Local News

Convicted novelist says he's hopeful for new murder trial

Posted February 16, 2011 4:50 p.m. EST
Updated February 16, 2011 8:15 p.m. EST

— Convicted murderer Mike Peterson has exhausted all his appeals in the state court system but is still hoping he will one day be free.

His trial attorney, David Rudolf, on Monday filed a motion for a new trial, blaming testimony from a recently discredited state analyst for his conviction.

“There would have been no case, not only no conviction, there would have been no case against me if it hadn’t been for Duane Deaver,” Peterson said Wednesday from Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, where he is serving a life sentence.

Last month, the State Bureau of Investigation fired Deaver, whose testimony of blood spatter in the Peterson home was key evidence for prosecutors.

Prosecutors argued the Durham novelist beat his wife to death in December 2001 while defense attorneys claim Kathleen Peterson died from an accidental fall down a staircase in the couple’s home.

Deaver’s work has come under scrutiny following an independent review last year that found SBI analysts, including Deaver, frequently misstated or falsely reported blood evidence in about 200 criminal cases during a 16-year period ending in 2003.

Peterson was convicted in October 2003, but his case was not among the 200 identified in the SBI review.

The 36-page motion, submitted to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, states that Deaver’s testimony was the only evidence that Peterson beat his wife to death and that he and other SBI experts deprived Peterson of his right to due process by failing to disclose evidence that would have “impeached the credibility of Deaver and the investigation.”

“He fabricated evidence. He lied, he’s a fraud,” Peterson said. “We didn’t know this at the time. I don’t think anybody, nobody, knew this at the time.”

Nationally renowned forensic scientist Henry Lee disputed Deaver’s analysis, testifying for the defense that blood spatter could have been consistent with a fall down a staircase.

He said Wednesday he’s not surprised by the motion.

“Some scientists step out of the boundary of science and misinterpret or over-interpret a result,” Lee said. “The Peterson case is one of the examples.”

Peterson said he rejects the notion that he’s already had the chance to dispute Deaver’s testimony with an expert like Lee, saying the jury never should have heard from Deaver.

“They didn’t have critical information to know that this man was a fraud,” he said. “The leading witness was a liar and a fraud. Now we know that.”

Freda Black and David Saacks, two former Durham assistant district attorneys involved in Peterson’s trial, declined to comment Wednesday, and calls to the Durham County District Attorney’s Office were not returned.

It's unclear whether the motion will lead to a new trial. Hudson, who presided over Peterson’s trial, is reviewing the motion but doesn’t have a timeframe for when he will decide.

“How hopeful am I? I just trust Judge Hudson right now, to do the right thing. He was tricked,” Peterson said. “I know it’s extraordinarily difficult for Judge Hudson, for anybody now. The public says, ‘Why should this man get a new trial?' Well, we should get a new trial because justice was not served.”

Several 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.

While Peterson’s run out of opportunities to appeal his case on a state level, it is pending in federal court.