Judge rules that SBI agent's bias violated Peterson's rights
Posted May 9, 2012
Durham, N.C. — A former state blood analyst misled the judge and jury in a 2003 murder trial because of his bias toward helping prosecutors win convictions, the judge ruled Wednesday in his written order granting Mike Peterson a new trial in his wife's death more than a decade ago.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson granted Peterson, a Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate, a new trial in December after a week-long hearing. Wednesday's order spells out Hudson's findings and legal conclusions from the hearing.
Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, beating death of his wife. Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale Durham home.
In seeking a new trial, he argued that former State Bureau of Investigation analyst Duane Deaver provided false and misleading testimony about blood evidence found in the home during the 2003 trial.
Deaver concluded within 90 minutes – and before conducting any tests – that Kathleen Peterson had been murdered and didn't die in an accidental fall down the stairs, as her husband claimed, according to Hudson's ruling. The prosecution's case depended heavily on Deaver's conclusions – the judge noted that one-sixth of the 6,000-page trial transcript is dedicated to Deaver's testimony.
Hudson, who presided over Peterson's initial trial, wrote in his 39-page ruling that Deaver misled him and jurors about his expertise and the accuracy of his blood-spatter tests. Had he known that Deaver had exaggerated his qualifications and that other blood analysts questioned Deaver's tests, the judge wrote, he never would have allowed Deaver to testify as an expert witness.
"Deaver's testimony had a material impact on the deliberations and verdict of the jury," Hudson wrote. "Deaver's misrepresentations as to the scientific basis and acceptability of his opinions, methods and experiments had a substantial and injurious effect on the outcome of Mr. Peterson's trial."
Prosecutors were obliged to notify Peterson's lawyers of Deaver's bias and scientific questions about his test methods before the 2003 trial, Hudson ruled, and failure to do so amounts to violating Peterson's right to a fair trial.
"We just totally disagree with this," Deaver's attorney, Philip Isley, said of Hudson's written order.
The SBI fired Deaver in January 2011 after an independent review of the state crime lab linked him to some of about 200 cases between 1987 and 2003 where blood evidence was misstated or falsely reported.
The SBI declined to comment on the ruling, which the state has appealed.
Peterson is under electronic monitoring at a friend's home in Durham awaiting his retrial.