Durham, N.C. — Almost a year after Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate Mike Peterson was granted a new trial, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office is arguing that his murder conviction should be reinstated.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled last Dec. 14 that a key prosecution witness in Peterson's 2003 murder trial gave false and misleading testimony, which deprived him of his right to a fair trial.
After eight years in prison, Peterson has spent the last year under house arrest in Durham, awaiting a retrial on charges that he killed his wife. Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale Durham home on Dec. 9, 2001.
Prosecutors were never able to establish a clear motive and didn't find a murder weapon, and Mike Peterson has long denied any involvement in her death.
The Attorney General's Office has appealed Hudson's decision, and Special Deputy Attorney General Robert Montgomery filed a brief last week outlining the state's argument that the judge was wrong to throw out Peterson's conviction.
Hudson ruled that former State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst Duane Deaver misled jurors about his expertise and used questionable tests on evidence found in the Peterson home.
Deaver, who was fired by the SBI almost two years ago amid an independent review of suspect practices at the state crime lab, was a key prosecution witness in Peterson's trial.
In his 89-page brief, Montgomery said there was plenty of other evidence presented during the trial – four medical examiners said Kathleen Peterson was beaten to death and didn't die as a result of a fall – and jurors would have reached the same verdict without Deaver's testimony.
He also argued that Hudson wouldn't allow prosecutors to question witnesses during a week-long hearing last year about their opinions of Deaver's testimony or present their own experts, who would have backed up his findings.
Montgomery also filed a writ of certiorari in case the North Carolina Court of Appeals determines the state has no grounds to appeal Hudson's ruling. The writ, which some legal experts compared to a Hail Mary pass, calls upon the court to review the case and Hudson's actions on its own, noting that a reversal would preclude the time and expense of a new trial.
Jim Cooney, Peterson's attorney, said he would file a response to the state's arguments by early March.
If the appeal is denied, Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback would have to decide whether to retry Peterson, dismiss the case or try to reach a plea agreement.