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Durham Police Department On Hot Seat In Day 7 Of Mike Peterson Trial

Posted July 11, 2003

— Officers were on the stand testifying for the prosecution Thursday, describing what they saw the night Kathleen Peterson died. The defense responded with an offensive strike of its own against the police.

Three police officers testified Thursday that they were suspicious right from the start that Kathleen Peterson's death was no accident.

"Did you notice anything in particular about the blood," assistant district attorney Freda Black said.

"It appeared to be dry," said Sgt. Terry Wilkins, of the Durham Police Department.

Cpl. J.C. McDowell was one of the first officers to see the body of Kathleen Peterson and to see the reaction of Mike Peterson. She testified in court that on the night of Kathleen's death, she saw Todd Peterson holding on to his father.

"On the other side of that little hallway, you saw Todd Peterson literally restraining Michael Peterson. Did you not?" asked defense attorney David Rudolf.

"Restraining, holding Mike Peterson in his arms, He did have a hold on him," McDowell replied.

At one point, McDowell asked Todd if she could use the phone.

"Did you make any notes at all about where he got the phone from?" Rudolf asked.

"No sir. I don't have any idea where he got the telephone," McDowell replied.

"If he had to go in that little hallway area there, that stairway to get that phone, that would be a source of possible contamination, wouldn't it?" Rudolf said.

"Yes sir," McDowell said.

Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, police admitted they did not rope off the crime scene for nearly an hour. The defense also took aim at the credibility of the police, with Rudolf even using a dictionary to give one officer a lesson in crime scene terminology.

Mike Peterson is charged with his wife's death. The defense contends Kathleen Peterson died by falling down the stairs. The night she died, McDowell said she called the incident in to dispatch.

"You told the supervisor from District 3 who got there that there had been an accident. Right?" Rudolf said.

"No sir, I told them that a lady had fallen down a flight of steps," McDowell replied.

Peterson's lawyers claim police also contaminated the scene by letting friends of the Peterson family wander through the house.

"You didn't ask for any ID?" Rudolf asked.

"No sir," McDowell replied.

"For all you know, she could've been involved in the death of Kathleen Peterson. Right?" Rudolf said.

"I didn't know who she was," McDowell said.

To further illustrate the confusion among police, Rudolf noted one of the officers reported the victim was an elderly woman who had fallen out of her wheelchair. More officers are expected to take the stand Friday.


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