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Blood experts not allowed to remark on Peterson's guilt

Posted December 9, 2011

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— A judge on Friday blocked a prosecutor's attempt to have blood evidence experts discuss whether Mike Peterson was guilty of killing his wife, regardless of the testimony presented by a blood analyst at Peterson's 2003 trial.

Peterson, a Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate, is seeking a new trial, arguing that former State Bureau of Investigation analyst Duane Deaver provided misleading testimony about blood evidence during his trial.

Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, beating death of his wife. Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale Durham home.

Defense attorney David Rudolf has spent this week trying to discredit Deaver, whom the SBI fired in January. An agency official said he was known to be biased in favor of prosecutors, and two blood evidence experts said the tests he conducted in the Peterson case were flawed.

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline planned to bring in other blood evidence experts who were hired by the state eight years ago but never testified at Peterson's trial. They believe Peterson is guilty of murder, she said, which backs up Deaver's findings.

Rudolf objected to the move, saying their opinion about the verdict is irrelevant. Witnesses should be allowed only to review Deaver's tests and results, he said, not bring in new evidence as to whether the jury was right.

"The issue here is," Rudolf argued, "did Duane Deaver mislead the court first of all, so that the court qualified him as an expert and allowed him to give the opinions that he gave based on those tests, and No. 2, did he mislead the jury?”

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson agreed with Rudolf, cutting off what appeared to be Cline's main line of defense against a new trial.

Duane Deaver DA wanted others to support ex-SBI analysts conclusions

Earlier Friday, a retired FBI agent who reviewed the state crime lab's policies and procedures said that Deaver often left details out of his reports so as not to confuse prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Chris Swecker's analysis of the State Bureau of Investigation lab last year found that 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.

Swecker said the crime lab didn't have a policy on how to report tests on blood evidence until 1997. Even after that, the policy wasn't really clear about what to report when, he said.

Deaver said during the six-month review that he wrote his reports so they would be easily understood by investigators and prosecutors, Swecker testified. He said that he didn't include the results of any negative follow-up tests in his reports because he feared that would confuse people and make them think no blood was present.

Still, Swecker said, he doesn't believe Deaver or other SBI analysts tried to mislead anyone in their reports.

"I did not believe that any analysts deliberately withheld reporting results,” he said.

Two other SBI analysts who reviewed Deaver's work in a separate case testified that he didn't like to be questioned about his findings.

Agents Kristin Hughes and Russell Holley were asked to retest evidence when Greg Taylor's case came before the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2009. Taylor spent 17 years in prison for a Raleigh murder before a specially appointed judicial panel declared him innocent last year and released him.

Deaver didn't testify at Taylor's 1991 trial, but his follow-up tests on evidence that were negative for the presence of blood were never included in his report and turned over to defense attorneys. The case prompted Attorney General Roy Cooper to ask Swecker to conduct the outside review of the crime lab.

Hughes and Holley both said Deaver had a surly attitude about Taylor's case going before the Innocence Commission, and he was adamant that Taylor was guilty.

"He did it. He is where he needs to be," Hughes recalled Deaver saying during a meeting to review the evidence.

Holley said he tested a fender off of Taylor's car and couldn't find any blood where Deaver said 15 years earlier that there was blood. He said Friday that there are some innocent explanations for the different results, but when he brought the issue up with Deaver two years ago, he also got an earful about Taylor's guilt.

"He looked frustrated. He didn't seem happy to be there," Holley said, adding that the whole meeting left him feeling uncomfortable.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Centurian Dec 14, 2011

    With Judge Orlando Hudson in charge... There was never any doubt that this would go for Peterson. The Judge likes the spotlight and hates the District Attorney, which is why he fought so hard NOT to be recused from this hearing.

    Justice would've been better served for all involved had a neutral Judge been presiding.

  • annforeveryoung Dec 9, 2011

    seankelly15; I agree... Michael dug his own whole with his lies and actions.

  • seankelly15 Dec 9, 2011

    mrduffin - "A primary witness in a murder case lied and to you..."

    He didn't lie to me... he was correct in stating that the blood splatter was the result of a beating and not a fall.... and I am not so sure that he was a primary witness in the eyes of the jury. They knew Kathleen was murdered based on the autopsy. The question to the jury was who did it... all of the evidence pointed to Michael.... I don't think that the jurors gave Deavor's testimony any more weight than the suggestion that Elizabeth Ratliff was killed in the same way.

  • annforeveryoung Dec 9, 2011

    If it was explained to the jury that way, they would have gotten it.. somthing that makes logical sense, blow pokes, owls (all the windows in the house were nailed shut) etc.. The DA at the time reached when a suggestion was made and the SBI matched the therory regardless of the fallout.. What a shame.

  • mrduffin Dec 9, 2011

    You folks are missing the point. A primary witness in a murder case lied and to you Peterson haters that is okay. That is scary! I don't know if he is guilty or not but he is entitled to a fair trail just like you and I would be.

  • seankelly15 Dec 9, 2011

    annforeveryoung - you have it exactly right....

  • annforeveryoung Dec 9, 2011

    If you take a piece of meat and tenderize it on your counter where does the majority of debris go? against the backsplash. The crime scene showed that Michael repeatedly beat Kathleens head against the stairs for low impact spatter to cover the entire portion of the bottom steps. This does not happen from a fall, or a beating with an object. The elevated spatter came from her long hair soaked in blood every time he brought her up and slammed her down... Not rocket science. A horrible death. And what really sucks was that when he thought she was dead she was not and came back with cleaning supplies to find her sitting against the wall "void of spatter" He then commenced in addtional head battering and choking her to death read the autopsy!!!

  • seankelly15 Dec 9, 2011

    mfarmer1 - "Really."

    Yep, if it were all commerce would cease.....

  • westernwake1 Dec 9, 2011

    "Not automatically. It really depends on the nature of the testimony and how much weight the testimony had." - seankelly15

    You are correct it is not automatic. But it is why this entire situation is back in court again - to render a decision if a re-trial is warranted due to questions regarding Deaver's testimony in the original trial.

  • mfarmer1 Dec 9, 2011

    >> "Exaggerating your expertise is not a lie."