Local News

Stepdaughter Asks Court To Lift Michael Peterson's Bankruptcy Stay

Posted June 28, 2006 2:39 a.m. EDT

— Convicted killer Michael Peterson filed bankruptcy just to avoid a civil trial, an attorney for Peterson's stepdaughter claims, and the trial should go forward.

In court documents filed Tuesday on behalf of Caitlin Atwater, attorney Jay Trehy asks the court to have Peterson's stay lifted, saying Peterson's "bad faith filing of his bankruptcy petition accomplishes no legitimate, financial purpose" and that he did it only to avoid his court-allowed deposition and the wrongful death trial.

Peterson was convicted in 2003 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife -- Atwater's mother -- Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham mansion in December 2001.

Filed just three days before the civil suit was to go to trial, the bankruptcy filing listed Peterson's assets of $1,035 and liabilities of just under $520,000.

Peterson made his bankruptcy claim in bad faith, which clears the way for a judge to force the case to trial, Trehy wrote. He said the federal lawsuit has symbolic importance and would prevent Peterson, a novelist and former newspaper columnist, from earning money from any writing he does from prison.

"I would have been surprised if he (Trehy) didn't file it," said Peterson's civil attorney Kerry Sutton. "I think he's going through a lot of effort for not a lot of benefit for his client, but that's certainly his prerogative."

That move put the civil court proceedings on hold indefinitely.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals is currently considering the criminal case against Peterson for an appeal.