Local News

Peterson Trial To Start With Jury Selection On Monday

Posted May 1, 2003 4:18 a.m. EDT
Updated December 9, 2006 9:56 p.m. EST

— David Rudolf, Mike Peterson's defense attorney, said Thursday that he would not seek a delay to the start of Peterson's murder trial. But he added that he may still ask for a continuance later if a prosecutor tries to use evidence of a 1985 murder in the trial.

"Mr. Peterson feels very strongly that he wants the trial to proceed," Rudolf said at a hearing. "He wants his day in court."

District Attorney Jim Hardin said he would be concerned about any potential delay after the trial had started. Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said he would handle the issue if it came up.

The trial is scheduled to start Monday with jury selection. Peterson is accused of killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in December 2001 after her body was found at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home.

Rudolf first said Wednesday that he might need a delay when Hardin refused to disclose whether he would use the autopsy of Elizabeth Ratliff, a female friend of Peterson's, during the trial.

If Hardin uses the autopsy, Rudolf said he would ask for a delay to travel to Germany, where Ratliff was found dead the morning after she had dinner with Peterson and his first wife, Patricia.

Ratliff was found at the bottom of a staircase, just as Kathleen Peterson was, and had injuries that were similar to Kathleen Peterson's, but Rudolf does not want jurors to hear about the similarities, but he said Thursday he is willing to deal with it should it come up.

On Thursday, prosecutors said there are things they do not want jurors to hear either. They want to keep out the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Kathleen's only daughter, Caitlin Atwater.

"We believe it may be irrelevant and prejudicial and look like she has something to gain from the outcome of this trial," assistant district attorney Freda Black said.

Prosecutors also do not want jurors to hear the latest on one of the officers who arrived at the Peterson house the night Kathleen died. Officer James McVeigh was put on administrative leave in the past year and now is off the force. The police department and the district attorney's office will not go into detail.

Rudolf said he already has visited Germany to investigate, and officials said the death was an accident.

An initial investigation by German and military investigators showed Ratliff died from a stroke. The recent autopsy, conducted in Chapel Hill after Ratliff's body was exhumed from a grave in Texas, showed that Ratliff was murdered.

Hardin said the Ratliff autopsy was a critical part of his case, and the law allows him to decide when and how to introduce evidence.

Hudson refused to grant a defense request to determine before the trial as to whether the Ratliff autopsy could be used against Peterson.

Rudolf said he was at a disadvantage unless the prosecutor is barred from using the Ratliff evidence. He said he will have to ask prospective jurors about it and refer to it in opening statements.

Then, Rudolf said, if the prosecution does not introduce the autopsy into evidence, Peterson's case could be harmed by those early remarks.

Rudolf also had filed a motion asking that evidence about Peterson's sexual orientation be barred from the trial. During the hearing, the prosecutor said police found gay pornography and Rudolf cut the matter short by saying he would object if Hardin tried to use that evidence during the trial.

Outside the courtroom, Rudolf said his client had been writing a novel about gays in the military. Questions about Peterson's sexual orientation aren't relevant, he said.

In an interesting coincidence, Margaret Ratliff -- one of Elizabeth Ratliff's daughters-- was summoned for jury duty. Obviously, she's been dismissed from showing up Monday.