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Judge Sets Date in Michael Peterson Civil Trial

Posted January 11, 2007

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— A Durham judge Thursday set June 25 as the trial date in a wrongful death lawsuit against Durham novelist Michael Peterson.

Peterson was convicted in October 2003 of killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home in December 2001.

Caitlin Atwater, Peterson's stepdaughter, filed a civil lawsuit against him in October 2002, but the trial has been delayed because of Peterson's criminal appeal and a bankruptcy filing.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who presided over the criminal case in 2003, will handle the civil lawsuit. He also ruled Thursday that Atwater's attorney, Jay Trehy, can depose the convicted killer within the next few weeks.

It would be the first time Peterson's responses to such questions would be on record during a court proceeding. He never testified at his criminal trial and has maintained that his wife died because of a fall down the stairs.

Hudson ruled in 2004 that, based on the criminal conviction, Peterson was financially liable for Kathleen Peterson's death. Jurors in the civil trial would have to determine only how much money Atwater should receive, if any.

Trehy acknowledged that Peterson probably wouldn't be able to pay Atwater, but said that a civil judgment would show that Kathleen Peterson's life had value.

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  • seankelly15 Jan 12, 2007

    Why is it an act of vengeance? Peterson killed his wife and then pocketed the proceeds of her estate. His civil attorney has done everything he could to keep this suit from moving forward. One of the claims was that Peterson was bankrupt and therefore any judgment would be largely symbolic. No, Caitlin’s attorney has argued, Kathleen’s life had value and so the suit should proceed. But, back to my original question; why is it an act of vengeance?

    Hudson sentenced Peterson on the basis of the jury’s verdict; not because of a prejudice by Hudson regarding Peterson’s guilt or innocence

  • Lovinlif Jan 12, 2007

    Why would somebody need a judge to prove that a life has value? It sounds more like an act of vengence twisted into an moral mask. And speaking of the judge, why is the same judge that sentenced Peterson now presiding over his civil case? Isn't that allowing for some prejudice?

    Make no mistake, I think the guy should be penalized in every manner possible for what he did. I'm simply curious about the moral and ethical justifications involved.