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Mike Peterson Defense Team Offers Study In Contrasts

Posted May 20, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— For the first time since jury selection began at Mike Peterson's murder trial, the prosecution and defense have agreed on a juror.

Peterson is the Durham novelist charged with killing his wife. Tuesday, the first juror was seated and another potential juror sent home.

This week has been the first opportunity for the defense to question potential jurors. Through the process, observers have gotten a close look at the defense team's strategy -- and at the lawyers defending Peterson.

The defense team could very well be a study in contrasts. David Rudolf and Tom Maher have nearly 50 years legal experience between them.

"I tend to be a more emotional person than Tom," Rudolf said, "and Tom tends to be a more logical person than me."

Rudolf is the lead attorney in the Peterson case. The New York University graduate is known for his colorful courtroom comments.

"If he wants to engage in gay bashing, he can do it," Rudolf said of the lead prosecutor, Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin, early in jury selection.

Rudolf also has a reputation for being passionate and dramatic. His sense of theater is said to be impeccable.

"You play for keeps," said Durham lawyer Butch Williams, who's familiar with Rudolf. "If that means jumping up on the table, I'm sure David will jump up on the table."

The high-powered attorney has had some high-profile clients, including former Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth.

Maher, meanwhile, also has tried some headline-grabbing cases. Last fall, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate defended Sandra Odom, a Harnett County mother accused in the drowning death of her stepson.

Other lawyers say Maher has a knack for understanding the legal sytem.

"He doesn't say a whole lot," Williams said. "But he is very sharp in terms of intelligence, and he can put together a good motion in a heartbeat."

To win trials, some lawyers believe they have to connect with jurors. Court observers here expect Peterson's defense to try to do that.

"It's not about me," Rudolf said. "It's not about anything other than Mike Peterson's life, and if I can get that across to the jurors, I've done what I'm supposed to do."

Rudolf is also known for being thorough, as evidenced this week. On average, he's been taking two hours to interview each potential juror.

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