The dedication found in the front of Michael Peterson's
book, "A Time of War" is stunning in light of his murder trial.
"To Patty, who suffered all my wounds. To Clayton and Todd, whose suffering,
I pray, is only in my nightmares. To the dead. And to those whose suffering
cannot be relieved."
Baby Margaret held by Elizabeth Ratliff
Patricia Peterson told police that after dinner, Michael
walked Elizabeth Ratliff home.
Oddly enough, evidence in Kathleen Peterson's death suggests that
she also had her last supper while with Michael. There was undigested food
in Kathleen's stomach.
AND THE CAT CAME BACK
Like set dressing for a horror film, the large Black Cat poster sitting
ominously on the wall inside the Peterson's back steps, is in many ways as
dramatic as the swipes, smears and spatters of dried blood beneath it.
There has been much talk about the hinky feeling the picture gives off, and
speculation about its spooky significance.
Who owned the poster? Why was it placed in that particular spot? How long
had it been there? Was it spattered with blood?
as he must have stared at Kathleen Peterson's violent death on December 9,
2001, T. A. Steinlen's famous Chat Noir now stares knowingly, menacingly
out at us from crime scene photos -- a silent witness whose malevolent presence
nonetheless speaks a thousand words about the evil nature of Michael Peterson's
The haunting Black Cat peers out even from the wall of the miniature staircase
model used by the prosecution.
Finally -- in testimony from Elizabeth Ratliff's sister, Margaret Blair
-- the mystery of the Black Cat's significance was solved.
Elizabeth Ratliff owned a "Tournee du Chat Noir" and for whatever reasons,
Michael Peterson ended up hanging a copy of the same poster at the bottom
of the staircase where Kathleen Peterson suffered her brutal death.
The cat came back.
recognized some things that were described, in writing, that were my sister's
and now Margaret and Martha's.
MAHER: And what items were those?
BLAIR: Various trunks, rug, artwork...
just various things.
MAHER: What type of artwork?
BLAIR: The cat, at the foot of the stairs
-- was recognized as my sister's -- the place where Kathleen died.
"This cat picture was hanging in my room when I was living in
-- Barbara Malagnino
DAVID RUDOLF: By the way, Miss Malagnino testified
earlier that this particular picture was hanging in her room in 1983. Can
you see right down there, there's a little copyright date that's printed
on the picture? What's the copyright date?
DUANE DEAVER: It says 1997, I believe.
Michael Peterson married Kathleen in 1997.
Fall? Or Something Else?
On December 9, 2001 -- just after 2:30 in the morning
-- a frantic-sounding Michael Peterson told a 9-1-1 operator that his wife
had an accident. "She fell down the stairs," he wailed. "She's still breathing!
Before the operator could determine if the emergency was just a bad fall
or something else -- Peterson hung up the phone.
Eight minutes later, paramedics -- who had made a wrong turn -- raced up
to 1810 Cedar Street and rushed inside, only to find a barefoot Michael Peterson
in a back hallway, sobbing, rocking and clutching onto his wife's obviously
This was no emergency -- this was the tragic aftermath of a slaughter.
Kathleen Peterson's lifeless body was completely limp and before even approaching
the stairs -- EMTs could tell from the grotesque amounts of blood that, wrong
turn or not, they had been summoned far too late to have been any assistance
to the dead woman.
One paramedic described Kathleen as "very dead" and thought she had been
that way for 30 to 45 minutes. The medics all noticed that much of the bloody
swipes, smears and spatter on the walls had already dried.
The EMTs were confused. They rushed to the mansion, expecting to help somebody
who had fallen down some stairs. But was this a fall? Or something else?
Once Michael Peterson was forcibly separated from the corpse, paramedics
did indeed pronounce Kathleen dead -- but of course, they immediately asked
Peterson what had happened. Seemingly too distraught or too overcome with
grief, Peterson would say nothing. The celebrated columnist and novelist
offered no words to explain the gruesome sight, except to indicate that his
wife had fallen down the stairs.
Mike Peterson, the decorated Vietnam vet, made no demands of the EMTs to
try and revive his wife -- he didn't insist they do CPR on his "soulmate."
Kathleen had fallen. She was dead and it was over.
