Stranger Than Fiction

 Novelist Michael Peterson's Deadly Stair Case  




In the un-humbled opinion of one, Poetic Justice...

Caught on Film

Caught on Film

May, 2022

"Art," said Andy Warhol, "is anything you can get away with."

Michael likely imagined Kathleen's sad, sad accidental death from falling down "15 or 20" stairs would briefly be a local news item -- the story talked about by friends and neighbors for a while -- then quickly forgotten by most.

Within hours of Kathleen's brutal and bizarrely bloody demise, Michael and his missionaries were dismissing her death as routine and wholly unsurprising -- since kooky Kathleen, with her penchant for booze and prescription drugs, was an accident waiting to happen.

"If you want my opinion, they were probably shit-faced and she fell," Todd famously offered.

Defender, David Rudolf gave out a more refined rendition of Michael's main talking point: "The truth is Kathleen Peterson, after drinking some wine and some champagne and taking some Valium, tried to walk up a narrow, poorly lit stairway in flip-flops. She fell and bled to death."

Move on, folks. Nothing to see here!

Michael thought he could get away with murder - if he made it look like a mishap. Surely, he figured if anyone would keep alive the sorrowful tale of how he suffered the sudden loss of his beloved "soulmate," it would be the fiction writer himself, using it for one of his books.


Written in Blood

The truth is . . . Kathleen's autopsy notes only a limited amount of alcohol and mere traces of Valium -- while cataloguing a cluster of more than 30 different injuries, some to the top of the head, that obviously can't have resulted from a simple slip and fall.

Michael knew the truth. He knew it the night he beat and battered his beloved. He saw the enormous swipes and swashes of blood and the 10,000 blood spatters going up to the ceiling. He must've known "accident" was going to be a hard sell.

But, even if Peterson did contemplate the possibility of his wife's death prompting a police investigation and generating some unflattering press, he couldn't have imagined his murder becoming a new media meme -- spawning a meta-universe of TV specials, books, articles, podcasts, documentaries, made-for-TV movies and works about those works. It's poetic justice that narcissist Peterson can't enjoy the spotlight because he looks guilty in every one. He probably assumed he had finally reached rock bottom when NBC produced a sitcom of his monstrous crimes. But, this year, HBO Max decided to get in on the act.

HBO's version, from creator Antonio Campos, is uncreatively named, The Staircase.

The show is an 8-part fictionalized dramatization of real life events based on the tendentious, transparently biased and manipulatively edited MaHa mockumentary from Jean-Xavier de Lestrade -- used by Peterson to promote his fabricated fable featuring Kathleen as a reckless woman who got too drunk, fell down the stairs and caused her own death.

Peterson and Collette

Once More with Feeling

Though initially a flat and, at times, fitful recounting of the basic facts covered in MaHa's docuseries, HBO's movie eventually manages to include some revealing and riveting moments behind the scenes of Michael's make-believe world.

While Lestrade left the dead victim on the cutting room floor, Campos' version brings Kathleen to life, examining some of the very real horrors she was facing at work and at home -- and in place of MaHa's one-big-happy fake family, HBO has scenes that hint at the dysfunctional dynamic that was truly at work in Michael's bat-infested mansion.

Of course, also included, much to Monsieur Lestrade's chagrin I'm certain, are scenes highlighting the questionable, curiously close relationships between Michael and MaHa's production team -- most notably, his long-term romantic involvement with Sophie Brunet, the main editor of Michael's movie.

For what it's worth, Lestrade has always claimed that Peterson's paramour "never let her own feelings affect the course of editing."

Move on, folks. Nothing to see here!

HBO's new drama is good television, but for those who prefer non-fiction -- and the simple truth -- Michael's murderous machinations were laid bare, years ago, in the definitive book on the Peterson case: Written in Blood by Diane Fanning.

