Local News

Attorney general says Mike Peterson shouldn't get new trial

Posted February 27, 2009 12:17 p.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2009 4:50 p.m. EST

— In court documents filed Friday, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office says convicted killer Mike Peterson should not get another day in court, despite a judge's decision last year to hold a hearing on whether prosecutors withheld evidence in his murder trial.

Peterson, 65, is serving a life sentence for the Dec. 9, 2001, death of his wife, Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home.

He has maintained she died in an accidental fall.

State prosecutors stepped in after Richmond, Va., attorney Jason Anthony filed a motion on Peterson's behalf in November alleging prosecutors withheld evidence about a tire iron found in the area, impairing defense attorneys’ efforts to argue that an intruder had killed Kathleen Peterson.

Investigators never found a murder weapon, and prosecutors argued during trial that Peterson killed his wife with an instrument similar to a fireplace blow poke.

"The tire iron is irrelevant," Attorney General Roy Cooper's office said in response to Anthony's motion. "No substantial evidence suggests that it could have been the murder weapon."

Peterson's defense could have presented the “unknown intruder” defense without the tire iron, the state said.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who presided over the trial in 2003, agreed to hear evidence from Anthony, but has not set a court date.

Hudson said Friday afternoon he was aware of the attorney general's response to the motion but had not had a chance to review it.

Anthony said Friday that he maintains evidence was intentionally withheld.

"I would find it very difficult to believe that any written document could change the fact that this item (tire iron) was tested by the prosecutor while the blow poke was not," Anthony said Friday.

The attorney general denies prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence and charges that Peterson wants to try another theory because his first one did not work.

"The charge is no more than wishful thinking, wishful thinking influenced by the jury's seeing thorough the accident defense," according to Friday's filing. "The claim now that an unknown intruder was a better defense or a supplementary one to accident is self-serving and pretentious."

The document goes on to say that Peterson's attorneys are trying to play on emotions in the wake of the Duke lacrosse case in which former District Attorney Mike Nifong sought to prosecute three athletes on false charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Nifong resigned from office and was dismissed for the way he handled the case, which partly included withholding evidence that would have benefited the defendants.

The state says Anthony "hopes to prevail in this cause through rhetoric (rather) than through facts" by associating Nifong with the Peterson case.

"He (Nifong) was not part of prosecution in this case." The response says. "He had no involvement in the case except occasionally to participate in a group discussion about some particular matter associated with the case."

Peterson has exhausted all appeals in his case. In November 2007, the North Carolina Supreme Court rejected his request for a new trial.

Other attorneys, including Anthony, have since introduced new arguments in calls to reopen the case.

In August, former Durham District Attorney David Saacks turned down a request in which local attorney Larry Pollard cited a microscopic feather found on Kathleen Peterson that supports a long-standing theory that an owl could have attacked her.

Supporting his theory of an intruder, Anthony has said that a man living a few block from the Petersons' Cedar Street mansion found a tire iron in his yard and that authorities failed to share the information with Peterson's attorneys.

Saacks has said the tire iron wasn't connected to the case and that rules of discovery in effect at the time of the trial didn't require prosecutors to turn over the information to the defense.

Defense attorneys learned of the tire iron last year when Saacks gave them access to the state's files in the case.