Shortly thereafter, as police and investigators arrived, Mike Peterson, the
out-spoken critic and mayoral candidate, made no demands that police come
up with answers. He didn't need answers because he had no questions. When
questions were put to him -- he asked for a lawyer. And though Peterson refused
to say anything to authorities, he did explain to a neighbor that while he
was out at the pool, Kathleen must have fallen down the stairs.
On December 9, 2001, just after 2:30 in the morning, Michael Peterson was
convinced he knew the answer to the question people all over the nation are
still trying to determine years later:
Fall? Or Something Else?
It's true, you can't judge
a book by its cover --
but judging the cover is fairly easy once you know the
Connecting the Missing Dots
Brent "BRAD" Wolgamott told prosecutor Freda Black that he was supposed
to meet Michael Peterson in Durham on the night of Sept. 5, 2001, to have
sex for a fee, but that the meeting never actually took place because
he was too tired. The professional escort said he vaguely recalls sending
an apology to Peterson 25 days later, but says he never got a response.
While possibly true, the notion that BRAD -- after exchanging at least
twenty e-mails and three phone calls -- was just "too tired" to actually
meet Peterson and make money, rings false.
"Male4Male Escorts" provides a webpage where "clients" may send in
reviews of the various prostitutes they've hired. In nearly every review
of BRAD, customers mention his reliability, dependability and willingness
to stay in "prompt, courteous" contact.
"First class escort. Period.
All of the reviews are quite accurate. what is unique is his honesty and
flexibility. We had logistical problems at first.. he apparently makes use
of a friend's house for outcalls for a pre-set fee... the friend screwed
up the arrangements and we were without a place to play...brad quickly offered
to pay for a hotel room and cover the cost above the preset fee..." (Professional
married man, 55)
"I contacted Brad via his e-mail address and heard back from him promptly
that same day. He was agreeable to a daytime meeting, which is what I requested."
"When I e-mailed him, his responses were prompt, courteous and to-the-point.
We arranged a session and Brad was also kind enough to provide information
on a good place to stay." (Professional male - mid 30's)
"After a number of phone calls we connected on New Years Eve. Brad came to
my home...he called several times to keep me informed of his arrival time
- he was traveling about 100 miles to get here." (Late 40's professional)
Wolgamott's failure to show up for Peterson's appointment or to even
contact him, is odd -- but oddly consistent with the other strange evidence
in the Peterson trial.
Over and over in this case, the question arises, "What's Missing?"
Plenty of photos and conversations about gay sex -- but no gay sex. Glasses
and empty wine bottles at the crime scene to confirm Peterson's story of
a night of drinking with his wife -- but his wife's fingerprints are missing.
An important e-mail from a co-worker that was sent as requested -- but never
accessed. A frantic 9-1-1 call -- but no request for help. A fatal fall down
the stairs that, despite severe injuries to the head, face and forearms --
produced virtually no fractures or wounds to the rest of the body.
Again and again, concrete evidence is presented, not of murder, but of fraud
and deception, and inexplicable anomaly.
It's been said that, at the end of the trial, the prosecution will face the
monumental task of "connecting the dots" for the jury, and will have
to put dozens of odd pieces of circumstantial evidence together into a cohesive
picture of murder. Of course, the contrary is true. All the prosecution has
to do is remind the jury of the many oddities, coincidences, omissions, missing
items and self-serving lies. They will simply point to Michael Peterson's
purposeful campaign of deception in the weeks and months before his wife's
gruesome death, and after.
It will finally be Michael Peterson's defense team who'll have to connect
the dots and re-arrange the circumstances of a pre-meditated murder to fit
the situation of an innocent bystander near an unexpected accident.
Locard's Principle of
Exchange dictates that anyone who
enters the scene both takes something of the scene with them and leaves something
of themselves behind.
For example, Michael Peterson entered Kathleen's life, took many, many things
from her and when he left, Kathleen had multiple deep, complex lacerations
and avulsions to the scalp, multiple small abrasions and contusions on the
face, early acute ischemic neuronal necrosis, and a fracture with associated
hemorrhage of the left superior cornu of the thyroid cartilage in the neck.
Jim Hardin said Peterson doctored the scene but was given away by
the blood spatters. He hinted at a possible murder weapon, saying a
"blowpoke" - a combination of fireplace blower and poker - disappeared
from the home...
