Local News

Witness Claims Petersons Owed Nearly $150,000 In Credit-Card Bills

Posted July 8, 2003

— Mike Peterson and his wife, Kathleen, had run up $142,728 in credit-card debt before she died, a witness testified in court Tuesday.

For the second day, Lawrence Young, a special agent for the State Bureau of Investigation, took the stand. The questioning of the financial analyst began with the jury out of the room.

The defense questioned Young's credibility and raised their objections with Judge Orlando Hudson. The questioning of Young later continued with jurors present. Using charts, numbers and financial papers, Young detailed accounts of some of the Petersons' records.

Young said the Petersons had run up $142,728 in credit-card debt before Kathleen's death. Young explained that the couple's six rental properties were not doing well. He also said that in the three years before Kathleen's death, Mike Peterson made no money as a writer.

Peterson, a novelist, is charged with first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, death of his wife, Kathleen, at their Durham home. Kathleen Peterson was an executive at Nortel Networks.

The prosecution said Kathleen Peterson was killed because her husband needed money from her insurance and other investments to bail himself out of debt. But as Young testified about his analysis of the Petersons' finances, the defense said the state omitted more than $1 million in assets.

"This was a couple that was worth close to $1.5 million, isn't that right?" Maher said, asking why Young left the value of cars, furniture and antiques out of the financial analysis.

David Rudolf also attacked Young's number-crunching methods.

"This man doesn't even know what are the recurring expenses and fixed expenses," he said.

Young said Kathleen Peterson once had stock options at Nortel worth more than $2 million, but they were worth less than $50,000 before she died. She also had a $1.4 million life insurance policy through the company.

Maher also said Peterson had been paid $1 million for two novels he published and had received a movie option for another book shortly before his wife died. The Peterson home had increased in value by $300,000, he said.

Young will be back on the stand Wednesday. After that, one of Kathleen Peterson's co-workers is expected to testify about the job climate at Nortel and the stress people were under because of all the corporate layoffs.

The fifth day of the trial began with testimony from one of the last people to speak with Kathleen Peterson. Helen Prislinger said she and Kathleen Peterson were working on a project at Nortel Networks. She said they had a phone conversation about four hours before Kathleen Peterson was found dead on Dec. 9, 2001.

The prosecution is trying to prove that money was a motive for murder.

Defense lawyers said Kathleen Peterson died after she slipped and fell on steps at the couple's home and that they had enough money for their needs.


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