Written in Blood

Not Perfect Justice

On Friday, February 24, 2017, Michael Peterson pleaded guilty to the charge of manslaughter through an Alford plea. Judge Hudson sentenced Peterson to 64 to 86 months in prison and gave him credit for the 89 months he has already spent behind bars.

Michael Peterson:
"I donít see it as victory at all . . . I can live with this. Itís not fair. Itís not right. Iím innocent, and yet Iíve got this verdict there."

Durham DA, Roger Echols:
"There could be a need for Mr. Peterson to spin things in the media the way that he wants to, and thatís fine . . . The law will treat him as guilty, and he will forever be treated as guilty."

. . . But, Justice

Candace Zamperini:

Michael Peterson you are pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. You will be treated as guilty for murdering my sister, Kathleen, and you will be a convicted felon forever.

This hearing today is as close to justice as anything that can be found. Michael Peterson spent over a million dollars for a legal defense that ended with hearing 'guilty' as the verdict.

You served almost nine years in prison. You lost your reputation. You lost your home. You're indigent. You are still being held accountable and are liable for a wrongful death suit -- in that you owe Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin, 25 million dollars -- but actually, with interest it's closer to 50 million dollars. You will be pursued for that money.

And now finally today, what my family has always, always wanted to hear: you are pleading guilty today to beating my sister Kathleen to death. Michael Peterson, not only can you wear the scarlet letter 'A' for adultery, but also the black letter 'G' for guilty.

Not perfect justice -- but, justice.

Peterson Pleads Guilty

Peterson Retrial

February 7, 2017

In 2001, Michael Peterson said his wife, Kathleen, had an accident. Candace Zamperini testified: "Michael said 'I came up the stairs' I think to get towels, and then he looks back down and said she fell down the whole staircase."

It was a monstrous lie that Peterson held on to for 16 years.

Now, Peterson has finally agreed to plead guilty -- at least to voluntary manslaughter. Reportedly, the 73-year-old will enter an Alford plea and receive a sentence less than the time he's already served in prison.

David Rudolf gave the following statement to reporters: "We have reached an agreement with the Durham County District Attorney's office that will resolve all charges against Michael Peterson. A hearing on the agreement has been scheduled for February 24, 2017 at 11 AM."

"If you want my opinion, they were probably shit-faced and she fell."
-- Todd Peterson, December, 2001

"When I called 9-1-1, I thought she'd fallen down the stairs. As far as I know, that's what happened."
-- Micheal Peterson

"I'm innocent of these charges and we will prove it in court."
-- Michael Peterson

"We were hoping that this would be the end . . ."

Peterson Retrial

January, 2017

Though convicted of first degree murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison, Michael Peterson was ordered released pending a new trial in 2011 by Judge Orlando Hudson who found that SBI blood analyst, Duane Deaver, had given false and misleading testimony.

Peterson is now set to face retrial in the 2001 death of his wife, Kathleen.

"We were hoping that this would be the end, but it's not. So we tee up and prepare for trial in May," noted the novelist's new defense attorney, Mary Jude Darrow. Also on board is David Rudolf, the acerbic attorney who represented Peterson at his original trial. Attorney, Kerry Sutton, is apparently no longer with the defense team.

Trial is scheduled to begin May 8, 2017.

1997 marriage

Michael Peterson and Kathleen Atwater
married 20 years ago -- in 1997.

Elizabeth McKee Ratliff  /  Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson

"It takes all our strength to be in the same room with him, even with your armed guards. It's terrifying. This monitoring is the only way we get peace and some semblance of security at night."
-- Candace Zamperini

"He has nothing to lose. He doesnít even have to search the Internet for ways to flee. His reasons for leaving are increasing, not decreasing. If anything, he should be more closely monitored."
-- Lori Campell

"He strangled my sister, beat my sister. There's no doubt a jury will find him guilty, and weíll be back to fight for justice."
-- Candace Zamperini

Ratliff stairs
Ratliff stairs

Flight Risk

July 15, 2014

Despite arguments from Kathleen Peterson's family that Michael Peterson is a flight risk, Judge Hudson ruled that Peterson is no longer under house arrest. He must ask permission to leave North Carolina, and has been ordered not to travel to the Northern Virginia metropolitan area where some of Kathleen Peterson's relatives live -- but Peterson is now free to remove the electronic monitoring devices he has worn for more than two years.