Murder He Wrote
Kathleen Peterson's killer did not bludgeon his victim to death. He repeatedly
jabbed and whacked at Kathleen's head -- and then he waited for her to bleed
1. The lacerations match the contusions (bruises). So the object, unlike
a knife or razor, was blunt and, although small, had some weight.
2. "No fractures of the skull" means the object was not bashing and slamming
erratically into the back of the victim's head. It was doing damage but with
a consistent and controlled, bayoneting.
3. Each of the lacerations are very deep and each have the same complex pattern,
but are found in both horizontal and vertical slashes. Whatever was contacting
Kathleen Peterson's head did so repeatedly, seven or eight times -- hard
enough to bruise but not fracture, and each time tearing sharply across or
down a small area. This was no random, bouncing contact with wooden steps,
it was an attack using a thin blunt rod with a sharp edge that cut and cracked
the skin as it poked and whacked.
4. Kathleen Peterson died with eleven of her hairs in her right hand - some
strands were forcibly removed, some were broken, but some hairs were actually
cut. In her left hand were also numerous hairs, several were forcibly pulled
out, several were broken off and the rest of the hairs were cut off. Kathleen
was protecting her head from being whacked with something that had at least
one sharp edge. Wooden steps and door molding can be ruled out since forcible
contact with such items, though they might somehow leave identical
gashes, would certainly not cut hairs.
5. Other than the odd "clothes-line" type fracture to the neck and the defensive
type wounds on the face, hands and forearms, no other physical injuries were
found. It's not reasonable to conclude that Kathleen Peterson fell violently
down the stairs and, despite a dozen severe head injuries, sustained virtually
no other fractures or contusions on her back, or the rest of her body.
Fiction writer and politician, Michael Peterson never talked to
paramedics, never talked to police, never talked to investigators, never
took a police polygraph, never met with authorities and never helped in the
investigation of his wife's death in any way. Never. He didn't ask for answers
about his wife, Kathleen's death, instead -- he asked for a lawyer.
Except a few maudlin words to the press, Peterson the prodigious penman,
has had nothing to say about the horrible events that took place in his home
on December 9, 2001. He has a right to remain silent, but he also has a right
to be hand-cuffed, shackled, and kept in a small cage until he dies.
Michael Peterson: "As anyone who knows will tell
you, I have a volatile temper. I get pissed very quickly. And then it's
Caitlin Atwater: "It was usually a very kind of brief temper that
would just, you know, come and go. I think we took it to heart a little more
seriously than he meant it, which always made it easier to brush off and
kind of think it wasn't there. He'd yell and scream and we'd be upset, but
then 20 minutes later, he'd be ready to laugh about it. He's incredibly
controlling and manipulative ..."
The weather was quite unremarkable
in Forest Hills, December 9 - 0 - 1;
At midnight in the mid to high 50's --
by two, a falling pressure had begun.
Though relative humidity was high,
It stayed in Durham's normal comfort zone;
Dark scattered clouds pushed through the nighttime sky,
With winter winds that cut right to the bone.
The average weather pattern you'd expect,
Low visibility, which was the norm;
Completely dry all morning long, except --
One brief and harsh, North Carolina storm.
Bill Peterson: "I also grew up with my brother
and lived in the same room with him until I was about 16. I probably observed
what she's talking about. Now my brother is a very vocal guy, and that's
probably one of the reasons he's in the kind of trouble he's in now. He's
very outspoken, he does speak with a very loud voice, and he does get angry
like anybody else gets angry but that's a totally different thing from physical
Now if you were to ask Caitlin and I don't know why you haven't asked her,
if you haven't asked her, you should ask her about any physical violence.
I'm sure she would verify for you there has never been a single episode.
He was married to another woman for 30 years, went through a very bitter
divorce. She's here in the courtroom. She may talk to you, I don't know.
There's never been any indication of any physical violence with respect to
her, with respect to her children, with respect to me or with respect to
So, yeah he has a temper, he flares out, he talks, but as Caitlin pointed
out in that exchange you had, a couple minutes later he calms down, and he
feels bad about it and he starts laughing."
Ann Christensen (Peterson's sister): "It's not
just anger -- it cuts you to the bone."
Sobbing, shaking and walking in circles like a lost puppy, Michael
Peterson at first appeared to paramedics and police as a man who was deeply
shocked by the sudden and horrific loss of his wife and soulmate of 13 years.
