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Peterson to get new trial in wife's death

Posted December 14, 2011

— A judge ruled Wednesday that Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate Mike Peterson should get a new trial in his wife's death a decade ago.

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.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson set a $300,000 secured bond for Peterson and ordered him to remain at a friend's house under electronic monitoring until his new trial. He is expected to be released Thursday or Friday.

Lori Campbell, Kathleen Peterson's sister, pointed out that Mike Peterson also was found liable for her death in a civil case and asked that he not be granted bond.

"I would request that he stay in jail until 12 new jurors say he is not guilty," Campbell said.

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline immediately appealed Hudson's ruling, but she declined to comment further.

Clayton Peterson said he went numb when he heard his father would get another trial.

"I know my father ... didn’t kill Kathleen. I love Kathleen more than anything, but he didn’t do it. He told me, and I know it and I believe it with my heart,” Clayton Peterson said.

Defense attorney David Rudolf said prosecutors will be handicapped at a second trial because all of the evidence connected to former State Bureau of Investigation analyst Duane Deaver has been tainted.

Mike Peterson's case for a new trial was based on the argument that Deaver provided false and misleading testimony about blood evidence found in the home during the 2003 trial.

"Nothing that happened at the scene once he got there can be trusted, and that severely limits what kind of evidence any blood stain pattern analyst by either side can say at the next trial,” Rudolf said. "It’s going to be a very, very different trial because of that.”

Mike Peterson in court Peterson will be free on bond while awaiting retrial

He also called for a special investigator to review all of Deaver's cases with the SBI, noting that his work also helped convict Greg Taylor, who was cleared last year of a 1991 Raleigh homicide after spending 17 years in prison.

"If there is nothing there, there is nothing there, and we can all rest easy,” he said. "But if there is something there and if there are other people serving sentences who shouldn’t be serving sentences, then all of us should be concerned about that situation.”

Rudolf attacked Deaver's credibility during the week-long hearing. An SBI official said Deaver was known to be biased in favor of prosecutors, and blood evidence experts said the tests he conducted in the Peterson case were flawed.

"Frankly, there is no way to sugar coat it. Agent Deaver lied to this court and our jury – not once or twice but repeatedly and purposefully," Rudolf argued to Hudson on Tuesday. "You have a right not to be tried with fabricated evidence, and that’s what happened in this case."

Rudolf said he doubted that Hudson, who presided over the three-month trial in 2003, would have qualified Deaver as an expert in blood evidence, allowing him to offer opinions, if he knew that Deaver had exaggerated his experience and conducted experiments that didn't meet standards in the field.

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, whom the SBI fired in January.

Some of the findings in the review were key to Peterson's case for a new trial, Rudolf said.

"It never dawned on me (Deaver) would be making stuff up," he said.

Cline argued that no new evidence of Peterson's innocence was presented, so he doesn't deserve a new trial.

A medical examiner testified in 2003 that Kathleen Peterson was killed and didn't die in an accidental fall down a staircase, she said. Questions about Deaver's background and methods wouldn't have changed the jury's mind, she said.

"It does not take a rocket science to look at Kathleen Peterson – the back of her head – and say that that wasn't an accident," Cline said.

Hudson, who has been embroiled in a feud with Cline over his rulings in other cases in recent months, said he might ask the state Administrative Office of the Courts to assign another judge to handle Peterson's retrial.

Rudolf said he hasn't decided whether to represent Peterson in the new trial.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • dirkdiggler Dec 15, 2011

    seankelly, yelling doesn't make your point any more viable. it just means you're yelling. you know owls live in trees, right? and yes, seriously, owl attacks were documented in that area around the same time of her death. try looking it up, instead of resorting to caps lock. owl feathers dont just show up in someone's hair. owl attacks in the area. owl feathers in her hair. gashes on her head similar to what a head would look like after taking several hits from owl talons. yes, stupid indeed. facts are so stupid....

  • seankelly15 Dec 15, 2011

    mileage v3.0 - "...in an area where owl attacks had recently been reported?"

    Really? Seriously? How many owl attacks occurred INSIDE a house and how many resulted in a death?

    "Who wouldn't assume someone dead at the bottom of a stair case didn't fall down them?"

    Kathleen wasn't dead according to the 911 call. I wouldn't assume someone with almost fatal scalp wounds fell down the stairs - perhaps if their neck was broken.

    "It's STUPID not to find out the answer to that question. They didn't just magically appear...."

    THERE WAS NO OWL INVOLVED... it is JUST PLAIN STUPID. The house is surrounded by trees... the patio area is surrounded by trees. I would aver that there are numerous feathers in and around the property and around the patio. MICROSCOPIC FEATHERS.....

  • Inter Alios Dec 15, 2011


    "Told you so!!!! Now, the next question is, did Hudson do this to make Cline look foolish as she TRIES to prosecute this case? If Cline is smart she wil ask the AG's office for help". boneymaroney13

    Hudson didn't need to try to make Cline look foolish; she's done a pretty thorough job of that herself.

  • foster208 Dec 15, 2011

    What an outrage. The last trial was a zoo and this one will be also. What a waste of money to retry this man. Legally, he does qualify for a new trial. but morally-no. I feel so sorry for Kathleens' family to have to relive this tragedy.

  • wildcat Dec 15, 2011

    Agent Deaver lied to this court and our jury

    Because of this Agent Deaver, this trial is going to cost the tax payers again. Glad Deaver was let go. He is not needed anymore and his lies caught up with him.

  • wildcat Dec 15, 2011

    What kind of "friend" would allow a killer to reside in his home? He could take a turn and kill the friend. Peterson is not one to be trusted.

  • wildcat Dec 15, 2011

    This man is guilty and I pray that the second time around it will be proven without a doubt. Remember the woman in Germany that he suposely killed. Praying that Kathleen will get her justice and send this man back where he belongs; in prison for life.

  • ladyblue Dec 15, 2011

    In my heart I think this man is GUILTY,,,I sometimes also wonder if our justice system is becomming as corrupt as the criminals they try sometimes.

  • dirkdiggler Dec 15, 2011

    It's stupid that she had unexplainable material in her hair, in an area where owl attacks had recently been reported? What's stupid is the prosecution not digging into this before insisting Mike bashed her head in.

    As stated already, there would have been more material in her hair to be examined if the medical examiner didn't wash her hair (in other words, destroy evidence) prior to performing the examination.

    Mike didn't see her fall. He assumed she fell. Who wouldn't assume someone dead at the bottom of a stair case didn't fall down them? Who's to say he's the reason she fell down said stairs?

    And why does it matter WHEN the owl theory came into play? The fact of the matter is, there is evidence on her head and in her hands that she was in contact with an owl at some point that evening. Where did this material come from? It's STUPID not to find out the answer to that question. They didn't just magically appear....

  • seankelly15 Dec 15, 2011

    mileage v3.0 - "so for those of you who don't buy the owl theory, what do you have to say about the microscopic owl feathers found on her head, and the same feathers found clutched in her hand along with her hair? how do you suppose a woman ended up with a handful of her own hair, contaminated with owl feathers, if she didn't come in contact with an owl?"

    First, I don't buy the owl theory because it is just plain stupid. Second, there were microscopic owl feathers in her hair; if there was an attack by an owl I don't think that the feathers would be microscopic. Third, when Mike was bashing in her head she may have clutched her head leading to the transfer of her hair and the microscopic owl feathers. Finally, Mike has maintained that she fell not that she was attacked by an owl. The owl theory came about when the medical examiner testified that there were lacerations on the top of her head that could not have resulted from a fall.