"Michael murdered our sister Kathleen, we haven't forgotten. We haven't forgiven."
-- Lori Campell (Reversal of Fortune quote)

"How horrifically he murdered our sister, the evil he bought into our lives. So if there is a second trial, we'll re-live Kathleen's death again, but we are going to get justice for her."
-- Candace Zamperini (Reversal of Fortune quote)

Durham DA, Tracey Cline

Different Trial, Same Murder

December 14, 2011

Judge Orlando Hudson has ruled that Michael Peterson will get a new trial. Hudson -- based on other case reversals -- found that testimony from former State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver, may have misled the jury in the 2003 trial.

District Attorney Tracey Cline says Peterson is "guilty as hell" and has appealed Hudson's ruling to grant Peterson a new trial. The appeal, alone, could take months to wind its way through the legal system. If there actually is a second trial, it would not begin for quite a while. In the meantime, Judge Hudson has ordered Peterson, a pale, pathetic, gaunt-cheeked 68, to be under electronic house arrest.

In this dark, dark moment -- I beg you to remember the re-trials and eventual conviction of the wife murdering Rabbi Fred Neulander.

Fred Neulander

"On the first day when we voted...
on one element, it was unanimous.
It was not a fall. It was definitely a homicide."

-- Juror, Paul Harrison

A Bitter Peace
Supreme Court Upholds Peterson's Murder Conviction

"The war isn't over"
David Rudolf, 10/10/2003

"For all intents and purposes, this case is over."
Jim Hardin, 11/9/2007

November 9, 2007

On October 10, 2003, at the end of the longest trial in Durham's history, jurors returned a verdict declaring Michael Peterson guilty of murdering his wife. Fans and family members who'd chosen to support him were completely crestfallen. Once it was proven that the fiction writer had in fact murdered Kathleen Peterson on December 11, 2001 -- there was no reasonable doubt that for quite some time, he'd been telling outrageous lies and enlisting others to lie for him.

The reality of Kathleen Peterson's killing wasn't the only truth exposed on October 10. The defendant's family had to finally face the fact that he'd spent many years and a million dollars in a truly evil attempt to blame the crime on his victim. From the beginning, Michael insisted his wife had been acting recklessly, had become manic and was generally ill. He claimed she'd downed booze and prescription pills the night of her death, which directly caused her to fatally fall. All along, Michael grinned and giggled as he lied, fully aware his supporters would eventually be brought down with him.

Most court-watchers assumed it was the final chapter for the novelist when, after the verdict was read, he was immediately sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. But on that day, defenders David Rudolf and Thomas Maher threatened to keep the horror story going. "I don't think you can call a guilty verdict anything other than a defeat," Rudolf said, "but it's not a final defeat."


Not content to cap off Kathleen Peterson's brutal killing with a five-month-long legal circus, Peterson and his pals vowed to continue fighting for evil until the bitter end. Well, that point has finally been reached. Legally speaking anyway, the war is over. After four years of continued courtroom clashes and media assaults, the story ends on November 9, 2007.

North Carolina's Supreme Court has announced its rejection of Peterson's appeal. "We conclude that, because the state presented overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, independent and separate from the tainted evidence, no reversible error occurred," Justice Edward Brady wrote in the court's decision.

Freda Black -- accused by Tom Maher of making inappropriate remarks during her closing argument -- offered some very appropriate remarks to the press. She said the victim's loved ones will be pleased that "they can finally lay Kathleen to rest." Ms. Black also said, "I'm thankful that we've got a positive result and it's finally over."

Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson

Despite the final defeat, there are apparently still some in the Peterson camp who remain bitter and refuse to allow Kathleen Peterson to rest in peace.

Maher told reporters he was "profoundly disappointed" by the Supreme Court's decision. According to WRAL News, "He said his client could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeal. He also said Peterson could opt to appeal again to the state on other motions for appropriate relief."

So while we may not have heard the very last, other than empty threats and bitter grumbling, Michael Peterson is finally finished.

"Because we hold that admission of the evidence seized
pursuant to the third search warrant was harmless beyond a
reasonable doubt, that the trial court did not err in admitting
evidence concerning the death of Elizabeth Ratliff, and that the
prosecutor's closing arguments did not amount to reversible
error, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals."

-- N.C. Supreme Court

"This trial spanned five months, and the record contains
thousands of pages of transcripts. The offending
statements by Ms. Black spanned less than five minutes."

-- N.C. Supreme Court

"He was extremely disappointed. He had obviously hoped for better news.
But he is fine and will keep pressing on. He still maintains his innocence."

-- Kerry Sutton

"I'm very pleased for Kathleen's family. Now they can close the last chapter
of this long book. Waiting for this decision has been very stressful for them."

-- Jim Hardin

Michael Peterson Cited for Having Another Inmate's Meds

WRAL NEWS BRIEF -- August, 20, 2007

Convicted killer and former Durham mayoral candidate Michael Peterson
served 10 days in segregation at Nash Correctional Institution this month
after he was found with another prisoner's medications, authorities said.
This was Peterson's second time in segregation in the past month.

Correction officers placed Peterson, 63, a former newspaper columnist and
novelist, in segregation July 12 while they investigated unspecified
allegations against him. In segregation, Peterson was isolated from other
inmates, confined to his cell for 23 hours a day and denied visitor,
television and phone privileges.

Doubting Thomas Mahar
Harm Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

August, 2007

Signaling a sudden end to the long legal drama, Tom Maher confirmed for the News-Observer that the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear Michael Peterson's appeal. The hearing is set for September 10. Mr. Mahar said he'd focus on three issues:

1. Whether police, after executing two properly drawn search warrants, violated the defendant's constitutional rights with a third that was improperly filed, and therefore denied him a fair trial.

2. Whether jurors were wrongly influenced by Freda Black's closing arguments which addressed defense allegations of corrupt police and prejudiced prosecutors determined to take revenge on the out-spoken newspaper columnist.

3. Whether Judge Hudson should have allowed prosecutors to use 404B evidence about Elizabeth Ratliff's 1985 staircase murder to establish an absence of accident in Kathleen Peterson's 2001 staircase murder.

We've heard it all before, but after September 10th, we won't be hearing it any more. This is the final appeal possible.

His reputation forever marred by the notorious case, Michael's lawyer must be secretly overjoyed to finally close this book. He surely realizes, the same old losing arguments that failed in the past don't stand a chance of winning a new trial now. Despite various mistakes made by law enforcement, none of the errors even come close to the court's standard of doing "harm beyond a reasonable doubt."

However . . . every chapter of this story has included strange, ugly and unexpected events. So, who knows? If the impossible happens and North Carolina's Supreme Court overturns Peterson's verdict, the one and only person who would actually welcome the reversal would be Barbara Stager.

The Camera Doesn't Lie

Staircase Murders

April 16, 2007

As a great movie, Lifetime Network's "The Staircase Murders," produced by Lionsgate Films, falls far short. Opting to include a little of everything, director Tom McLoughlin fails to focus on much of anything. Very few scenes last more than a minute before a swell of music and a cross-fade to the next confrontation. Although reasonably well acted, the dialogue in Donald Martin's screenplay is dreadfully thin. The shoddy sets and props look haphazardly chosen, costuming is often awkward, and Joseph LoDuca's derivative score is an awful mess.

