Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about Michael Peterson and something that happened years ago. But who is Michael Peterson, and why is everyone suddenly so interested? Here’s what you need to know if you don’t remember the case that was all over the news.
Who is Michael Peterson?
So, who is Michael Peterson, this man everyone is talking about? Michael Iver Peterson is an American novelist convicted of murdering his second wife, Kathleen Peterson. He and his family were thrust into the spotlight after Kathleen’s death that boggled forensic investigators. On the night of December 9, 2001, Michael called 911 to report that he had found his unconscious wife at the bottom of the stairs in their Durham, North Carolina home. Although he told the controller that she was breathing when he first called, she had passed away by the time the EMTs arrived on the scene.
In his call to 911, Michael speculated that Kathleen had fallen down the stairs. Her death was investigated as a murder, however, due to the large amount of blood found on the scene and lacerations found on her head that seemed to investigator inconsistent with a fall. Her husband Michael was the prime suspect, though he claimed he stayed out by the pool when Kathleen turned in for the night and was fatally injured, only finding her later when he came inside.
Though his criminal defence team and family argued that Michael and Kathleen had an ideal marriage and that Michael had no history or tendency toward violence, the prosecution built their case around the idea that Michael’s life wasn’t at all how he portrayed it. They cited his misrepresentation of military service, in which he claims he was injured, and hidden bisexuality. "[Kathleen] would have been infuriated by learning that her husband, who she truly loved, was bi-sexual and having an extramarital relationship—not with another woman—but a man, which would have been humiliating and embarrassing to her. We believe that once she learned this information that an argument ensued and a homicide occurred,” Assistant District Attorney Freda Black explained of the prosecution’s line of reasoning.
So, what happened to Michael Peterson?
Kathleen’s blood alcohol level, 0.07, was consistent with Michael’s story that they had been drinking together that evening, but the autopsy concluded that the injuries were indicative of a blunt force trauma from a flat object and that Kathleen had bled to death over an hour and a half to two hours. The medical examiner, Dr. Deborah Radisch, concluded that she had died from a homicidal assault and Michael faced trial for first degree murder. October 10, 2003, the court found him guilty and decided that the murder was premeditated, not days and weeks in advance but in the seconds leading up the event. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.
Peterson’s attorneys filed an appeal based on judicial mistakes, but the Court of Appeals rejected it on September 19, 2006. Since the decision by the Court of Appeals was not unanimous, Peterson was able to appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which he did. Unfortunately for him, the state’s supreme court affirmed the decision that had been made by the Court of Appeals.
Years later in late 2011, after the suspension and eventual dismissal of SBI analyst Duane Deaver for misrepresentation of evidence in 34 different cases, Michael was able to leave prison to be placed under house arrest. A judicial order for a new trial was issued after Judge Hudson found that the testimony Deaver gave about the bloodstain evidence was "materially misleading" and "deliberately false,” and that he had misrepresented his qualifications. Peterson tried to get the second trial dismissed, but was unable.
Michael entered an Alford Plea to the charge of voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen Peterson on February 24, 2017. Although the judge sentenced him to 86 months in jail, there was credit for time already served. Since Michael had previously served more time than that in prison, he did not face additional time and was dismissed.
Why are people talking about Michael Peterson?
You’re probably wondering who is Michael Peterson if you don’t watch the news much or weren’t old enough to remember the case. But that still doesn’t explain why so many people are talking about Michael Peterson this long afterwards, with the Alford Plea over a year in the past.
The newfound interest in the case is due to the Netflix original documentary series about the Michael Peterson case called The Staircase. It was released earlier this month on the streaming service, and is addictive enough that many true crime buffs have already watched all 13 episodes. It reignited interest in the case and fueled a new round of speculation about Michael Peterson’s true role in the death of his wife. You can watch the series and decide for yourself through your standard Netflix monthly subscription.