the following April.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Peterson suffocated or strangled his wife on Christmas Eve or the night before and dumped her body in the bay, weighted so it would not surface.
Defense attorney Gardner wrote in the 427-page appeal that despite calling more than 150 witnesses, prosecutors were unable to prove how, when or where the crime occurred and argued that the conviction came amid an "extraordinary" amount of publicity.
"The trial judge noted that he had never seen anything like this case, and the prosecution itself conceded that this case generated more publicity than even the O.J. Simpson case," Gardner said, referring to the former football star's so-called "Trial of the Century."
"Before hearing even a single witness, nearly half of all prospective jurors admitted they had already decided Mr. Peterson was guilty of capital murder," he wrote.
Gardner also said it was improper for the trial judge to dismiss prospective jurors because they said in a questionnaire that they opposed the death penalty and that he erred by allowing dog scent identification evidence.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)