Local News

Ex-SBI agent overstated experience during Peterson trial

Posted December 6, 2011

Duane Deaver

— An attorney for Mike Peterson attacked the credibility of a former analyst with the State Bureau of Investigation during a Tuesday court hearing to decide whether the Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate will get a new murder trial.

Peterson was convicted in 2003 of the Dec. 9, 2001, death of his wife. Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks executive, 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 focuses on testimony provided during the 2003 trial by Duane Deaver, a blood analyst who the State Bureau of Investigation fired in January.

An independent review of the SBI crime lab last year found that blood evidence was misstated or falsely reported in about 200 criminal cases between 1987 and 2003. Some of the most egregious cases cited in the review were linked to Deaver.

Defense attorney David Rudolf said Tuesday that Deaver's testimony was critical to the prosecution's case in Peterson's trial, noting Deaver was the only witness to claim to know what happened inside the Peterson home.

"He claimed that he could tell that Mike Peterson had intentionally wiped blood off the steps," Rudolf said.

Rudolf played clips of Deaver's testimony during the hearing and contrasted it with statements he made last year to Assistant SBI Director Eric Hooks during an internal review of the blood analysis unit.

Hooks, who oversees professional standards for the SBI, testified that Deaver hadn't worked in the field on a homicide investigation before 2000 and had issued reports in only 47 cases. In Peterson's trial, Deaver said his expertise had been used in about 200 cases.

Deaver wasn't allowed to testify in a death penalty trial in Greene County in which the defendant was accused of beating a man to death with a piece of wood, attorney William Gerrans testified during the hearing. Deaver tried to replicate the murder by smashing pumpkins with a two-by-four, Garrens said.

The hearing got off to an emotional start when Kathleen Peterson's sister begged Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson to delay the proceedings.

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline had asked that the North Carolina Attorney General's Office take the case over from her, but state prosecutors said they would do so only if a delay were granted so they could prepare.

"Ten years, I’ve been without my sister. Ten years, her daughter hasn’t had her, and 10 years, the rest of us have been alive and had their freedom, but not Kathleen," Candace Zamperini said. "She deserves and should get the best, best legal representation.

Mike Peterson in prison DA requests delay in Peterson trial

"(Cline) is not prepared," she said. "It is clear she is not prepared. The office is not prepared.”

Rudolf objected to any delay, saying Cline has had months to prepare and that Mike Peterson's family and other witnesses had flown to Raleigh for the hearing.

Instead of preparing, Rudolf said, Cline has spent recent weeks feuding with Hudson, who has publicly criticized her handling of several cases in the past year.

Cline has claimed the judge is biased against her, and she tried to remove him from hearing Peterson's appeal and hearings in two other cases. Another judge on Monday denied her motion to get a different judge for Peterson's case.

"It’s a little bit like the person who has murdered his parents standing up and filing a motion based on the fact that he is now an orphan," Rudolf said. "Ms. Cline put herself in this situation.”

Tuesday was the first time Hudson and Cline faced each other in court since she first accused him of bias and corruption. The judge declined to delay the hearing, which is expected to last several days.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • mfletcher Dec 7, 2011

    seankelly - Many thanks for your assistance with spelling. The testimony from Candace Zamperini, regarding blood-spatter in Germany, can be disregarded. She has a long standing grudge against Michael Peterson and was the person that started the bludgeoning-to-death mischief by suggesting that a blow-poke she'd gifted to the Peterson's was a murder weapon. The death of Ms. Ratliff happened on a US base and was investigated by the base police. The detective who investigated the case quoted directly from his notes when he gave evidence in court. Examination of the exhumed remains of Ms. Ratliff was inconclusive and the cause of her death has not been reclassified. You are correct that the points being argued concern Duane Deaver's bias and incompetence. However, it is my firm belief that Mike Peterson was wrongly convicted based on my own review of the evidence.

  • kikinc Dec 7, 2011

    No, I said it has a sedative like effect, which I've felt first hand. And no, we don't know her cognitive functioning, so you can't claim she wasn't impaired, either.

  • seankelly15 Dec 7, 2011

    mfletcher - A couple of points... her name is Ratliff not RatCliff. And, there was no "lead detective" given that the German authorities did nothing following Ratliff's murder. Ratliff's friends who went to clean her house after the "fall" noted blood splatter all of the way down the stairs and into the foyer (they testified to this). As to the original autopsy, Ratliff's body has since been exhumed and the cause of death is now listed as murder. The jury found Lee's demonstration and explanation to be lacking.

    This hearing is not a retrying of the facts in the case. Peterson has appealed his conviction three times and in each case the appeal was decided in favor of the state. The ONLY question before Hudson is whether the mischaracterization of Deaver's experience affected his testimony so severely that all of his testimony needs to be thrown out.

  • seankelly15 Dec 7, 2011

    kikinc - Not to belabor the point but alcohol and antihistamines can exacerbate the effects of alcohol, but that does not make antihistamines are 'sedatives' which is what you claimed. The fact is the we do not "know" Kathleen's cognitive functioning at the point at which Micheal attacked her.

  • kikinc Dec 7, 2011

    seankelly-Ah, yes, but I have taken Flexeril and trust me, it has sedative effects. Mixed with alcohol, she was probably feeling VERY good. And yes, .07 is not legally drunk, but you are still impaired. I've had a glass of wine while I've had Flexeril in my system, on accident however. One pill and one glass of wine and I was flying.

  • mfletcher Dec 7, 2011

    There was a grave miscarriage of justice here. The Ratcliff death is irrelevant. Ms. Ratcliff died tragically from a brain aneurysm and fell down a staircase. The investigating detective didn't see any blood splatter and so testified at Peterson's trial. Kathleen Peterson died from severe shear injuries of the scalp when she was impaired with alcohol and prescription drugs, following a fall down a narrow staircase and stiking her head on the hardwood millwork which surrounded it. The spatter was a result of aerosol exhalation, the only explanation that fits the available facts. This was testified to by Henry Lee. There is no possibility that Kathleen died as a result of being struck repeatedly with a poker, which was Dever's theory. I attended part of the trial and reviewed the evidence myself. This one the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct I've ever had the misfortune to witness. Mike Peterson richly deserves a new trial.

  • seankelly15 Dec 7, 2011

    kikinc - .07 is not considered legally drunk. Sedatives are generally considered to be in the class of benzodyazipines. There is the debate over the structure of cyclobenzaprine, whether it acts as an antidepressant or related to cyproheptadine an antagonist at histamine H1 receptors. Muscle relaxers are never given as sedatives.

  • seankelly15 Dec 7, 2011

    artist - "This guilty man will eventually go free and make millions."

    Kathleen's daughter Caitlin has civil judgement against him. Any money that he makes would go to settle the judgment. It is the reason that he hasn't written anything new.

  • seankelly15 Dec 7, 2011

    lmiller2 - "If you recall, Peterson's first wife probably met a similar fate,..."

    Elizabeth Ratliff was a family friend (reserve comment) not Peterson's wife.

  • artist Dec 7, 2011

    This is another classic example of the impedance of our American justice system.

    This guilty man will eventually go free and make millions.

    All people will care about now is the blood evidence... not all the other evidence that nailed him to the wall.

    But in the end... women and children are the ones that take the abuse and suffer the most.... and they are the first ones to come to the defense of the guilty.