Financial Fire

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Michael Peterson
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Than Fiction:
Trial Commentary

Peterson Case


"Right now Clayton is paying about $750 a month in interest on his credit card debt. He will earn about $1300 from NC State with his teaching fellowship. His rent is $700 a month, plus expenses. He cannot afford to live. Todd is paying probably about $300 a month. Thus the boys are paying $1,000 a month in interest and not reducing the principal. If you got a home equity loan of $30,000, you would only have to pay somewhere around $400 a month, even less if you didn't want to reduce the principal.

. . .

It is simply not possible for me to discuss this with Kathleen."

-- Peterson's Nov. 29, 2001 letter to ex-wife, Patty

Despite Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's extraordinary statement that, "Michael Peterson was prosecuted not because the DA could show that he murdered his wife but because he was bi-sexual," he has at other times admitted sex had little to do with the trial. Jean-Xavier wrote, "The financial motive was put in the trial because the DA could not establish the sex motive."

Of course, motive doesn't have to be established by a prosecutor, but in this case, the defendant was proven to have had a million reasons to want his wife found dead at the bottom of a staircase.

In none of the versions of Lestrade's successful film does he document Michael's financial failures. One comes away with the impression that Michael is exceedingly wealthy. Lestrade was close up and personal with Peterson for two years and yet says he knows nothing about Mike's money problems.

"To my knowledge," Jean-Xavier says, "Michael Peterson had no financial difficulties."

In December of 2001, when Kathleen Peterson was murdered -- Michael was flat broke. The North Carolina novelist hadn't made a penny in three years. Considering the family's college bills and his wife's tenuous employment situation, Michael was clearly having financial difficulties.

At the start of Peterson's murder trial, defense attorney Rudolf played number games in order to convince the jury his client was wealthy. Jurors soon found out all that wealth belonged to Kathleen Peterson -- not Michael. Overwhelming evidence was presented that the defendant was living in a hell that DA Jim Hardin famously described as a "financial fire."

The Petersons were completely dependent upon Kathleen's salary and benefit package. They were forced to liquidate Kathleen's assets. They had been living on credit for years and by the end of 2001, they had $143,000 in credit card debt.

Jean-Xavier may not find that frightening, but by most people's standards, Michael was having severe "financial difficulties."

How would Michael put out that fire? If his wife were to accidentally die, Mr. Peterson stood to gain well over $1 million in life insurance and other benefits.

David Rudolf

Jean-Xavier finds the notion ridiculous. "The prosecution tried to show in court that Michael Peterson was broken and that he killed his wife for the life insurance." Lestrade writes. "But that was stupid. I have to remind you that Michael Peterson paid a total of $975, 000 for his defense."

Actually, that's how much the defense charged -- not how much Peterson paid.

Jean-Xavier shouldn't need to be reminded that one week after the trial ended, millionaire Mike Peterson filed an "Affidavit of Indigency." The sworn document was submitted to prove Peterson was too poor to afford a lawyer for his appeal.

Initially, Judge Orlando Hudson thought the affidavit was stupid!

"If you have $1.2 million in assets, you can find a way to hire a lawyer," Hudson demanded. He refused to believe the globe-trotting gadfly who had claimed to be filthy rich all through the trial, was in reality -- dirt poor.

However, after a careful inspection of financial records, it was revealed to Judge Hudson and everybody else, that Peterson -- without his wife's money -- was penniless. He owed well over $100,000 to several creditors, including ex-wife Patty and brother Bill, and $78,000 in back taxes to Uncle Sam.

Speaking of taxes, it is the horribly close-minded tax-payers of North Carolina who are paying for Peterson's appeal.

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's statement, "To my knowledge Michael Peterson had no financial difficulties," is just stupid.

ABC - 11 Eyewitness News
May 5, 2003

In February, Michael Peterson sold a four-bedroom house for $189,000, according to records at the Durham County Register of Deeds office. Last month, he put up the house where his wife died as collateral for a loan of up to $300,000 from his younger brother, Bill.

Michael Peterson's attorney, David Rudolf of Chapel Hill, said the house was sold "to help with legal expenses." He declined to elaborate on his client's financial status.

On April 11, Peterson filed a deed of trust that allows him to borrow up to $300,000 from his brother. If Michael Peterson doesn't repay the money, Bill Peterson could be repaid from the sale of the Cedar Street property, which has a 2002 tax value of $924,653.

The defendant also used the 14-room home as a property bond when he was released from jail on the murder charge in January 2002. He was released on $850,000 bail.

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