Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!
-- Romeo and Juliet, III, 2
Late in Lestrade's tendentious film, "The Staircase" -- Michael Peterson quotes a line from
ROMEO AND JULIET:
"All are punished."
Spoken by the Prince of Verona at the end of Shakespeare's play, the line refers to the ancient enmity between two families and the many tragic deaths it brings to both sides.
Considering Lestrade's love of mysteries, Michael's bizarre use of the classic quote must have struck the filmmaker as a very useful piece of the puzzle.
Why Peterson wants everyone to be punished for his crime isn't clear. Prior to Kathleen Peterson's murder, there was no enmity between the families involved. No one was at war and there was no epic story of violence and hatred. It was quite the opposite. More like the BRADY BUNCH than the "Capulets and Montagues," Mike Peterson's household involved several different families -- including the names, Hunt, Atwater, Ratliff, McKee and Zamperini. They didn't hate each other and didn't need to be punished.
Peterson's use of the bard's phrase is instructive. "All are punished," speaks to the real truth behind the tragedy of a fictional family. Michael would now like us to believe Shakespeare's truth applies to him. Peterson's dramatic reference is also a clue to the central message of Jean-Xavier's mysteriously selective documentary of the actual events that took place in Durham, North Carolina.
Missing as much information as it supplies, Lestrade's movie ends up being a grim and galling fable detailing the tragic result of prejudice and hatreds shared by families, neighbors, relatives, police, politicians and practically the entire town.
Despite whatever tensions may have existed between members of Peterson's extremely extended family, by Christmas of 2001, Michael and Kathleen had managed to create what everyone said was a perfect, "storybook" marriage.
It isn't Shakespeare, but this speech from defense attorney David Rudolf's opening statement became an instant classic:
"There was no conflict about Nortel. There was no conflict about her job. There was no conflict about money. There was no conflict about anything. As a matter of fact you'll probably hear, if Caitlin testifies, that the one thing Kathleen and Michael argued about, frequently was, he spent too much time at the gym and he was often late getting back. That was the big conflict in that house."
By all accounts, Kathleen thought of Michael as her "soulmate." Amazingly, no one recalls Kathleen ever complaining about him -- even in jest -- in fourteen years. While Mrs. Peterson may have had complaints about her husband, the fact is, she did not share them. She remained silent.
Kathleen Peterson's friend, Mary P. Clayton remarked, "I have no doubt that Michael and Kathleen had what I consider an ideal relationship. Just a few weeks before Kathleen's death we had lunch and both agreed that our husbands were perfect for each of us."
Romeo, on the other hand, was busy looking for a perfect partner at the local Y.M.C.A. When rumors surfaced about Michael's marital problems and infidelity, he laughed and denied it.
"If some lover comes up and says, 'Gee, Mike's my lover,' I'll deal with it... Uh, right. Ain't going to happen," he said. And yet -- three months prior to his wife's murder, Peterson wrote an e-mail to a prostitute that said,
"Evenings aren't great for me -- I'm married."
All are not punished.
While certain Peterson family members may deserve sympathy, they are not victims of an epic tragedy. They're moving on with their lives.
Along with Peterson relatives, many, many other people have been affected by Michael Peterson's brutal killing -- and the brutal trial that followed. Police, medical personnel, lawyers and thousands of court observers have closely followed the case. They too have moved on with their lives.
Other than Michael lounging around in jail at tax-payer's expense for the rest of his life, the only person that's been punished is Kathleen Peterson. No one but Michael knows what happened in his home the night his wife died, but we certainly know she suffered horribly in her final hours.
Unlike angst-ridden Romeo, Michael wasn't fatally consumed with passion at the news of his soulmate's demise. A few hours after Kathleen Peterson's murder, with her corpse still sitting at the bottom of his staircase, Mike was in the next room surfing the internet and telephoning lawyers -- all the while, refusing to speak with police.
With the wide release of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's documentary, convicted killer, Michael Peterson and his friends at MaHa Productions have begun selling a movie version of his murder. Of course, the plot has changed from its original narrative: "Accident or Murder?" That loophole was closed once and for all in a million dollar battle of the experts: Kathleen Peterson was murdered.
Now suddenly, Mayor Mike -- who desperately tried to hide his avid interest in gay prostitutes and porn -- has been transformed into the victim of a wide-spread, institutionalized gay bashing. Lestrade has re-fashioned the very real tragedy of one woman's punishing death into a fictional drama about a society crippled by its own intolerance and senseless hatred.
While it may be gripping and sensational, Lestrade's movie does not document reality. It is an outrageous fraud.
Kathleen Peterson was the only person punished, but she's also the only person in the story who is free. There are those who apparently are determined to see Michael set free -- set free on a technicality, free on an appeal, or free on the account that he's a victim of society's ills.
This website represents the many people determined to see that Peterson stays locked away behind bars.
Lestrade's, Death on the Staircase tells a story that never happened in a town that doesn't exist. This website is a reality check for those who see the film and are confused about the facts underlying Lestrade's fiction. It intends, in some small way, to interrupt the broadcast of Michael Peterson's lies.
Those who know the truth have a duty to tell it. If there's any lesson to be learned from the Peterson case, it's that silence in reaction to deceit is a fatal choice. There's a price to be paid for denial and for the willful ignorance Shakespeare called, "winking at discords."
Michael Peterson didn't give the full quote from ROMEO AND JULIET in Lestrade's film. Before declaring everyone punished by one family's tragedy, the Prince of Verona enunciates the nature of his own crime of silence:
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.