Local News

Attorney For Convicted Murderer Michael Peterson Seeks Appeal

Posted August 2, 2005
Updated December 10, 2006

— The attorney for a Durham novelist and former mayoral candidate, who was convicted in 2003 for the first-degree murder of his wife, is now laying out his client's case for the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Defense attorney Tom Maher has spent the last two years picking apart the trial, the hearings and the investigation into the slaying of Kathleen Peterson. After five days of deliberations, a jury convicted her husband, Michael Peterson, for the crime.

"I was never convinced he was guilty of what he was convicted of," Maher said.

Prosecutors who tried the case told WRAL that Peterson got a fair trial and do not believe there are grounds for an appeal.

In a 300-page court document, however, Maher outlines 24 possible points on which he may appeal. There are issues about whether some of the closing arguments made by the prosecution "crossed the line."

"There's issues about introducing the financial motive, which in our view was just speculation," Maher said.

A major mistake, according to Maher, was that during the trial prosecutors introduced the death of Elizabeth Ratliff -- a family friend who died in Germany nearly 20 years earlier -- and argued that Peterson may have been involved in it. The prosecution argued that jurors needed to hear about Ratliff because it showed a pattern.

Maher disagrees.

"We believe there was no real evidence that he had anything to do with Ms. Ratliff's death," he said.

Maher also believes prosecutors prejudiced jurors and poisoned their minds by telling them about Peterson's sex life.

"Bisexuality is an issue that some jurors have a visceral reaction to and, as a result, see Mr. Peterson in a different light," Maher said.

He points to police searches of the Peterson mansion he calls unconstitutional.

"It appeared to be nothing but a fishing expedition."

While Maher moves onto the next step of the appeal, Peterson is serving a life sentence at Nash Correctional, where he teaches GED classes for $1 a day.

It could be next spring before Peterson finds out if the guilty verdict is overturned.
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