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Judge Awards $35M in Peterson Wrongful Death Suit

Posted January 31, 2008

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— A judge on Thursday accepted a $25 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit against Durham novelist Michael Peterson, nearly a year after he and his step-daughter reached the agreement.

The consent judgment, signed by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, is for $25 million in compensatory damages. Hudson also awarded nearly $1,500 in court costs and another $10,500,000 in interest, bringing the total judgment to $35,501,486.80.

Interest continues to accumulate at a rate of $166,666.67 per month.

Peterson, 64, was convicted in October 2003 of first-degree murder in the 2001 death of his wife, Kathleen Atwater Peterson. Emergency workers found her dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham home.

Peterson's stepdaughter, Caitlin Atwater, filed the lawsuit against him in October 2002 with the intent that he would never be able to profit from the crime. The interest that Hudson awarded covers the 62 months from then through December.

On Feb. 1, 2007, they reached the settlement in which Atwater agreed to stay her lawsuit until Peterson's criminal appeals were exhausted. The settlement also states that Peterson admits no guilt or liability in the death of his wife.

The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld Peterson's conviction on Nov. 9, exhausting his direct criminal appeals.

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.


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