Local News

Peterson Jurors Discuss Trial, Evidence & Verdict

Posted October 15, 2003

— Jurors who convicted Durham novelist Mike Peterson of first-degree murder in the death of his wife said Tuesday that they decided right away that the victim died from a homicidal attack, not an accidental fall.

The jurors held a group news conference to explain their verdict, which resulted in a life sentence Friday for Peterson.

Jurors said when they first started their deliberations -- five were undecided, four believed Peterson was guilty and three believed he was not guilty.

"Something happened, and it was not from a fall," juror Paul Harrison said.

He added later that when the jurors began debating the five elements of first-degree murder, they immediately agreed that Kathleen Peterson was attacked and did not die from a fall down the staircase in the couple's home.

"The other four elements were the ones we had to fight over, debate," he said.

And Kellie Colgan said she was dubious of the expert testimony of Henry Lee when he said there was too much blood on the staircase for a beating to have occurred there.

"I don't have his experience, per se, but I can't imagine that a fall would cause that much blood," she said.

Jurors said the trial was emotional at times.

"At one time or another, every juror here shed a tear," Harrison said.

"I think the thing that will stick with me the most is, I guess, the devastation of the Peterson family after the verdict," juror Shirley Farrell said.

The jurors handed down the guilty verdict Friday, ending the 13 1/2-week trial that had everything from the testimony of a male escort to charges of academic dishonesty lobbied against a prosecution witness.

Peterson received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Kathleen Peterson died Dec. 9, 2001. Her body was found at the foot of a back staircase in the couple's expensive home in Durham.

Peterson maintained she must have fallen after an evening of drinking in celebration of a movie deal for one of his books. Prosecutors suggested he beat her to death hoping to collect her life insurance payout to remedy a tight financial situation.

Defense lawyer David Rudolf immediately filed notice of appeal.

During the trial, prosecutors introduced evidence of Peterson's bisexuality and attempts to hire a male prostitute. They uncovered credit card debt of $143,000 and said Peterson was worried that his wife's job was in jeopardy, while her life was insured for $1.4 million.

Jurors discussed their bonding as they sat together for the trial. They said they will probably remember the trial for the rest of their lives. Jurors also said they said it would not have made a difference in their decision if Peterson had decided to testify.

Jurors said Tuesday, however, that they paid no attention to the testimony about Peterson's bisexuality.


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