Local News

Letter To Peterson Jurors Creates Controversy During Deliberations

Posted October 10, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— The jury in the Mike Peterson trial has left for the day without reaching a verdict, but letters from a TV reporter to jurors created a buzz in the courtroom.

A letter was sent to all the jurors' homes by WTVD reporter Sonya Pfieffer. One of the jurors brought it in and handed it to the clerk.

In the letter dated Oct. 6, 2003, Pfieffer requests a group interview after the trial is over:

"It has been a long summer in the courtroom and I know you all have gotten to know your fellow jurors very well throughout the Peterson trial. I would like to offer an opportunity for all of you to come together again after you've decided your verdict.

"While you've been listening to evidence and watching the courtroom closely, I've been doing the same thing, but I've also been watching you and wondering what you're thinking -- from laughing at Dr. Lee's ketchup experiment to taking notes during complicated computer testimony -- it's been like reading tea leaves to sort out your thoughts. I'm hoping you might be willing to share some of those thoughts with me now that the evidence is behind us.

"WTVD is planning a juror dinner on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at our studio in Durham. The address is 411 Liberty Street, 27701. We won't take up your entire evening -- and it won't be a rigidly structured event. I want you all to be able to talk with each other as well as talk to me about getting through what all of us reporters have called Camp Peterson."

WTVD News Director Rob Elmore supported Pfeiffer's contention that the letter was sent by mistake. He said the station did plan to invite the jury to dinner at a later date, but said the invitations were not supposed to be mailed until the trial was over.

"WTVD reporter Sonya Pfeiffer, with my approval, wrote letters to the jurors in the Peterson trial," Elmore said in a statement released by the station. "It was our intention to mail the letters after the verdict was reached, not while they were deliberating.

"Unfortunately, the letters were mailed prematurely. We apologize to the court, the parties and the jurors for any inconvenience the incident may have caused."

The letter had lawyers wondering what to do. District attorney Jim Hardin was concerned about its effect on jurors, but defense attorney David Rudolf accused Hardin of trying to use the situation to declare a mistrial.

Hudson then decided to simply caution jurors about the letter. He told jurors to disregard the letter and not to let it influence them in their deliberations.

Plus, jurors asked to see transcripts of testimony

by State Chief Medical Examiner Dr. John Butts and biomechanisms expert Dr. James McElhaney. Hudson denied their request, saying it would take too much time.

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