What The Staircase didn't tell you about Michael Peterson's son Clayton
The Staircase might have been pretty thorough, but it held something back about Clayton Peterson, Michael's oldest son.
Since the release of the final few episodes, we’re all hungry for news about The Staircase and Michael Peterson now that he’s a free man. As riveting as the documentary series currently streaming on Netflix is, what was left out of the episodes is just as interesting — and there’s something they didn’t mention about Michael’s son Clayton Peterson.
Documentary director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade had made it crystal clear that the series was always meant to chronicle the legal process Michael Peterson was subject to and to hold it up to the light. That means his explanation for many things not making it into the series, like the hotly debated Owl Theory, is simply that they didn’t come up in court. (Even though he later told Metro that he regrets not having it included.)
But that doesn’t hold true for everything withheld from the episodes. Sonya Pfeiffer, defence attorney David Rudolph’s wife, wasn’t mentioned throughout the series despite the fact that the reporter covered the first trial extensively and was mentioned in Candace Zamperini’s victim impact statement in the 2017 retrial.
Whether you believe the time he spent locked up was justified or not, Michael Peterson is not the only one in the family to have spent time in jail. If you’ve seen all of the episodes, you probably remember Michael’s oldest son Clayton for visiting his dad in prison with his wife and their young baby. He’s also involved in the lengthy discussions with Michael, Martha and Margaret about the possibility of a retrial and the pros and cons of facing another jury or taking a plea deal.
What the documentary series didn’t mention is that in 1994 Clayton Peterson, who was 19 at the time, was arrested for attempting to firebomb the Duke University Administration Building. (A quick note here to remind everyone that Clayton Peterson was in no way involved in the death of Kathleen Peterson.) The incident was published in the Asheville Citizen Times, which noted that the homemade pipe bomb did not go off, though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives found “six more assembled explosive devices hidden in the attic” when they search Peterson’s home, and no one was injured.
Clayton Peterson was sentenced to four years in the federal penitentiary. During that time it was Michael Peterson doing the prison visits. In fact, as the Greensboro News and Record notes in their 1997 profile of the writer called “Successful Author Lives the Quiet Life in Durham,” despite the success of his books, “If local people have noticed Peterson, it's probably for the actions of his oldest son, Clayton.” He told the publication that Clayton had never meant for the bomb to go off but rather for it to act as a distraction while he stole the equipment he needed to make a fake ID for a trip to Myrtle Beach.
“I think that was the most painful thing that happened to me,” Michael explained in the profile. “This is not how I planned to spend my 50s — going to visit my son in the pen.”