Local News

Judge May Decide Friday On Admissibility Of Ratliff Evidence In Peterson Trial

Posted August 22, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— Prosecutors in the Mike Peterson trial said the Durham novelist killed two women -- his wife and a family friend. In a hearing outside the jury's presence Thursday, they tried to convince the judge that Elizabeth Ratliff's death 18 years ago is relevant to the Peterson case.

Margaret Blair, Ratliff's sister, testified that Mike Peterson called and told her that Ratliff had accidentally fallen down the stairs at her home in Germany and died. She said Peterson also said there was only a small drop of blood found behind her sister's ear. Blair later learned about the large amounts of blood found in Ratliff's house.

Blair said she became suspicious of her sister's death when she heard about Kathleen Peterson's death. Blair also made a heartfelt plea for jurors to hear about her sister's death.

"I want the truth to come to light. There's too much darkness that has been clouding over this whole situation and it's time. It's time for the truth. As painful as it is, it's time for the truth to come forward," she said.

The state medical examiner conducted an autopsy on Ratliff's body earlier this year and confirmed prosecutors' suspicions that both women were murdered. Dr. Deborah Radisch testified Thursday she found several deep gashes on the back of Ratliff's head similar to Kathleen Peterson's injuries.

Radisch also testified that Kathleen Peterson had crushed thyroid cartilage, which suggested that she may have been strangled.

The prosecution claims those facts surrounding Ratliff's death are similar to those of Kathleen Peterson's death and are, therefore, relevant to the trial. Lawyers will argue their case Friday morning with the jury out of the courtroom, and then Judge Orlando Hudson will make his ruling. If he decides the jury should hear about Elizabeth Ratliff's death, jurors will hear about that testimony immediately.

Earlier in the day, the defense tried to chip away at a blood expert's credibility. SBI agent Peter Duane Deaver said his bloodstain analysis proves Kathleen Peterson was beaten to death at the stairwell of the Peterson's house.

For the third straight day, defense attorney David Rudolf hammered Deaver about his testing techniques, accused him of writing inaccurate reports and even questioned him about his ethics. Rudolf even quizzed Deaver on testimony the blood spatter expert had given in past trials.

During Thursday's testimony, it appeared that Rudolf was becoming frustrated with Deaver's testimony. At one point, Rudolf said Deaver should just ask the judge if he wanted to explain something to the jury instead of talking to him.

The jury left after Deaver's testimony, but a special hearing will continue later in the day about the admissibility of the Elizabeth Ratliff evidence.


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