Local News

Peterson Murder Case Now a TV Movie

Posted April 3, 2007 4:55 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2007 1:49 p.m. EDT

— A Durham murder case that made national headlines is now a movie set to air Sunday on cable television.

"The Staircase Murders" is based on the investigation surrounding Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks executive who was beaten to death on Dec. 9, 2001, and her husband, novelist Michael Peterson, who was found guilty of her slaying.

The movie, based on the 2004 Aphrodite Jones book, "A Perfect Husband," is set to air April 15 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime Television and stars Treat Williams as Michael Peterson; Kevin Pollak as his attorney, David Rudolf, and Nina Jones as Kathleen Peterson.

Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in her Durham mansion. Michael Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in October 2003, but prosecutors were never able to produce a murder weapon or establish a clear motive for her death.

They did, however, introduce evidence that suggested he was bisexual (the defense claimed the Petersons had an ideal marriage) and brought up the 1985 death of a family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, who was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her Germany home.

German authorities ruled Ratliff's death an accident that resulted from a cerebral hemorrhage. During Peterson's trial, prosecutors had Ratliff's body exhumed from her grave. An autopsy performed by a North Carolina medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Peterson, who contends that his wife fell down the staircase, is serving a life sentence for his wife's murder. He has appealed his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court. No one has ever been charged in connection with Ratliff's death

Earlier this year, he settled a wrongful death civil suit with his stepdaughter, Caitlin Atwater, in the amount of $25 million, even though he filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

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