Local News

Peterson Attorney Talks About Release Of Autopsy Photos

Posted February 26, 2002
Updated December 9, 2006

— The Medical Examiner's office has released photos of Kathleen Peterson taken after her death, just two days after releasing the autopsy report.

Lawyers for Mike Peterson, who is charged with killing his wife, had asked the state Attorney General's office to seal the pictures until after the trial. The A.G.'s office refused to intervene, and under North Carolina law, the pictures are considered public record.

Peterson attorney David Rudolf remains disappointed they were released at all.

"I've felt from the start that it's just inappropriate for autopsy photos to be released regardless of whose they are," Rudolf said. "I continue to feel that way. I think most people in North Carolina would feel that way."

Kathleen Peterson's family does not feel that way. Her sister, Candace Hunt Zamperini, has made a statement endorsing the release of the photos and explaining the family's position on the case.

In the statement, Zamperini said,

"Mr. David Rudolf represents solely Michael Peterson. Mr. Rudolf does not represent Kathleen's family, nor has he ever spoken to any family member. Although Michael was Kathleen's husband, he also stands accused of her murder. Therefore, the assumption that he is Kathleen's 'family' no longer applies in terms of objectivity and representation involving this investigation. Also Kathleen's family takes great umbrage with Mr. Rudolf taking the liberty to speak for any of us concerning anything with this case."

She went on to say, "Our family is united in our main mission to find the truth of her death. The family trusts the citizens of Durham will not be misled or distracted, but will purely focus on finding the murderer of Kathleen."

Mike Peterson, 58, was in court briefly Tuesday on a procedural matter related to the murder charges. Accompanied by his son Todd, Peterson spoke afterward with reporters and disputed several items in the autopsy report released Monday.

"I have read the medical examiner's report," he said. "I did not see anywhere in there, and it is not true, absolutely, that Kathleen lay at the bottom of the stairs for hours."

Peterson also denied media reports that he called several people the night of his wife's death, before calling 911.

"It is absolutely not true that I placed any call except to 911," he said. "That is a gross fabrication, and phone records could prove that."

However, Peterson refused to comment on the autopsy report's finding that Kathleen Peterson's injuries were consistent with a beating.

The Medical Examiner's report says Peterson had at least seven deep cuts to the back of her head and bruises on her face and arms. The report also says there were signs of a struggle. It says Peterson had hair clenched in her fists and blood under her fingernails, but it did not say whose hair and blood it was.

The report concludes that Peterson's injuries were not consistent with a fall down the stairs, which is how Mike Peterson said his wife died when he called 911.

"I think whenever you are in the realm of experts, people can reasonably differ about the significance of a particular piece of evidence," said David Rudolf, Peterson's attorney.

The Peterson defense team includes forensic specialist Henry Lee, and former state medical examiner Page Hudson was brought in this week as a consultant.

"I think we're just trying to get the best experts we can, and you know, the goal here is to figure out what happened," Rudolf said. "In my mind, getting the most qualified people we can involved as early as we can is important to that goal."

In court papers filed in December, Peterson's attorneys said Kathleen Peterson must have fallen or an intruder must have killed her.

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