Peterson case presents dilemma for AG's office
Posted December 2, 2011
Durham, N.C. — Finding someone to represent the state in convicted killer Mike Peterson's quest for a new trial is becoming more problematic each day.
Peterson, 68, was convicted in 2003 of first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale Durham home.
His request for a new trial involves his belief that former State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst Duane Deaver lied or misled jurors in the original trial about blood evidence found in the Peterson home.
A hearing had been scheduled for next Monday, but Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline last week asked that Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson be removed from the case, accusing him of corruption and alleging that he is biased against her.
On Thursday, Cline asked the North Carolina Attorney General's Office to take the case from her, in case Hudson remains on the case.
That could also be problematic, considering that the SBI fired Deaver in January, and the Attorney General's Office is representing the agency in a lawsuit Deaver filed to win his job back.
"The question is, who is going to have the (lesser) amount of conflict in this situation,” said Irving Joyner, a professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law.
The Attorney General's Office has a conflict of interest in backing Deaver's work when it is trying to prevent him from regaining his job at the SBI crime lab, Joyner said.
"The problem is that every conflict is not necessarily fatal," he said. "I would think that this one is probably close to the line.”
Peterson's attorney, David Rudolf, said Cline told him and Hudson last April that the Attorney General's Office had refused to take over the case because it involved Deaver.
Cline reiterated that the state attorneys had a conflict in a July email to the state Administrative Office of the Courts seeking money to hire private lawyers to handle the case.
Spokeswoman Noelle Talley said Friday that the Attorney General's Office has never stated any conflict in handling Peterson's case and only turned down a previous request from Cline to take over the case because it didn't meet criteria of the office's Special Prosecutions Section.
Talley didn't say why the office agreed Thursday to take the case, provided a judge delays next week's hearing so lawyers can prepare.
Both Cline and Philip Isley, Deaver's lawyer, have declined to comment on the situation.
AOC spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell said Cline never followed up on a request for more information about the need for independent attorneys for the Peterson case.
”It ought to be a situation where the Durham County district attorney is handling that, but given the conflicts that are existing in terms of personalities and otherwise in the court, the saner thing may be for some independent body to come in,” Joyner said, which would lead to "a lengthy delay."
Rudolf is opposed to any delay in next week's hearing, saying witnesses and Peterson's family members are flying in from across the country.
"It is going to be unfair to all the parties and the court if there is a delay,” Joyner said.