Local News

Peterson Attorneys Want To Keep Ratliff's Autopsy, Sexual Orientation Out Of Trial

Posted April 30, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— On Wednesday, Mike Peterson's lawyers will argue that Elizabeth Ratliff's death should not be admitted as evidence. They also plan to fight any mention of Peterson's sexual preference.

Peterson goes on trial May 5 on charges of killing his wife at their house in Durham in Dec. 2001. Ratliff, a friend of Peterson, was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase in 1985 in Germany.

Forensic pathologist Thomas Sporn said the autopsy results for Elizabeth Ratliff and Kathleen Peterson are suprisingly similar.

"Both bodies show signs of injuries from an assailant rather than a fall down the stairs," he said. "Both women had complex lacerations to the head."

The similarities have upset Kathleen's family. Her sister, Candace Zamperini, released the following statement:

"My family is shocked and very saddened to learn that Elizabeth Ratliff suffered the same brutal and violent death as my sister, Kathleen Peterson."

David Rudolf, Mike Peterson's attorney, said Ratliff's new autopsy is offbase. He said Ratliff died of a stroke and points to a German police report that stated there was no foul play.

"There's nothing from back then to contradict a stroke," he said. When asked if officials in Germany could have made a mistake, Rudolf responded by saying, "you can always make a mistake in anything you do."

Rudolf also said reports that Peterson was the last person to see Ratliff alive are not true. Ratliff's 1985 death is not the only thing Rudolf does not want the jury to hear. Peterson's lawyers hope to keep his sexual preference out of evidence.

"There's some evidence on computers relating to homosexual relationships he had years ago," Rudolf said. "Someone shouldn't have to reveal what their sexuality was 10 years ago."

Rudolf said none of the new information has anything to do with the murder charge Peterson is facing. Rudolf said if the judge allows the new Ratliff autopsy into evidence, then he will ask for the trial to be delayed.

Jury selection is scheduled to get under way on May 5.

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