Mike Peterson won't accept plea with prison time, attorney says
Posted September 11, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Mike Peterson, a one-time candidate for Durham mayor who is awaiting a retrial for the death of his wife 13 years ago, won't accept any sort of plea deal that would put him back in prison, according to an attorney representing the 70-year-old.
"I can't imagine he'd willingly go back to prison under any sort of plea agreement," David Rudolf said Thursday after a routine hearing in the case. "I think that's a fair assessment. That's not on the table."
Peterson was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering his wife, Kathleen, at their Durham mansion in December 2001. A Superior Court judge ordered a new trial in 2011, however, after finding that a key prosecution witness gave false and misleading testimony.
Since then, Peterson's been out of prison waiting for a resolution to his case. Durham prosecutors say a new trial could happen as early as next year.
It's unclear if Peterson has been offered any kind of plea arrangement, but Rudolf said Thursday that both sides have been talking.
"In any case, you always explore the alternatives before you throw down the gauntlet and go back to trial," he said. "I think it would be reasonable for everyone to sit back and see where we are and where we should go."
Peterson's first trial, from jury selection to the verdict, lasted more than five months and was costly for both the state and the defense.
Rudolf defended Peterson in his first trial. Since then, his client has been declared indigent, and Rudolf is working pro bono on the case.
On Thursday, he told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that he can no longer afford to do so and would need compensation if he were to continue.
Hudson ordered that Peterson be granted a court-appointed attorney, but it's unclear if Rudolf will continue to represent him.
Rudolf is among the most knowledgeable about the case, having been through it once, but he is based in Charlotte.
"If I'm going to do it, I'd like to have my room and board paid for," he said. "This is not a money maker for me, under any circumstances. Whoever is going to take this on, it's going to be a big responsibility and take a lot of time, and at some point, you have to take care of your overhead."
The investigation, trial and the case coverage since have made news across the world and have spawned several books, a TV movie and an eight-part documentary chronicling the high-profile conviction and Peterson's subsequent prison release.
Durham police found Kathleen Peterson, an executive at Nortel Networks, dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Cedar Street home on Dec. 9, 2001.
Prosecutors were never able to establish a clear motive and didn't find a murder weapon, but argued that Peterson likely killed his wife with a fireplace blow poke during an argument and then made it appear as if she fell down the stairs.
The blow poke was never found.
The trial was dramatic with prosecutors presenting evidence about Peterson's sexuality that they contended contradicted defense claims that the couple had an ideal marriage.
Jurors also heard about the 1985 death of Elizabeth Ratliff, a friend of Peterson's who was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home in Germany. Her death was initially ruled accidental, but a North Carolina medical examiner performed an autopsy and ruled it a homicide.
And in an eleventh-hour move, defense attorneys presented to jurors a blow poke that one of Peterson's sons found covered in cobwebs in the garage that appeared to have been there for years.
"The case never made sense to me," Rudolf said Thursday. "Michael has been absolutely insistent from the day I met him that he had nothing to do with this, and I believe that's the case."