Local News

Defense Offers Its Version Of Events In Mike Peterson Trial

Posted May 20, 2003 12:27 p.m. EDT

— The wife of a novelist charged in her death probably fell and cut her head, slipped in her own blood and fell again before she died, says a defense lawyer.

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

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

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

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

Rudolf agreed with prosecutors on Tuesday to select the first official member of the jury that will hear evidence in Peterson's case. 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 four alternates.

Michael Peterson told a 911 dispatcher that he had found his wife, a Nortel Networks executive, at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Shortly afterward, a friend advised Peterson not to speak to police.

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

Prosecutors spent eight days choosing a panel of 12 potential jurors, seven women and five men. On Monday, Rudolf began questioning the panel.

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


newspaper columns.

Rudolf also raised questions about the competence of the police themselves.

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

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

Rudolf also began to attack Durham's forensic investigation unit, telling a potential juror that the unit did not take detailed notes or pictures and had not drawn a diagram of its findings from 18 months ago.

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

Rudolf also gave prospective jurors with a list of more than 200 potential witnesses to find out whether they know any of them. The list 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.