The fiction writer knows that, despite what defense lawyers may spin on talk
shows, there is only one appropriate reaction to tragedy: devastation. Your
dearly beloved spouse met with an unexpected, untimely and gruesome fate,
and regardless of whether it was an accidental fall or a violent intruder's
bashing -- you are devastated.
There is no other reaction to such an event.
You want answers and will do anything and everything you can to find out
exactly what happened and why, since, in many ways, you know you are to blame.
You took a marriage vow before man and GOD, so if your spouse dies from a
fall down steep and narrow stairs -- you should have lit them, carpeted them
or roped them off entirely. If your soulmate is killed at the hands of an
intruder -- you should have better secured windows, doors and house alarms,
and you should have heard the deadly struggle and come to the rescue. You
didn't. You weren't there for your mate and now you need answers to account
for the tragedy.
Michael Peterson refused to speak with paramedics on the night of his wife's
strange demise. He declined to speak with police officers about what had
transpired in his home that evening. He asked for a lawyer, but never asked
investigators for information.
Instead of offering possibly critical details about the situation, clarifying
circumstances or assisting investigators with background information, Michael
Peterson was content to dismiss the bloody event, that night, as a freak
accident and sit at his computer checking e-mails.
It might have been an accident, but since Michael claims he heard and saw
nothing, it might not have been. And considering that his home had been recently
burglarized, it would have been just as reasonable to conclude that Kathleen
Peterson had been attacked.
The demanding 60-year-old Mr. Peterson is a decorated war veteran, author,
mayoral candidate and columnist. Critical of police and law enforcement agencies
for years, the bright, articulate millionaire fell oddly silent in his demands
of police on the night his soulmate most needed his expertise.
Declining to take a "lie-detector test" or to be grilled by police in a lengthy
interview is one thing -- but when a husband and soulmate refuses to help,
cooperate or even speak with authorities at the scene, then that's all the
evidence a jury needs. Michael Peterson was not interested in discovering
the truth about his wife's tragic death.
A STUDY OF KILLING
"Violence is mesmerizing."
"How is it possible for a man to kill another man; to do it without malice,
without reason, without remorse? The truth in understanding this is one worth
knowing, for in understanding this, all other respects of war, and life really,
-- Peterson's notes describing his novel,
"A Time of War" as a study of killing.
JURORS VIEW THE BLOODY VIDEO
A murder trial is not a battle of the experts or a contest where the loudest
lawyer wins -- it is the shocking and horrifying presentation of evidence
that details an act of pure evil. Evil tells on itself, and not even Dr.
Henry Lee can stop it from talking.
Durham prosecutors don't need a weapon or a motive as proof of murder in
the Cedar Street mansion, and are not required to produce witnesses to the
killing. All they need is the death. The strongest evidence is the bloody
corpse of a 48-year-old Nortel executive.
Kathleen Peterson has rights too, and the more defense-minded a juror is
-- the more they will focus on the nature and irrevocability of the violation
done to the defenseless victim. After all, Kathleen is innocent until proven
otherwise. What great wrong had she done to deserve such a penalty?
At the end of the third week of trial, Kathleen Peterson -- in the form of
a "Resusci - Annie" doll -- was once again propped up against a wall
and posed for everyone to view.
No doubt, the defendant was disturbed by the appearance in court that day
of the prosecutor's life-sized representation of the victim -- but it must
have been an extremely brutal morning for his son, Todd Peterson.
I'm sure Todd never realized just how vulgar his stepmother's bizarre final
pose would seem to the rest of the world.
For the first time in court, it was Todd who looked pale, spent and drained
-- not from heated arguments about fourth amendment rights or incompetent
cops, but out of sheer exhaustion when faced with the reality of what had
been done to another human being -- and what it looked like.
There is nothing "reasonable" about the sight of a vibrant and perfectly
healthy wife, mother and business woman propped up, spread-legged like a
life-sized doll, in pools of her own blood for the world to view. Not only
was a human life taken, but afterwards, all human dignity was taken and mocked
by a profane act of theater.
Evil itself took the witness stand that day. It didn't testify to an accident
or a beating, but to a person who, after the violent undertaking, positioned
Kathleen Peterson's lifeless body at the base of a staircase and invited
the world to view the horror.
"The thing that stayed with me the most is the pictures
of the back of her head and her at the bottom of the stairs. I can't forget
it. I wish I could."
