Local News

Medical Examiner: Kathleen Peterson Died As Result Of Beating

Posted August 7, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— The medical examiner who first looked at Kathleen Peterson's body said he believes she died from a beating, not an accidental fall.

Dr. Kenneth Snell, the medical examiner who first looked at Kathleen Peterson's body, said in his preliminary report, he wrote in his notes that Peterson had died from a fall, but he told jurors that he wrote those initial findings from a quick examination at the scene.

"In this case, I actually filled it out before the autopsy had been started and that's why I have down the information I have," Snell told jurors.

Snell described to jurors the extensive injuries he found on Kathleen Peterson's body.

"She had some, I believe, bruising and abrasions on the front of her face," Snell said. "She also had some bruies to the backs of her arms, from the elbow down to the backs of her hands."

Snell said an autopsy performed later showed injuries inconsistent with an accident. He testified that in his professional opinion, Kathleen Peterson died as a result of an assault, and more specifically, a beating.

Defense attorneys have said Kathleen Peterson died from an accidental fall from a stairwell. Prosecutors believe Mike Peterson killed his wife for financial gain. In cross-examination, defense attorney David Rudolf could not shake him.

"I asked you at that point how sure you were this was a beating instead of a fall. Right," Rudolf asked.

"Yes, sir," Snell said.

"And what you told me was it was like 75-25," Rudolf asked.

"At the time," Snell said.

"Oh, you have changed since then," Rudolf said.

"Well, you told me to do some more reading and research and at your suggestion, I did, which provided me with a knowledge base to change that -- to have more belief in myself and in my decision," Snell said.

Earlier in the day, forensic meteorologist William Haggard testified Wednesday that on the night of Kathleen Peterson's death, the outside temperature was between 51 degrees and 55 degrees. Defense attorneys have said that Peterson was outside in his shorts and a T-shirt by the pool on the night of Kathleen Peterson's death.

A hearing is planned Thursday to decide if e-mail and pornographic material found on Peterson's computer should be admitted as evidence.

The case is also drawing attention from around the globe. On Wednesday, a German TV crew was in town interviewing some key players in the case.

The trial caught their eye because of the death of Elizabeth Ratliff, Peterson's friend who died in 1985 in Germany. Prosecutors are trying to tie her death to the Durham novelist.

A French crew is also covering the trial for an upcoming documentary.


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