Local News

Mike Peterson has renewed hope for second trial

Posted August 19, 2010 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2010 7:09 p.m. EDT

— Convicted killer Mike Peterson says he's hopeful he'll get a new trial and eventually be able to spend time as a free man with his grandchild that's on the way.

"It's like you are breathing again. There's hope," Peterson, 66, said Thursday. "I've always felt that there would be, but now it's there."

Peterson says he is pleased by recent scrutiny over Duane Deaver, a State Bureau of Investigation agent whose testimony helped prosecutors win a guilty verdict against him in October 2003.

The state argued that Peterson, a novelist and former Durham mayoral candidate, beat his wife, Kathleen, with a blunt object, causing her to fall down a staircase in the couple's home and die.

"I was convicted on his testimony, because there was nothing else," Peterson said. "There was no murder weapon. There was no motive. There was no witnesses, nothing."

Now serving a life sentence at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, Peterson has exhausted his appeals on the state level, and his case is pending in federal court.

Attorneys have sought countless times to get a new trial, introducing new evidence, including a tire iron found in a neighbor's yard and owl feathers found in Kathleen Peterson's hair from a possible owl attack.

Durham lawyer Larry Pollard on Thursday filed three affidavits to support the owl claim, even though a Superior Court judge has previously denied a trial on the basis of the evidence.

Peterson's revived hope comes following mounting criticism of Deaver and the SBI after an independent report released Wednesday found that analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in 230 cases from 1987 to 2003 – 190 of which led to convictions.

His case was not one of those identified in the report, however. Still, David Rudolf, Peterson's original trial attorney, said he's reviewing SBI testimony from the trial.

Deaver has been placed on paid leave, pending the results of an SBI internal investigation.

Irving Joyner, a North Carolina Central University law professor who followed the Peterson case very closely, said Thursday that he believes a new trial is warranted because blood spatter was a crucial part of the case.

"Deaver's testimony was the glue that pulled a lot of the theories together," he said. "Obviously, the jurors bought Deaver's story. If they had not, Michael Peterson would have been found not guilty. It was critical evidence."

Freda Black, a former Durham prosecutor who helped send Peterson to prison, said Wednesday that she "couldn't imagine" Deaver's work being questioned.

"Duane Deaver is one of the best analysts and experts I had the pleasure to work with in 25 years of practicing law," she said.

Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin, who was district attorney in 2003 and also prosecuted Peterson's case, did not return calls for comment.

Calls to Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline's office were also not returned.