Local News

Year After Verdict, Life Goes On For People In Mike Peterson Trial

Posted October 8, 2004

— One year after Mike Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen, life has changed for many people involved with the case.

At 1810 Cedar St. in Durham, there are signs of starting over. New owners want to put the past in its place. What happened between Mike and Kathleen Peterson in the back stairwell will one day be just a memory. For some, that day is a long way off.

"Not a single day passes when I don't think about it," said Kerry Sutton, a family friend of the Petersons.

Sutton spent nearly every day in the courtroom during Mike Peterson's murder trial. Since then, she has visited him frequently at Nash Correctional Institution.

"I saw him last week. He is doing well. He writes letters. He gets lots of letters from friends and family and strangers," Sutton said.

Peterson is now inmate No. 0816932. With no infractions and a good attitude, prison officials consider him a model inmate. Sutton said Peterson thinks he has a strong case for appeal.

"He believes strongly that justice will be done," she said.

After being co-counsel in last year's trial, Tom Maher is now Peterson's sole attorney.

"We always believed and still believe the right outcome would have been a not guilty verdict," he said.

Once the trial transcripts are complete, Maher will file an appeal, possibly by the end of the year. He will attack the Elizabeth Ratliff evidence. Ratliff died in Germany 20 years ago. Prosecutors claimed her death was similiar to that of Kathleen Peterson's.

Maher believes the Ratliff case had no bearing on the death of Kathleen Peterson. He plans to challenge the Durham Police Department's right to search parts of the Peterson mansion and take his computer.

Maher said there are other issues that should not have been admitted at trial.

"Evidence, I guess you would call it lifestyle issues -- Michael's e-mail contact and phone contact with other men, whether that was relevant," Maher said. "I think there was issue about the way some of the search was conducted, whether his computer should've been seized."

"At the district attorney's office, the Mike Peterson files cover an entire wall inside a special vault. They will remain there until the case is fully solved.

"The Attorney General's Office will take over the case and will represent the state's interest," Hardin said.

Hardin will not speculate on the appeal, but he feels his office presented a solid case.

"Obviously, we got the outcome we'd hoped for," he said.

Hardin has spent the last year catching up on cases put on hold during the Peterson trial.

"I think we're back at pre-Peterson levels of disposition," he said.

Others who spent months in the courtroom have moved on as well. One of Mike Peterson's sons, Clayton, has married, while the other son, Todd, is living out west. The two sisters Peterson raised, Margaret and Martha Ratliff, are back in college.

"They're getting on with their lives. They don't let this hold them back, but won't, for a second, forget what's going on," Sutton said.

Caitlin Atwater, Kathleen Peterson's daughter, is also back at school, hoping to become a lawyer. Jay Trehy, Atwater's attorney, said the 22-year-old uses her mother's memory for inspiration.

"Those same goals her mother had for her, Caitlin now hopes to fulfill," he said.

There is the possibility Peterson could face more murder charges. German authorities reopened the Elizabeth Ratliff case last year and are still investigating her death as suspicious.

As for David Rudolf, Peterson's high-profile attorney, he is still practicing law, but the bulk of his work is now in Charlotte. He and Maher dissolved their partnership shortly after the Peterson trial finished.

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