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Peterson released from jail pending new trial

Posted December 15, 2011
Updated December 16, 2011

— Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate Mike Peterson walked out of jail Thursday afternoon for the first time in more than eight years after posting bond while awaiting a new trial in his wife's death a decade ago.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said that Peterson should be granted a new trial, ruling that a key prosecution witness in his 2003 murder trial gave false and misleading testimony, which deprived him of his right to a fair trial.

"I have waited over eight years – 2,988 days, as a matter of fact, and I counted – for an opportunity to have a new trial," Peterson said upon walking out of the Durham County Detention Center. "I want to thank Judge Hudson for giving me that opportunity, so that I can vindicate myself and prove my innocence in a fair trial this time."

Peterson's first wife and son put up two properties in Durham to meet the $300,000 secured bond that Hudson set for his release. After posting bond, he headed to the home of a friend in Durham's Colony Park neighborhood, where he will be under electronic monitoring until his trial.

He said he plans to spend time with his family before speaking publicly about his case.

No date has been set for the retrial.

Kerry Sutton, a member of Peterson's defense team, said it is possible there might not be another trial.

"I believe we might be able to come to some sort of a resolution that is something short of a trial and put an end to this," Sutton said.

Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, 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.

Prosecutors were never able to establish a clear motive and didn't find a murder weapon, and Peterson has long denied any involvement in her death.

Mike Peterson released from jail Mike Peterson released from jail

After an independent review of the state crime lab last year found that blood evidence was misstated or falsely reported in about 200 criminal cases between 1987 and 2003, Peterson challenged his conviction. He argued that former State Bureau of Investigation analyst Duane Deaver misled jurors about blood evidence found in the Peterson home.

Deaver, whom the independent review linked to some of the most egregious cases of falsely reported evidence, was fired by the SBI in January.

Defense attorney David Rudolf relentlessly attacked Deaver's credibility during a week-long hearing to determine whether Peterson's request for a new trial would be granted. An SBI official testified that 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.

Philip Isley, an attorney representing Deaver, said Thursday that he disagreed with Hudson's ruling, adding that he doesn't believe the analyst perjured himself or gave misleading testimony.

Rudolf predicted Wednesday that prosecutors would be handicapped at a second trial because all of the evidence connected to Deaver has been tainted.

"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,” he said. "It’s going to be a very, very different trial because of that.”

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline has appealed Hudson's ruling, but she has declined to comment further on the case.

Irving Joyner, a professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law, said Thursday that he expects a number of defense attorneys to copy Rudolf's tactics and file requests for new trials for inmates whose trials included testimony of blood evidence that can now be challenged.

"The basic thinking is that, if Deaver was able to do that – what he did in the Peterson and other cases – then it’s likely that other analysts did the same thing,” Joyner said. "Other attorneys will be doing exactly the same thing to establish that there existed a pattern and practice in the SBI of misconduct, shoddy and rogue science analysis resulting in the conviction of people."

Rudolf called Wednesday 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.

Joyner went further than that, saying that the North Carolina Supreme Court or the state Administrative Office of the Courts need to appoint someone to review testimony of blood evidence provided by all SBI analysts in recent years to help rebuild public confidence in North Carolina's justice system.

"People have been losing faith in the system here in North Carolina, and unless there is something done drastically to change that, I don’t know what it is going to mean for the continued operation of our criminal justice process," he said. "Government officials and judicial officials need to do something significant in order to restore the trust of people in the criminal justice process.”


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  • dirkdiggler Dec 16, 2011

    What's also absurd is to think Mike bashed her head in with a blowpoke, but never fractured her skull or caused any damage to her brain. What is he? A delicate murderer? Many EXPERTS are buying into the owl theory. What are you an expert in? Posting on WRAL?

  • seankelly15 Dec 16, 2011

    bgcoving - "Michael Deaver is case in point."

    Who is Michael Deaver and what does he have to do with this case?

