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Defense Offers Its Version Of Events In Mike Peterson Trial

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DURHAM, N.C. — The wife of a novelist charged in her deathprobably fell and cut her head, slipped in her own blood and fellagain before she died, says a defense lawyer.

The glimpse of defense strategy came Monday during juryselection in the first-degree murder trial of Michael Peterson, whois charged with beating his wife Kathleen to death Dec. 9, 2001.

Prosecutors contend that multiple wounds on Kathleen Peterson'shead were the result of a beating.

"What we are contending is that she fell backward on a step atthe lower portion of the stairwell and split her scalp open,"defense lawyer David Rudolf told a prospective juror Monday as thethird week of jury selection started.

"She tried to get up, slipped on the bloody floor, hit her headagain and died of blood loss."

Rudolf agreed with prosecutors on Tuesday to select the firstofficial member of the jury that will hear evidence in Peterson'scase. A computer specialist from N.C. Central Univeristy who deals with financial records was agreed upon by the prosecution and defense.

The lawyers still must select 11 regular jurors and fouralternates.

Michael Peterson told a 911 dispatcher that he had found hiswife, a Nortel Networks executive, at the bottom of a flight ofstairs. Shortly afterward, a friend advised Peterson not to speakto police.

Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin and Assistant DistrictAttorney Freda Black have set out to prove that Mike Peterson beatKathleen Peterson, 48, to death. If found guilty of first-degreemurder, Peterson would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors spent eight days choosing a panel of 12 potentialjurors, seven women and five men. On Monday, Rudolf beganquestioning the panel.

Laying the groundwork for Peterson's defense, Rudolf indicatedhe would argue that Durham police were biased against Peterson, asuccessful writer, because he criticized them in his


newspaper columns.

Rudolf also raised questions about the competence of the policethemselves.

"We contend the case is going to hinge on forensics," Rudolfsaid. "Evidence of what the police did or did not collect at thescene. That's where the heart of the matter is."

Rudolf said he will offer evidence that police took an hour tosecure the crime scene and allowed Mike Peterson and his son ToddPeterson to embrace Kathleen's body and spread blood in thekitchen, the laundry room and on a Coca-Cola can and a couch.

Rudolf also began to attack Durham's forensic investigationunit, telling a potential juror that the unit did not take detailednotes or pictures and had not drawn a diagram of its findings from18 months ago.

Rudolf and his co-counsel Thomas Maher are questioning thepotential jurors to determine whether to use one or more of thedefense's six privileges to dismiss jurors without explanation.

Rudolf also gave prospective jurors with a list of more than 200potential witnesses to find out whether they know any of them. Thelist included Peterson himself; Kathleen Peterson's daughter,Caitlin Atwater; and Michael Peterson's first wife, Patricia.

Opening statements in the trial are expected in early June.

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