Local News

Peterson to get new trial in wife's death

Posted December 14, 2011 1:09 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2011 6:47 p.m. EST

— A judge ruled Wednesday that Durham novelist and one-time mayoral candidate Mike Peterson should get a new trial in his wife's death a decade ago.

Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 9, 2001, beating death of 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.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson set a $300,000 secured bond for Peterson and ordered him to remain at a friend's house under electronic monitoring until his new trial. He is expected to be released Thursday or Friday.

Lori Campbell, Kathleen Peterson's sister, pointed out that Mike Peterson also was found liable for her death in a civil case and asked that he not be granted bond.

"I would request that he stay in jail until 12 new jurors say he is not guilty," Campbell said.

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline immediately appealed Hudson's ruling, but she declined to comment further.

Clayton Peterson said he went numb when he heard his father would get another trial.

"I know my father ... didn’t kill Kathleen. I love Kathleen more than anything, but he didn’t do it. He told me, and I know it and I believe it with my heart,” Clayton Peterson said.

Defense attorney David Rudolf said prosecutors will be handicapped at a second trial because all of the evidence connected to former State Bureau of Investigation analyst Duane Deaver has been tainted.

Mike Peterson's case for a new trial was based on the argument that Deaver provided false and misleading testimony about blood evidence found in the home during the 2003 trial.

"Nothing that happened at the scene once he got there can be trusted, and that severely limits what kind of evidence any blood stain pattern analyst by either side can say at the next trial,” Rudolf said. "It’s going to be a very, very different trial because of that.”

He also called for a special investigator to review all of Deaver's cases with the SBI, noting that his work also helped convict Greg Taylor, who was cleared last year of a 1991 Raleigh homicide after spending 17 years in prison.

"If there is nothing there, there is nothing there, and we can all rest easy,” he said. "But if there is something there and if there are other people serving sentences who shouldn’t be serving sentences, then all of us should be concerned about that situation.”

Rudolf attacked Deaver's credibility during the week-long hearing. An SBI official said Deaver was known to be biased in favor of prosecutors, and blood evidence experts said the tests he conducted in the Peterson case were flawed.

"Frankly, there is no way to sugar coat it. Agent Deaver lied to this court and our jury – not once or twice but repeatedly and purposefully," Rudolf argued to Hudson on Tuesday. "You have a right not to be tried with fabricated evidence, and that’s what happened in this case."

Rudolf said he doubted that Hudson, who presided over the three-month trial in 2003, would have qualified Deaver as an expert in blood evidence, allowing him to offer opinions, if he knew that Deaver had exaggerated his experience and conducted experiments that didn't meet standards in the field.

An independent review of the SBI crime lab last year found that blood evidence was misstated or falsely reported in about 200 criminal cases between 1987 and 2003. Some of the most egregious cases cited in the review were linked to Deaver, whom the SBI fired in January.

Some of the findings in the review were key to Peterson's case for a new trial, Rudolf said.

"It never dawned on me (Deaver) would be making stuff up," he said.

Cline argued that no new evidence of Peterson's innocence was presented, so he doesn't deserve a new trial.

A medical examiner testified in 2003 that Kathleen Peterson was killed and didn't die in an accidental fall down a staircase, she said. Questions about Deaver's background and methods wouldn't have changed the jury's mind, she said.

"It does not take a rocket science to look at Kathleen Peterson – the back of her head – and say that that wasn't an accident," Cline said.

Hudson, who has been embroiled in a feud with Cline over his rulings in other cases in recent months, said he might ask the state Administrative Office of the Courts to assign another judge to handle Peterson's retrial.

Rudolf said he hasn't decided whether to represent Peterson in the new trial.