-- Juror, Keith Hall
Kathleen Peterson was indeed a great patron, advocate and supporter
of the arts -- and her biggest funding project was her husband, Michael Peterson.
The State prosecutors are right to begin their case against this fiction
writer with financial records. This case is a battle of the experts -- well,
the battle had been going on for quite some time -- the battle between the
expert fund-raiser and the expert artist who conned Kathleen out of her money
year after year, eventually marrying her.
Regardless of whether the Petersons were worth one million dollars or
two million or three -- all of that money was Kathleen's.
The records are fuzzy about futures and dividends, but they are extremely
clear about Michael's worth: zero. Beyond a few petty pension plans,
Peterson wasn't worth the paper his poor-selling, pulp fiction was printed
on. MAYOR MIKE had made no MONEY in three years and without his wife, Peterson
Why bite the hand that has fed you for a decade?
Well, who can know? Motive can be established but never fully pinned down
because evil crimes have no reason or logic. It must be left at saying --
we always hurt the ones we love. Familiarity breeds contempt. Resentment,
especially for a care-giver one is dependent on, can grow to become hatred
Maybe Kathleen was about to be fired and pressed Michael for changes. Maybe
Mike's gay research project was discovered by Kathleen digging for an e-mail
from work. Maybe Mr. Peterson thought his new, big movie deal had released
him from his wife's purse strings and Kathleen was not needed in the picture
anymore. Who can know? But it is certain and beyond any reasonable doubt
that Kathleen was this artist's sole supporter, and if Michael Peterson performed
an evil act in that dark stairway -- money is surely at the root.
(Theme from the Judge Orlando Hudson Show)
Who can turn the state off
with a smile?
Who can take a winning day,
and suddenly make it not seem worthwhile?
It's Orlando and you should know it --
With each glance,
And every little ruling you show it:
Chaos all around the el-e-va-tors
Hudson, for the T.V. camera, caters
You're just like Ito after all.
"I'm profoundly sorry that Kathleen has to be involved in this, but some
good is going to come of this other than my innocence. I want everyone to
see what goes on in Durham."
Michael Peterson wants everyone to see what goes on
in Durham, and yet he never saw what was going on in his own home.
Peterson's friends all saw that the back stairway of Michael's mansion was
a dangerous place. The narrow, wooden steps were steep -- they now report
-- steep and scary and very poorly lit. Family and friends agree, it was
"an accident waiting to happen."
Many of MIKE'S FRIENDS even say they knew who the accident was waiting to
happen to -- charging that Kathleen Peterson liked to drink alcohol in great
amounts and then do crazy things like dive head-first into the pool. They
say they're not the least bit surprised that Kathleen fell to her death,
because she had passed out or blacked out and fallen on prior occasions.
"If you want my opinion," Todd Peterson quickly offered up, "they
were probably shit-faced and she fell." That may well be true, but
temperamental Todd and his furious father should know that "an accident waiting
to happen" is not an accident -- it's negligence.
NEGLIGENCE is a legal term and concept that has been on the books for centuries.
It is the failure to use reasonable care.
Negligence is defined by the
Legal Lexicon Law
Library as "a legal cause of damage if it directly and in natural and
continuous sequence produces or contributes substantially to producing such
damage, so it can reasonably be said that if not for the negligence, the
loss, injury or damage would not have occurred." Every state in America,
including North Carolina, recognizes that, " Negligence may be a legal cause
of damage even though it operates in combination with the act of another,
a natural cause, or some other cause if the other cause occurs at the same
time as the negligence and if the negligence contributes substantially to
producing such damage."
Michael Peterson has been blaming the Durham police force and other legal
authorities his entire adult life. He has made a big stink -- and big money
-- from accusing the D.A.'s office and other authorities of being incompetent.
But the police were not responsible for the steep, narrow and poorly lit
back stairway in Peterson's million dollar mansion. The 9-1-1 operators in
Durham were not responsible for removing an un-used metal chairlift, and
the District Attorney did not take an oath to marry Kathleen and take care
of her in sickness or in health. Michael Peterson did.
Michael Peterson loved to travel and bring back exotic souvenirs from China
and Egypt -- why didn't he ever think to stop at the corner hardware store
and bring back a light bulb?