However, as the telling of a true story, Lifetime's project is a great success. For one thing, the TV movie's title emphasizes the fact that Michael Peterson's story involves -- at least -- more than one murder.

Although "based on actual events" involving Mr. Peterson, the fictionalized film veers away from the actual details surrounding those events. The script ingeniously transposes situations and re-arranges scenes in a way that accurately dramatizes the major points of North Carolina's notorious case.

There are dozens of discrepancies between what really happened and what happens in Donald Martin's movie. But far from being careless errors, Martin's fictionalized series of imagined events are deftly designed to deliver Peterson's strange sprawling saga with a deadly efficiency.

Samaire Armstrong as Caitlin

1. Kathleen Peterson's sister Candace Zamperini -- not her daughter, Caitlin -- reported having a horrible feeling while washing blood spatter off the Black Cat print. No matter. Dramatically, the import of the moment can be felt, just as it was felt in court when Elizabeth Ratliff's loved ones described having the identical experience -- wiping blood spatter off the Chat Noir in Germany.

2. No photos were ever taken at the crime scene of Elizabeth Ratliff's murder. Peterson's lies about the bloody scene were only refuted by testimony. The shocking homicide went practically undocumented.

Not mentioned in the movie is neighbor Karin Hamm -- who witnessed Peterson skulking away from Elizabeth Ratliff's house the night of her staircase murder, and the fact that both Michael and first wife Patty Peterson lied about where Elizabeth was in her final hours.

3. It wasn't defender David Rudolf who introduced the idea of having a documentary filmmaker capture everything and everybody on tape -- though obviously, Rudolf eagerly signed on to the disastrous plan. No defense lawyer in his right mind would ever consent to such a thing.

Apparently banking on his own ability to sell fiction, Rudolf never requested a change of venue. He set about poisoning the jury pool with a story of perfect marriage, revenge-seeking police and freak accidents. So factually true or not, linking the lawyer to the filmmaker aptly sums up the camera-ready attorney's string of media missteps and high-profile mistakes.

4. The anonymous gay sex scene in the locker room might've been made for TV, but it's based on actual events . . . lots of them. In reality, very little information about Peterson's sordid hook-ups came before the jury. Dennis Rowe -- prepared to testify but never called as a witness to the would-be mayor's dirty tricks -- was himself brutally murdered shortly after Peterson's trial ended.

5. It may not be true that Michael poisoned Elizabeth Ratliff's husband, George -- but the implication of it in Lifetime's film justifiably represents the many, many deadly coincidences and fatal accidents surrounding Michael "Purple Heart" Peterson.

6. Michael didn't refuse to attend his wife's memorial, and he probably didn't directly threaten Caitlin with funeral bills, but he certainly did rant and rail about such things to members of Caitlin's family. The publicly blithe millionaire took every opportunity in private to complain and protest --- always over the smallest matters and pettiest sums of money. Director McLoughlin's dramatic showdown between Michael and Caitlin correctly captures the reality of Peterson's outrageous and insane behavior.

Star-biller, Treat Williams, does a serviceable job playing the novel narcissist, but Samaire Armstrong's vulnerable, sensitive portrayal of Caitlin Atwater steals the show. And there's some Poetic Justice in that. After all, Michael's already had his star turn.


Jean-Xavier de Lestrade did his level best to martyr Peterson in the Maha documentary, "The Staircase." He used every trick in the director's book trying to make Michael's murder look like a mystery. Editing out critical evidence such as . . . the autopsy . . . the insurance policy . . . the decades of manipulation . . . Lestrade succeeded in creating reasonable doubt only by hiding the reasonable certainties of the situation.

It almost works, but finally -- the camera doesn't lie. Left with little more than Michael's self-serving monologues, Lestrade's camera has no choice but to focus in on the character of the self-absorbed murderer.

Of course, also lost on Lestrade's cutting room floor was his own extraordinary participation in the case.

