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Mike Peterson won't accept plea with prison time, attorney says

Posted September 11, 2014

— 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."


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  • icdmbpppl Sep 12, 2014

    This guy had a female "friend" in Germany, who died in the same way as Kathleen. He and his wife, at that time adopted the deceased (murdered) woman's children. Mike Peterson is one sick cookie.

  • Joe Blow Sep 11, 2014

    Everyone commenting here please watch the documentary that was released earlier this year about the case. I was certain he was guilty, now, not so sure.

  • kat4eagles Sep 11, 2014

    This case won't go away, will it?

  • Jerry Sawyer Sep 11, 2014
    user avatar

    Murderer's always convince themselves they are innocent. He will not get away with this murder.

  • marxnsain Sep 11, 2014

    SEANKELLY15, doesn't a prosecution witness lying under oath during his testimony have just a little to do with the evidence presented?

  • diana123 Sep 11, 2014

    who in the world is supporting this guy. how can he stay in that house if indeed he is still in it. who is paying the taxes on it and feeding him?

  • diana123 Sep 11, 2014

    this man is pathetic

  • Lightfoot3 Sep 11, 2014

    "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." - article

    Neat theory, but I never saw where they PROVED it. And wasn't the blood splatter liar there to "prove" it wasn't a fall?

  • Thomas Hannan Sep 11, 2014
    user avatar

    RALEIGHBOY524 - "I think he's out of jail under house arrest, not under bail.

    He is out on bail. They do not let murderers out of prison for house arrest. They have to have bail set first.

  • Thomas Hannan Sep 11, 2014
    user avatar

    SANDIM50 - "If it was good enough to let him out until a new trial, then the Prosecutor must know that he is not guilty,"

    The DA didn't let him out, a a judge did. And, the reasons had nothing to do with the facts of the case nor the evidence presented. The State's blood splatter expert lied on his CV.