Local News

Michael Peterson Appeal Likely To Be As Complex As Murder Case

Posted September 11, 2005

— The murder trial for novelist Michael Peterson set a local record in Durham County for length and now his appeal looks to be equally as long.

Already, Peterson's defense lawyer has gotten an extension from Monday to Oct. 10 for filing with the state Court of Appeals. And the court has allowed Peterson and the state to file a 70-page brief instead of the normal 35 pages.

In addition to the complexity of the case, the appeal process has been slower than usually because it took court reporters 16 months to complete a 77-volume trial transcript.

Lawyer Keri Sutton, a friend of Peterson, said the case "just could not be handled in 35 pages. It's much too detailed. If it had been a typical one or two-week trial, you could do the appeal with fewer pages and less time."

A Durham County Superior Court jury convicted Peterson in October 2003 of first-degree murder. He was charged with the December 2001 death of his wife, Kathleen, at their home.

Peterson contended that his wife fell down a narrow stairway and was fatally injured. Prosecutors argued he beat her to death with a fireplace tool.

Defense lawyer Thomas Maher has said that two problems with Peterson's case will be focused on in the appeal. One was a judge's ruling to allow evidence of Peterson's sex life and the other was a ruling allowing evidence of the death of a female friend of Peterson's in Germany.

In the German case, the court allowed evidence on the death and subsequent exhumation of Elizabeth Ratliff. Her body was found at the bottom of a stairway 20 years ago in Germany and she last was seen with Peterson. He wasn't charged in that death, which doctors thought was caused by a stroke. State medical examiners said she was murdered.

Peterson's sex life was part of the trial, Maher said, and shouldn't have been allowed in evidence. A gay escort testified that Peterson contacted him.

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