  • bgcoving Dec 16, 2011

    This says it all... but, a number of us DO CARE. -- seankelly15

    You know, I'm glad you do, but is caring about one person so overwhelming, so all-consuming that you would throw the baby out with the bath water? There, right there, is the problem with the criminal justice system. Ridicule me all you want about the owl, it doesn't alter a few basic facts. First, Kathleen Peterson is dead. Second, the prosecution engaged in wholesale misconduct. Third, Peterson is entitled to, and getting, a new trial.

  • dollibug Dec 16, 2011

    +++++Our justice system is a farce. May all of you folks so eager to incarcerate someone based on nothing but lies and lack of evidence be subjected to the same treatment at some point in your lives. I can't even imagine what it's like to be sent to prison for life over a crime you not only didn't commit, but one the state failed to prove in the first place!
    mileage v3.0

    People are indicted with NO EVIDENCE what so ever...I do NOT even understand why the state WASTES the MONEY and TIME with a GRAND JURY....even the attorneys say that "all cases are just RUBBERSTAMPED....and then there are the attorneys....who will try to "FORCE" an accused person of taking a plea....knowing that the person DID NOT COMMIT THE CRIME..and we call this JUSTICE??? REALLY????

    CORRUPTION AND COVER UP is everywhere..and especially in government controlled agencies..our court system is SUPPOSE TO BE ABOUT JUSTICE..but is NOT and HAS NOT been for a long time..Innocent people are being sent to prison.

  • bgcoving Dec 16, 2011

    SeanKelly15...Rudolph lost the case before it became apparent that the prosecution and the SBI failed to turn over to the defense all of the forensic evidence. Ergo, no owl evidence, no affadavits in support of the owl theory, no testimony in support of the owl theory....whether you believe the owl theory or not, one of the basics of jurisprudence was violated through tainted testimony and deceit by prosecutors. What do you think the outcome would have been if someone from the Smithsonian had DNA tested the feather found in the hair, and expert witnesses had been put on the stand to support the possibility that Peterson had died as the result of an unfortunate collision with nature? I know, hindsight is always 20/20, but when the State stacks the deck, the Constitution sides with the presumption of innocence. Always. The problem is that we have prosecutors who will now do anything to circumvent that...Michael Deaver is case in point.

  • seankelly15 Dec 16, 2011

    bgcoving - "I frankly don't care if Peterson murdered his wife or not."

    This says it all... but, a number of us DO CARE.

  • u stand corrected Dec 16, 2011

    I am not disputing this I am offering a different, just as plausible, explanation. Microscopic feathers were scattered on the lawn furniture where they were seated. When Mike was attacking her she reached up to the top of her head with her hand (which we would all do when bleeding from the crown of the head) resulting in the removal of some hair and these MICROSCOPIC feathers. -- seankelly15

    Now THAT's really reaching, Sean. Honestly, I thought you were better than that, but thanks for the chuckle....
    December 16, 2011 3:53 p.m.
    No it is not. I had the same thought. Now the owl theory is worth a chuckle!!! :)

  • seankelly15 Dec 16, 2011

    mileage v3.0 - "As a result of his training and experience, Off. Hall gave the opinion that it “looked like a tire iron”. Off. Hall then conducted an article search of the Peterson yard with his K9, Bosco,."

    This is funny.... so, he didn't examine the actual crime scene or the body but looked at a cheap photograph and made the medical judgement that a tire iron was involved....

    Oh, and BTW... if we WERE to believe the cop, then from a photograph he knew it was murder.

  • u stand corrected Dec 16, 2011

    bgcoving, I hear ya. It scares me too that if I were ever tried, what would happen? I feel that he seserves a new trial for sure but I don't think he should be out until then. Deavers testimony was not the sole basis for the verdict from the jury.

  • seankelly15 Dec 16, 2011

    bgcoving - The questions are quite simple.... did Kathleen fall down the stairs? The answer - provided by numerous witnesses (not Deaver) - NO. If she was murdered, then by who? Who else was in the house? No one. None of this requires Deaver's testimony..... Rudolph lost the case when he could not convince the jury that it wasn't murder but instead a fall down the stairs.