Mike Peterson lawyers question evidence handling in murder case
Posted March 21, 2016
Durham, N.C. — As Mike Peterson awaits a retrial in the 2001 death of his wife, his lawyers are questioning how evidence from his original murder trail has been maintained.
A novelist and one-time Durham mayoral candidate, Peterson was convicted in 2003 following one of the longest trials in North Carolina history of killing Kathleen Peterson on Dec. 9, 2001.
More than 500 pieces of evidence were introduced in the three-month-long trial, and according to a motion filed Friday by his court-appointed lawyers, much of that evidence is now in disarray.
The motion notes that papers from unrelated cases were mixed in with notes and documents from the 2003 trial and that bags containing physical evidence from the Peterson case have been ripped open, with some items strewn about, such as a blue shirt that was found in the bottom of a box.
Evidence in criminal cases is usually kept in sealed bags with a log of who handled it and when to establish a chain of custody. The chain ensures the evidence hasn't been tampered with or otherwise contaminated.
Prosecutors not connected to the Peterson case questioned Monday why evidence from such a high-profile case wasn't handled more carefully.
Although the prosecutors expect a judge to rule the evidence as admissible in Peterson's new trial, it does open the door for the defense to argue possible contamination, as well as contending they cannot have the evidence retested.
The motion sets out 28 questions about the condition of the Peterson evidence and requests a court order requiring the clerk of Durham County Superior Court turn over within two weeks all of its policies and procedures for storing and cataloging evidence and logs of who had access to the evidence over the past 13 years.
The Durham Police Department has 14 pages of rules on how various types of evidence are to be handled through the course of a case and later disposed of.
Peterson's lawyers also want a court hearing and possibly an outside investigation into the handling of evidence in the case.
Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale Durham home. Prosecutors were never able to establish a clear motive and didn't find a murder weapon, however, and Mike Peterson has long denied any involvement in her death.
Eight years into Mike Peterson's life sentence, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson threw out his conviction, ruling that former State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst Duane Deaver lied on the witness stand, misleading jurors about his expertise and using questionable tests on evidence found in the Peterson home.