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Peterson, Stepdaughter Reach $25M Agreement in Wrongful Death Suit

The daughter of a slain Nortel Networks executive has accepted a $25 million settlement in a civil lawsuit against her stepfather, Durham novelist Michael Peterson.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Former Durham mayoral candidate Michael Peterson and his stepdaughter have agreed to a $25 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Peterson, 63, was convicted in October 2003 of first-degree murder in the 2001 beating death of Atwater's mother, Nortel Networks executive Kathleen Peterson.

Caitlin Atwater first brought the civil suit against her stepfather in October 2002 with the intent that Peterson would never be able to profit from the crime.

"With this settlement, I believe that Michael Peterson is agreeing to an offer great enough to begin to speak to the value of my mother's life and the loss I must continue to deal with," Atwater said Thursday. "By entering into this agreement, I can only hope I'll be able to put some of this behind me."

Atwater, 24, is finishing school at Cornell University this semester.

Jay Trehy, an attorney representing Atwater, has said that Peterson probably won't be able to pay but that a civil judgment would show that Kathleen Peterson's life had value.

"We believe the $25 million is an absolutely appropriate - if not conservative - figure," Trehy said.

"It's just stopping for a minute to appreciate the value of my mother's life and about the relationships she had is what's most important," Atwater said.

Michael Peterson filed for bankruptcy protection last year. The once-wealthy Durham novelist is the author of "A Time of War" and "A Bitter Peace."

"It didn't really matter what number a jury would give. Mr. Peterson doesn't have money," his attorney, Kerry Sutton said. "He specifically told me that he hopes this gives Caitlin some peace to close this legal chapter of her life."

Peterson is now serving a life sentence for his wife's death. He has maintained that she must have been fatally injured in an accidental fall down a flight of stairs at their home in December 2001.

In the settlement, Atwater agrees to stay her lawsuit until Peterson's criminal appeals are exhausted. If he is ever exonerated, she would be allowed under the agreement to reinstate the suit.

The settlement also states that Peterson admits no guilt or liability in the death of his wife.

Peterson has appealed his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.


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