Local News

Michael Peterson Had A Fair Trial, State Says

Posted January 17, 2006
Updated December 10, 2006

— Michael Peterson had a fair trial that was free of prejudicial error, the state attorney general's office said in its 100-page response to the Durham novelist's appeal for a new trial.

Filed Tuesday, after two motions to extend the deadline for its response, the attorney general's office argues that Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson did not err in allowing certain evidence into Peterson's trial.

Peterson, a former candidate for Durham mayor, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003, in connection with the death of his wife, Kathleen. Emergency workers found Kathleen Peterson dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham mansion on Dec. 9, 2001.

In October, his lawyer, Tom Maher, filed a 96-page appeal, saying jurors never should have heard evidence about Peterson's finances, his sexuality or the 1985 death of Elizabeth Ratliff, whose body was found at the bottom of a staircase in her Germany home.

But the attorney general's office said in its response that evidence offered possible motives for Peterson to kill his wife.

The response states Peterson's alleged interest in homosexual pornography and solicitation of a male prostitute was admissible to rebut the defense's claim that Peterson had no motive to kill his wife "because their marriage was an idyllic pairing of soul mates."

Evidence relating to the Petersons' finances offered another possible motive, the state argues. Financial records showed the Petersons were in debt; that Kathleen Peterson, who was the sole income earner, was in jeopardy of losing her job at Nortel Networks; and that Michael Peterson was the beneficiary on her life insurance policy.

As far as Ratliff's death, the state argues her death, no matter what the cause was, may have been used a model for Kathleen Peterson's death and that "a reasonable connection between the two deaths existed regardless of whether defendant killed Liz."

Ratliff's death was ruled to be a result of natural causes, but when her body was exhumed in 2003, the state medical examiner's officer ruled it a homicide. Peterson, according to the prosecution and witnesses, was the last person seen with Ratliff before her death.

The state's response was initially due Dec. 14, but the state attorney general's office requested more time to respond to the appeal because of the complexity of the case.

The state Court of Appeals is expected to decide this spring if it wants to hear oral arguments in the Peterson case, then it could make a ruling in the summer.

Peterson is currently serving a life sentence at Nash Correctional Institution. The one-time millionaire now makes $1 a day teaching GED classes to other inmates.
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