Mr. Peterson's high-priced attorney, David Rudolf, makes a big fuss about
exactly when the Durham police put up barriers to seal off Peterson's back
stairs on December 9th, 2001. Well, Michael Peterson had been living at 1810
Cedar Street since 1992, and he never cordoned off the area!
The Petersons apparently loved to have lavish parties in their beautiful
home. If a party guest had too much to drink and flip-flopped down those
steep, narrow, dark stairs and died, Michael Peterson -- not the Durham Police
Department -- would be legally responsible for the negligent homicide.
If Michael Peterson truly wanted everyone to see what goes on in Durham --
he could have started by turning on a light in the stairwell of his own fabulous
Forest Hills home.
Thanks to forensic chemist James Gregory, we now know that whatever
Kathleen was protecting her head from must have had sharp edges. Kathleen
Peterson died with her own hair clutched in her hands. Many of those strands
of hair were cleanly cut -- not ripped or torn.
It's reasonable to believe that, during a mad tumble, Kathleen grabbed her
head for protection. It is inconceivable however, that the victim was falling
and grabbing at her own head while at the same time giving herself a hair-cut.
Dorie Savage, a forensic specialist with the San Diego Police Department,
testified that she was present to collect evidence from Danielle Van Dam's
body during the autopsy performed by the medical examiner. Among the items
she removed from the body were hairs.
"There was some tangled in Danielle's hand," she said
Exactly four-hundred years ago in 1603, Shakespeare's HAMLET was first published,
and in that play the tragic Prince declares: "A man's life is no more
than to say one." It's curious then, that much about Michael Peterson's
life is associated with the number -- TWO.
In 1985, Michael Peterson was celebrating the publishing of his own first
novel when he suffered through tragedy -- twice. A dear friend of his named
George Ratliff suddenly died. A few months later, George Ratliff's wife,
Elizabeth McKee-Ratliff, also a very close friend, also died. Elizabeth was
discovered at the bottom of a blood- spattered staircase, an apparent victim
of her own clumsiness.
By the early 1990's, Michael Peterson had divorced his first wife, Patricia
Sue Peterson, and became a single father to his two sons and the Ratliff's
After having some success with his novel, "A Time of War" Peterson tried
to see if lightning would strike twice and in 1995 he authored the book's
sequel, "A Bitter Peace."
In 1999, the Vietnam veteran was forced to admit to his duplicity when it
was discovered that he had made up fictions about his war record and war
injuries. For years, Michael Peterson had claimed to have been awarded the
Purple Heart -- twice.
It's been said that a two-faced man deserves a second look, and after an
unsuccessful bid for mayor, Peterson mounted a second campaign and ran for
city council. He again, lost his election.
Then, in the wee hours of December 9, 2001, an hysterical-sounding Michael
Peterson phoned 9-1-1 to report the death of his second wife, Kathleen Peterson.
Needless to say, he called 9-1-1 a second time.
Paramedics discovered Kathleen at the bottom of a blood-spattered staircase,
an apparent victim of her own clumsiness.
When Durham investigators found pornography on Peterson's home computer,
and men he'd had sex with between his two marriages, they discovered that
he was bi- sexual. These and other revelations led police to believe that
Michael Peterson's wife's accident was in fact a vicious murder, forcing
Peterson's lawyer, David Rudolf to remark: "If the prosecution is correct,
how do we go from soul mate and lover to cold-blooded killer?"
Shakespeare's HAMLET may well have explained:
"With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, In equal scale weighing
delight and dole."
Truth or Consequences?
If his wife fell down the stairs and died before he ever entered the mansion,
why did Michael Peterson twice tell the 9-1-1 operator that his wife was
Even David Rudolf has admitted that apparently Kathleen lay dead for a while
and bled out. When paramedics arrived, there was no scramble to revive the
victim -- no rush to do CPR. Kathleen was well beyond the point where medics
could breathe for her, and that tells even the defense lawyers -- she was,
as one EMT put it, "very dead."
And yet, Michael Peterson had doubts, and eight minutes prior to the EMT's
arrival had desperately pointed out, "She's still breathing!" As though to
say -- She seems like she'll stop breathing sometime soon, but for now she's
hanging on and... she's still breathing!
Michael Peterson's wife was not breathing and she hadn't been breathing for
quite some time prior to his call.
It doesn't mean he murdered Kathleen.
After all -- the corpse may have simply expanded, but being hysterical, Peterson
imagined his wife was breathing. He guessed she was still alive in a moment
of say, wishful dementia.
