Local News

Prosecutors Focus On Money In Mike Peterson Trial

Posted July 7, 2003

— One of Kathleen Peterson's co-workers from Nortel Networks took the stand Thursday in the Mike Peterson murder trial to discuss the company's profit-sharing plans.

Katherin Kaiser, who works in the Human Resources department, testified that Mike Peterson was the beneficiary of his wife's insurance policy with Nortel. She testified that he received almost $347,000 from Kathleen Peterson's benefits, such as a pension and 401K plan. The life insurance policy was for $1.4 million.

The prosecution contends debt threatened Mike Peterson's comfortable lifestyle, prompting him to kill his wife, Kathleen, so he could collect on her life insurance.

Defense attorney Tom Maher questioned Kaiser, arguing that Kathleen Peterson did not have to die for the Petersons' financial health.

"On Dec. 7 of 2001, her salary was $145,000 a year," Maher said.

"That is correct," Kaiser said.

"And if she had not died that weekend, she could have came in on Dec. 9 and continued to earn that salary?" Maher said.

"Yes," Kaiser replied.

Thursday morning, testimony focused on blood at Peterson's house the night of Kathleen Peterson's death. Durham firefighter Jayson Crank told jurors what he saw when he arrived at the Peterson home in December 2001.

Defense attorney David Rudolf asked Crank if a pair of sandals Rudolf showed him was the same pair that Kathleen Peterson wore the night she died. During Rudolf's cross-examination of Crank, a picture of a blood-cover Kathleen Peterson sprawled at the bottom of the stairs in her home was shown on a big projection screen on a wall across from the jury.

The picture was shown on the screen for about five minutes, bringing Peterson's daughter, Caitlin Atwater, to tears in the most emotional moment of the trial's first week.

Mike Peterson looked at the picture for a few minutes and then quickly looked away. Todd Peterson, Mike's son, sat with his head hung low.

"We don't like looking at those pictures like it is a nobody in there," Mark Zamperini, Kathleen Peterson's brother-in-law, said afterwards. "It is a family member who is very close to us."

The jurors seemed keenly aware of the tension and emotion in the courtroom during Crank's testimony. Several of them cast their eyes down and didn't look at the picture.

WRAL reporter Julia Lewis said that some of the jurors went across the street to a church during their lunch break and stayed there for "quite a bit of time" before heading back to the courthouse.

When asked by District Attorney Jim Hardin about what looked odd at Peterson's house the night of Kathleen's death, Crank replied by saying: "The blood everywhere, the amount of blood that was around."

Hardin attempted to establish that Kathleen Peterson may have been dead for a long time before Mike Peterson called 911.

Rudolf wasted little time, questioning Crank's testimony. He also questioned whether he showed the police officer about where the blood was.

"I don't remember showing him," Crank replied.

Rudolf mentioned the onlookers -- a woman and a couple -- who entered the house.

"Do you have any training in contaimination of scenes?" Rudolf asked.

"Yes, I do," Crank said.

"So, you knew that was not proper, right?" Rudolf said.

"Yes," Crank said.

Rudolf questioned Crank about what was in his written report and what was left out.

"If you touched the door right where the blood was and didn't see any, that was an important detail, wasn't it?" Rudolf asked.

"Yes, it was," Crank replied.

"So, why didn't you put that in there?" Rudolf asked.

"I just didn't elaborate," Crank said. "It was my first time doing anything like this."

The defense contends Kathleen Peterson fell down the stairs, split her head on a corner and bled to death. Mike Peterson faces life in prison if convicted.

Kathleen Peterson's mother, Veronica Hunt, had to be hospitalized Thursday for pneumonia.

Testimony resumes Monday at 11 a.m. Another worker at Nortel Networks is expected to testify, as well as an SBI investigator who deals with financial records.

and

Scott Mason

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