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Michael Peterson
Murder Trial

Michael Peterson


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How Many Stairs?


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Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Judge and Jury

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Than Fiction:
Trial Commentary

Peterson Case


"About Judge Hudson: he has been a judge in Durham for 15 years. . . He was not sure about the decisions he took."
-- Lestrade

"The judge wanted to keep the trial in Durham. It was a good publicity for the town -- and for him."
-- Lestrade

Having been a controversial columnist for the local paper and a noted, unsuccessful mayoral candidate, Michael Peterson and his wife's shocking death naturally garnered much attention in Durham and surrounding communities. Many legal analysts assumed Peterson's attorney would request the trial be moved.

Contrary to what Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has said, even Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. expected David Rudolf to request a change of venue.

"Oh he'll get a fair trial; it may not be in Durham," Hudson said in a pre-trial, May 2002 interview. "The issue may be whether it's in another county. But I don't want to speak prematurely about that."

If David Rudolf thought his client couldn't get a fair and impartial jury in Durham County, he could have requested a move, but Peterson's lawyer failed to do so. Rudolf and co-council Thomas Maher both expressed confidence in the Durham jury pool -- obviously gambling that Peterson's high profile would work in his favor.

Unlike Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Michael's lawyers, never expressed anything but the highest esteem for Judge Hudson. However, after the guilty verdict was announced, Rudolf did express regrets about the jurors he and his jury consultants spent months choosing.

"We felt comfortable with Durham jurors and maybe that's one of those decisions you look back on and say maybe we should have done something differently," Rudolf commented, "but that's hindsight."

"I spoke to some jury members three months after the trial. Basically they said to me that they came back with a jury verdict because of the quantity of blood and because of the seven lacerations on Kathleen's head . . . I really think that they do not want to admit that they chose the verdict because they did not like Michael Peterson's way of life. They know it is not politically correct to admit it. But the bisexuality played a major role in the case for sure."
-- Lestrade

Juror, Richard Sarratt, said the case boiled down to a few key facts that David Rudolf never disputed:

1. There were skull-deep lacerations on the back of Kathleen Peterson's head.

2. There was blood on Michael Peterson's shorts and on the walls of the narrow back staircase that had dried and was then splattered with a second layer.

3. The neurons in Kathleen Peterson's brain indicated that she had remained alive for at least 30 minutes after the initial impact.

4. Michael Peterson was there, standing over his wife as she lay dying.

"We focused on physical evidence. We looked at the autopsy photos a lot. We looked at the autopsy report. We had a lot of discussion about the red neurons, and the passage of time that may have elapsed before she died. Those were the things that I think drove a lot of our discussion."
-- jury foreperson, Kristen Jones

"He had a chance to stop. He didn't. It took place over a period of time. How long of a period of time, I don't know. Something happened, and it was not from a fall by Mrs. Peterson. She was beat to death."
-- juror, Paul Harrison

Verdict on The Staircase

Juror Tonya Rogers, told the Herald-Sun Newspaper that Peterson's behavior in the Lestrade's movie was "weird."

"He's a legend in his own mind," she's quoted as saying. "He was very cocky."

Rogers told reporters the movie gave her insight into how much time, effort and money went into the defense version of events: "It was amazing. They took a million dollars, and they covered up what was obvious."

In the same article, juror Shirley Ferrell says Lestrade's movie reminded her of Michael Peterson's courtroom demeanor throughout the trial.

"He didn't react the way you would think someone would react," Ferrell told the Herald-Sun. "Lots of times, he seemed lighthearted, he was laughing. He didn't seem as serious most of the time than most people would be."

Ferrell added, "It was awful strange to us that five different detectives had gone through the basement looking for that exact thing and none of them found it, then two or three months later, it was propped up against the wall."

"I will say that I was really shocked by the verdict (and I think that justice was not served in this case), that does not mean that I am convinced that Michael Peterson is innocent: to me it is still a mystery."
-- Lestrade

Peterson Juror Profiles

White female -- 37 -- employee at the Duke Clinical research institute -- married with two children

Black female -- 55 -- owns an accounting and tax preparation business -- divorced with two children

Black female -- 19 -- department store salesperson -- single

White female -- 55 --nurse -- married with five children

Black female -- 37 -- correctional officer -- married mother of two

White female -- 37 -- nurse -- married with one child

Black female -- 61 -- department store salesperson -- widow with no children

Black male -- 64 -- computer operations supervisor -- married with two children

Black male -- 70 -- 20 year Navy career

White male -- 47 nurse -- married with one child

Black male -- 54 -- regulatory officer for state Utilities Commission -- married with three children

Black male -- 44 -- former Air Force officer -- married with one child

Durham, North Carolina