But the inexplicable statement in his subsequent 9-1-1 call advising the
operator that "She's not breathing," is one wish too many. Why the second,
updated report that his soulmate was now dead?
The second call turns what might have been an innocent mistake into a
premeditated murder, because it exposes a set-up and a fiction -- one of
many in a pattern of lies, contrivances and omissions, designed to make the
circumstances surrounding Kathleen Peterson's death seem to be other than
what they are.
Killers often arrogantly think that by falsifying or destroying circumstantial
evidence, they'll thwart a jury's ability to solve the murder. Always forgotten
is the evidence that the defendant falsified or destroyed circumstantial
evidence -- which is actually better proof of guilt, since the defendant
had no reason to do so, other than attempting to cover up his own -- or someone
else's -- crime.
Paramedics, police, detectives, criminalists and state medical examiners
all looked inside Michael Peterson's stairwell and reasonably doubted that
Kathleen Peterson died from just a simple, accidental fall. They then looked
to Michael Peterson. This jury will be no different.
So the question becomes, not "accident or murder?" but, "Truth or
"I am profoundly saddened that the loving family Kathleen
Peterson dedicated 13 years to creating has now been ripped apart. In these
terrible family circumstances, the police apparently chose to provide only
part of the evidence to Caitlin, who is understandably distraught at losing
her mother; the results are entirely predictable. I am sorry for Caitlin's
pain and for her precipitous action."
-- Michael Peterson about Caitlin Atwater's civil suit
Start Seeing Murder Cycles
Statistics are often misleading and confusing, but the shocking numbers
associated with domestic violence are hard evidence of America's hidden crime
epidemic. The American Medical Association estimates that more than 4 million
females in the US experience some form of violence each year, and as many
as 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime.
The defenders of fiction-writer Michael Peterson like to quote statistics
about how many thousands of people fall down the steps and die every year.
One sure thing about statistics -- they provide a base-line that helps to
determine probabilities. It turns out that virtually none of those who fell
and died, bled to death as Kathleen Peterson did. So it's safe to use your
But what is the probability that a husband would have beaten his wife to
death in the hallway?
Well, considering that in the United States, a woman is beaten every 7.4
seconds, and that a woman is killed by domestic violence every 21 days --
the odds are quite good. When the Medical Examiner reports that the otherwise
healthy wife died from "blunt force head trauma" and "multiple impacts received
as a result of beating," the odds are overwhelming.
No couple is "perfect," and many are perfectly awful. We know very well what
goes on behind closed doors, but we choose not to look. Of course, refusing
to acknowledge something doesn't mean it ceases to exist.
Despite the fiction about "soul mates" and "Camelot" at the Peterson mansion
-- reality dictates that Michael Peterson did not have a perfect family.
Illusions are useful for mayoral campaigns but not for murder trials, and
this family, particularly the men, were having some very real problems with
substance abuse and violence. Statistically speaking -- that's no surprise.
Co-dependency, abuse and domestic violence are cyclical. Most often, abusive
sons had abusive fathers. We don't want to look -- but the facts are there.
Children who witness domestic violence are four times more likely to be arrested
in the future, and six times more likely to commit suicide. And one more
startling statistic: Of women who reported being raped and/or physically
assaulted since the age of 18, three quarters (76 percent) were victimized
by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, date or boyfriend.
Start seeing murder cycles.
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things
Stopped and Dropped
When most men kill their wives, they launch an attack and quickly finish
the job. They don't leave her to bleed to death for half an hour. Not only
is it brutal to stand around while she moans and drains, coming in and out
of consciousness -- it's stupid and dangerous since someone may come to her
aid and then she'd live to tell of her loving husband's evil flip flop.
The autopsy reveals that Michael Peterson, or whatever monster killed Kathleen
on her back stairs that awful night, struck her repeatedly and precisely,
but only at medium force -- and then they waited
as her heart continued pumping out the blood. The weapon did minor
damage -- only enough to lacerate the scalp, but not enough to crack Kathleen's
It's as if the killer was using a velvet hammer that, after seven or eight
blows, did exactly enough damage to stop her and drop her. Well, that sounds
like a defensive technique -- not a murder -- and certainly not a careening
fall onto hard wooden steps and an iron chairlift.
