Local News

Peterson, Stepdaughter Reach $25M Agreement in Wrongful Death Suit

Posted February 1, 2007
Updated April 4, 2007

— Former Durham mayoral candidate Michael Peterson and his stepdaughter have agreed to a $25 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Peterson, 63, was convicted in October 2003 of first-degree murder in the 2001 beating death of Atwater's mother, Nortel Networks executive Kathleen Peterson.

Caitlin Atwater first brought the civil suit against her stepfather in October 2002 with the intent that Peterson would never be able to profit from the crime.

"With this settlement, I believe that Michael Peterson is agreeing to an offer great enough to begin to speak to the value of my mother's life and the loss I must continue to deal with," Atwater said Thursday. "By entering into this agreement, I can only hope I'll be able to put some of this behind me."

Atwater, 24, is finishing school at Cornell University this semester.

Jay Trehy, an attorney representing Atwater, has said that Peterson probably won't be able to pay but that a civil judgment would show that Kathleen Peterson's life had value.

"We believe the $25 million is an absolutely appropriate - if not conservative - figure," Trehy said.

"It's just stopping for a minute to appreciate the value of my mother's life and about the relationships she had is what's most important," Atwater said.

Michael Peterson filed for bankruptcy protection last year. The once-wealthy Durham novelist is the author of "A Time of War" and "A Bitter Peace."

"It didn't really matter what number a jury would give. Mr. Peterson doesn't have money," his attorney, Kerry Sutton said. "He specifically told me that he hopes this gives Caitlin some peace to close this legal chapter of her life."

Peterson is now serving a life sentence for his wife's death. He has maintained that she must have been fatally injured in an accidental fall down a flight of stairs at their home in December 2001.

In the settlement, Atwater agrees to stay her lawsuit until Peterson's criminal appeals are exhausted. If he is ever exonerated, she would be allowed under the agreement to reinstate the suit.

The settlement also states that Peterson admits no guilt or liability in the death of his wife.

Peterson has appealed his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • talkinturkey Feb 2, 2007

    You are all missing the point. There is no agreement that Caitlin Atwater will ever get any money, even if there is some; the report as presented here is inaccurate. In the event that Michael Peterson eventually is convicted and has no futher trials or appeals, then she will become entitled to whatever money he may earn from whatever source. If he is eventually acquitted then there is no agreement that she will get anything and she only gets something if she previals at a trial or a subsequent settlement is reached. You can click through the story at the "$25 million settlement" link and read the document yourself.

  • randy913 Feb 2, 2007

    Donna has a point to a certain extent. If he makes any money in the future then Ms. Atwater will receive it. Whether the money is from a book or movie deal about something far away from this case. So she will be profiting. This man is an author and with this case he has been thrown into the spot light and that may get him published about somthing else and she will get the money. I did not see any thing that limited her settlement with just money from a book or movie deal about this case, did any of you?

  • pillarposting Feb 2, 2007

    Good for Caitlin! What a leech (and worse) that man was.

  • randy913 Feb 2, 2007

    Donna kinda has a point. What is to stop the woman from getting her money regardless of how he makes it. Does the lawsuit say that if he profits from this by a book or movie deal then she gets the money, but if he writes a book about something else entirely then he kkeps that money? He is an author and can make his money someother way without using this story. I don't see any thing that suggest that if he makes money some other way then she won't get that. Maybe Donna should have worded her comment clearer.

  • methinks Feb 2, 2007

    did not see where the $ would only come from a book or movie deal about this story. He could make money from another source and she would still profit

  • talkinturkey Feb 2, 2007

    The story incorrectly reflects the settlement. If you read the document itself (click on the link), the settlement has three parts: (1) nothing happens now; (2) if Peterson is ultimately convicted after exhausting all appeals at all levels, including any retrials, then a document called a "confession of judgment" will be entered into the court records allowing for a judgment against him for $25m; and (3)if he is not convited then there is no decision and the case will begin again.

    Also, as of right now there really are no taxpayer dollars involved to have been wasted as the attorneys are both private. There have been a couple of hearings before a judge but there has been no great waste--at least not yet.

  • methinks Feb 2, 2007

    I did read the article. There is no indication that the only way she is to receive this money is if he made it from a book or movie deal. He could make money some other way and she will still profit from her mother's death. He is an author.

  • methinks Feb 2, 2007

    The lawsuit does not say that the only $ you will receive is if he writes a book or movie. It says that he has to pay $25M period. What if he writes a book about something other than this case and his family. I did not see any indication that the $ would only come from a book or movie deal about this. So she may profit from this if he makes money any other away.

  • spiritwarriorwoman Feb 2, 2007

    Personally, I have little patience with people who don't read an entire article, or perhaps don't understand what they have read, and then submit an inane post to the forums stating the opposite of what was revealed in the story.
    Praying for those who do so.
    God bless.
    Rev. RB

  • GIGATT Feb 2, 2007

    The only ones who have profited from this tragedy are the lawyers:-( I totally understand her wanting to keep him from profiting from her mother's death.