The Staircase is Making a Murderer all over again: It’s what everyone is talking about, and it has people torn over the perceived guilt or innocence of the subject of the documentary series. But if you’ve already binge-watched your way through all 10 hours of the series from Jean Xavier de-Lestrade, you know that Michael Peterson was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter after entering a plea. But did Michael Peterson plead guilty, and what is an Alford Plea anyway? We explain.
The type of plea Michael Peterson entered is crucial to understanding the end to the series and the latest in the saga of the crime that has us all captivated. After all, why would we all be asking, did Michael Peterson kill his wife, or trying to explain The Staircase owl theory gap if he had pleaded guilty? Here’s what you need to know.
Did Michael Peterson plead guilty?
First of all, no, Michael Peterson did not plead guilty. You can read our guide to who is Michael Peterson for a complete description of the event of the case and the first trial, which lead to Peterson serving jail time for the 2001 death of second wife, Kathleen. In 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole when the court decided the murder with which he was charged had been premeditated.
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It wasn’t until 2011 that his case took a turn. An SBI investigator was suspended and eventually dismissed for misrepresentation of his qualifications and testifying about the bloodstain evidence in the case in a way that was "materially misleading" and "deliberately false.” A judicial order for a new trial was issued, though Peterson tried to get it dismissed.
The plea everyone talks about is from this new trial. On February 24, 2017, Michael entered an Alford Plea to the charge of voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen Peterson.
So, what is an Alford Plea?
So what is an Alford Plea, anyway? An Alford Plea (also called a Kennedy plea in West Virginia) is considered a guilty plea in criminal court but the accused reasserts their innocence. The Alford Plea essentially says that they recognize there is enough evidence to likely convince a judge or jury of their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, though they stand by their initial claim of innocence and assert no wrongdoing.
So while filing an Alford Plea does not mean you admit guilt or wrongdoing, it does move you forward to sentencing. Michael Peterson was sentenced to 86 months in jail after filing an Alford Plea, but served no additional time since the judge allowed previous served prison time to be counted as credit. He had already served more than 86 months.