Similarly, Elizabeth Ratliff, it turns out, was not bludgeoned to death,
but merely hit seven or eight times so that she would be disabled and left
with non-fatal injuries that would bleed out.
I have no way of knowing what techniques Michael Peterson was taught officially
or unofficially during his time in the service, but the autopsy on both Kathleen
Peterson and Elizabeth Ratliff reveal a quick and dirty pattern of homicide
that would only be useful in a battle situation, where the victim is stopped
and dropped and left to die on their own.
The defense is never required to present a theory of the alleged crime or
supply the jury with proof of an alternate scenario to the State's version
of events. Anything said in defense -- other than the requisite objections
for the appellate court record -- are denials, and to deny nonsense only
So when you see a good legal defense team offering up clever, alternative
theories -- you know there's a bucket load of bad facts.
When David Rudolf stands before the jurors and insists that the victim tripped
going UP the stairs and tumbled BACKWARD DOWN, you know his experts told
him the victim's wounds were too severe for a typical slip. When a smart
defense attorney, at the top of the trial, tries to convince twelve grown
adults that Kathleen Peterson recovered from her horrific fall only to start
back up the stairs and fall a second time -- it signals that the evidence
against his client is devastating.
The best defense is living well. Why contribute your own convoluted theories
to disprove the State's convoluted theories, when a wink and a nod would
suffice? If the D.A.'s office is maliciously prosecuting an innocent citizen,
trumping up fake testimony from phony experts, and misusing the power of
the state to unfairly railroad a man into prison -- the jury will see right
Based on the facts of this case, David Rudolf could win the trial without
calling a single witness -- then during a brief closing statement, remind
jurors that Michael Peterson's lavish home was broken into on various occasions
prior to Kathleen's murder and that while it may be strange that Michael
heard and saw nothing, he was simply not in the house at the time.
After mentioning that his client is presumed innocent, and that no witness
has testified that Peterson was anything but a loving father and husband
-- Rudolf could calmly submit to the jury that obviously poor Kathleen was
yet another victim of a senseless, random killing -- one of hundreds that
unfortunately occur every year in North Carolina. He could -- except...
Michael Peterson insists his wife had an accident...
So Mr. Rudolf is forced to face the jury and tell them Kathleen did a backward
flip, landing with a bounce down the steps, stood up and then did a repeat,
double back-flop followed by 45 minutes of silent misery as she bled
"What does Mr. Peterson say when
the EMS folks get there? He says -- after they try to question him, he doesn't
give an answer or any information because he's so distraught -- but he does
say, 'I went out to turn off the pool lights -- I came back and there she
was.' That's all he said."
-- Jim Hardin's opening
A Damning Opening Paige
In this novelist's murder trial (which isn't very novel), the defendant's
storyline is painfully weak right from the opening page. A 17-year veteran
of Durham's emergency response team, paramedic Ron Paige told twelve
jurors a compelling tale of arriving at the corner of Cedar and Sycamore
at three in the morning to find Michael Peterson covered in blood and crouching
oddly over his wife's motionless body.
Mr. Peterson wasn't hugging his wife or administering aid -- he was just
posed near her bloodied body at the bottom of a deep flight of stairs.
Although a professional wordsmith, Mr. Peterson was unable to answer Mr.
Paige's main question: "What happened?" Apparently overcome with grief --
the hysterical husband, simply could not find the words to respond to the
First Responder. "Mr. Peterson was standing over his wife crying ... I don't
know if he was trying to help her or what," Paige said, and then offered
the jury another curious detail: "He was covered in blood ... From what I
could see the blood appeared to be dried."
It soon became obvious to Ron Paige and his partner, James Rose, that something
was terribly wrong with this gruesome opening scene. Not only were Michael
and Kathleen Peterson covered in blood -- everything was covered in blood
-- blood smears and blood splatters all over the floor and walls. "It was
very unusual for us to see that amount of blood for a fall," Mr. Rose testified.
When something strikes a paramedic as "unusual" -- it is unusual indeed,
and yet, the creative writer could think of nothing to say that could explain
the shocking scenario to the medics. "He didn't say anything," Paige testified
-- and that's most peculiar for a man who has done little else in his life
but tell stories.
AND HE WAS RIGHT
Inspired by one woman's visit to Kathleen
the giving tree
still sings of comfort
A giggling wind, despite
and eternal life.