Local News

Peterson Daughter Shares $1.4 Million Insurance Payout With Biological Father

Posted September 30, 2004 10:17 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:14 a.m. EDT

— About $1.5 million in life insurance money for a woman whose husband was convicted in her slaying will go to her only daughter and her daughter's father.

Caitlin Atwater, the daughter of Kathleen Peterson, and Prudential Insurance reached the settlement recently, said Atwater's attorney, Jay Trehy. She will share it with Fred Atwater, Kathleen Peterson's husband before she married novelist Michael Peterson.

Michael Peterson was convicted of murder last October of fatally beating his spouse in the couple's sprawling Durham home on Dec. 9, 2001. He received a sentence of life in prison without parole and is now in the Nash Correctional Institution.

The percentage split between father and daughter must be kept confidential, although the total amount was a matter of public record, Trehy said.

"(Caitlin Atwater) received a healthy check," Trehy added. "She can now pay for her own education rather than asking her family to pay."

Caitlin Atwater is a freshman at Cornell University and eventually hopes to become a lawyer, Trehy said.

Prudential's lawyers whittled down the $1.4 million in insurance proceeds to cover the litigation fees, but that was made up for by interest accrued pending settlement, Trehy said.

Kathleen Peterson initially named Fred Atwater as her insurance beneficiary, but changed the beneficiary to Michael Peterson after they married.

The murder conviction raised legal questions about whether Peterson could accept the insurance money. In May, he laid such questions to rest by signing away any further claim to the proceeds.

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit over other Nortel Networks benefits paid to Michael Peterson is pending. The $384,166 at issue in that case includes deferred compensation benefits from Kathleen Peterson's Nortel job, along with pension plan money and 401(k) savings.

Caitlin Atwater wants that money, too.

"Michael Peterson was unpermitted to take that money, because he was a murderer," Trehy said Wednesday. "As far as I'm concerned, Nortel paid the wrong person. Nortel should be required to pay the money again, because they paid it to a killer the first time."

Michael Peterson reportedly spent the money on his unsuccessful murder defense.

The lawsuit that Trehy filed for Caitlin Atwater said Nortel violated the federal common-law "slayer rule" when it paid a suspected killer under indictment.

The slayer rule holds that killers may not profit from their misdeeds. Nortel has not responded to requests for comment, but Trehy said Wednesday that company officials told him they saw "no choice but to pay Michael Peterson."