Local News

'Partial' Agreement Reached in Peterson Civil Suit

Posted January 31, 2007 8:21 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2007 2:55 p.m. EST

— The attorney for the daughter of a slain Nortel Networks executive said Wednesday they have reached a "partial" agreement in a civil lawsuit against Durham novelist Michael Peterson.

Jay Trehy, however, would not disclose details of the settlement reached between Peterson and his client, Caitlin Atwater.

Peterson, 63, was convicted Oct. 10, 2003, of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home on Dec. 9, 2001.

In October 2002, Atwater, Michael Peterson's stepdaughter, filed a against him, with the intent that he would never be able to profit from the crime.

Peterson was declared indigent shortly after his conviction, and last year, declared bankruptcy. But Trehy has acknowledged that a civil judgment would show that Kathleen Peterson's life had value.

The case was set to go to trial last June but was delayed because of Peterson's criminal appeal and a bankruptcy filing.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson set June 25 as a new trial date and ruled that Trehy could depose the convicted killer.

If a deposition were to have occurred, it would have been the first time Peterson's responses to questions about his wife's death would be on record during a court proceeding. Peterson never testified at his criminal trial and has maintained that his wife died because of a fall down the stairs.

Testimony in Peterson's trial lasted 54 days, consisted of 66 witnesses and more than 500 pieces of evidence. Prosecutors were neither able to establish a clear motive for the crime nor produce a murder weapon.

Evidence and testimony during the trial, including the 1985 staircase death of a family friend, Peterson's bisexuality and testimony about finances were the basis of Peterson's criminal appeal.

In September, a three-judge state Court of Appeals panel issued a split decision rejecting Peterson's arguments. Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court formally accepted the case