Local News

Judge Denies Defense Motion For Mistrial In Mike Peterson Trial

Posted May 19, 2003 6:23 a.m. EDT

— Defense lawyers began questioning potential jurors for the Mike Peterson murder trial Monday and lost a bid for a mistrial.

Right out of the gate, defense attorney David Rudolf asked for a mistrial. He told Judge Orlando Hudson that the 12 potential jurors had been tainted.

Rudolf pointed to prosecutors repeatedly referencing Elizabeth Ratliff over the last two weeks. A close friend of Mike Peterson, Ratliff died in Germany in 1985. Her death is similar to Kathleen Peterson's murder. The judge immediately denied the mistrial request.

"I knew the judge wasn't going to grant it," Rudolf said. "I just needed to do it to preserve my record."

As week three of jury selection began, the courtroom atmosphere took on a decidedly different tone. The defense team was in place earlier than usual. Sifting through documents, they hunkered down with jury consultant Margie Fargo, who will play a critical role in selecting who will sit in the jury box.

For the first time since jury selection began, Mike Peterson's son, Todd, was in court. He watched as the defense grilled one potential juror for two hours. The focus was on Elizabeth Ratliff.

"Sure it's a big concern," Rudolf said. "You heard the questions I asked the jurors. I'm not trying to pull any punches. I'm trying to be as honest as I can be about my concerns."

Rudolf also was candid about his take on the Durham Police Department. He told potential jurors that the defense will show that police officers made crucial mistakes at the murder scene.

Rudolf asked the judge to dismiss the first potential juror, saying the retired University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill archivist had already formed an opinion about the case. Hudson denied that request because the man said he could set aside his opinion and hear the case impartially..

Also Monday, Rudolf submitted to the judge a potential witness list of 226 names. They include former Durham Police Chief Teresa Chambers, City Councilman Howard Clements and Mike Peterson.

Prosecutors have questioned jurors for the past two weeks and selected 12 prospective jurors to decide whether Peterson killed his wife in December 2001.

Hudson allowed defense lawyers to hold off on questioning until prosecutors selected the entire panel.

Jury selection continues Tuesday.