Featured prominently in the Lifetime TV version of events are characters representing Lestrade and his production crew -- constantly jostling for position and requesting second takes of everyone's sorrow. That's the reality. This supposedly innocent, grieving husband and father was all "lights, camera, action" from the very beginning. Michael's preening, posturing and pontificating during his family's nightmare is all the evidence of evil any reasonable person needs.

Speaking of nightmares, there's a scene late in McLoughlin's movie where Kathleen Peterson threatens her husband with divorce and turns her back on him. In an instant, the stairway is literally awash in blood. That dream sequence, reminiscent of the surreal and over-the-top moments in so many spooky movies, perfectly pins down the reality of Michael Peterson's house of horrors.

Williams as Peterson                   

Having seen practically every Lifetime Network movie ever made -- five times -- I feel confident in saying "The Staircase Murders" is as good as the cable channel's other melodramatic offerings. Most importantly, the basic reality of Kathleen Peterson's story has been faithfully rendered. Ironically, unlike Lestrade's slickly edited footage of real life -- Lionsgate's low-budget, made-up, made-for-TV version actually manages to reveal the truth.

Caitlin and Kathleen

Settlement Reached

February, 2007

Caitlin Atwater has accepted $25 million to settle her wrongful death lawsuit.

"With this settlement, I believe that Michael Peterson is agreeing to an offer great enough to begin to speak to the value of my mother's life and the loss I must continue to deal with," Caitlin said. Jay Trehy, who has tirelessly represented Caitlin in this matter, offered, "We believe the $25 million is an absolutely appropriate, if not conservative, figure."

"It didn't really matter what number a jury would give. Mr. Peterson doesn't have money," remarked Peterson attorney, Kerry Sutton. "He specifically told me that he hopes this gives Caitlin some peace to close this legal chapter of her life."

Under the settlement, the wrongful death suit would be reinstated in the unlikely event that Peterson's conviction is overturned. The settlement also states that Peterson admits no guilt or liability in the death of Kathleen Peterson.

Caitlin, now 24, is finishing school at Cornell University this semester. Speaking to reporters she commented, "It's just stopping for a minute to appreciate the value of my mother's life, and about the relationships she had -- is what's most important."

Caitlin and Kathleen

The Medium is the Message

Cable TV's "Forensic Files" is currently running a new episode
about the Peterson case called, "A Novel Idea." Despite the
dreadful title and several unfortunate factual errors, the half-hour
episode manages to deliver a coherent telling of the basic story. It
also manages to cast Todd Peterson in a very guilty light.

Caitlin and Todd

And scheduled to premier April 8 will be "The Staircase Murders,"
produced by Lionsgate for Lifetime Television. Unfortunately, the
made-for-TV movie is to be based on a hastily written and poorly
researched book by Aphrodite Jones. Worse yet, the Staircase Murderer
will be played by Treat Williams.

Michael Peterson (defendant) appeals from a judgment
entered consistent with the jury's verdict finding him Guilty
of first-degree murder. After a thorough review of the
record, relevant law, and arguments of the parties, we hold
that defendant received a trial free from prejudicial error;
as such, we affirm the judgment against him.

-- N.C. Court of Appeals


On September 19, 2006, it was announced that Michael Peterson had lost in the Court of Appeals.

However, since one of the three judges dissented, Peterson's attorney may now take the appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court. After that, there is no further place to appeal a conviction.

"As defense counsel, in his opening statement, extensively discussed
defendant and Kathleen's relationship and portrayed the marriage as
a happy and loving one, the trial court properly found that evidence of
defendant's attempts to have sexual relations with a male escort and
interest in homosexual pornography were relevant to rebut defense
counsel's opening statement."

-- Judge Elmore N.C. Court of Appeals

Read Peterson's
Court of Appeals Denial

June 13, 2006

In a last-minute money maneuver, Michael Peterson has declared bankruptcy. The civil trial has now been indefinitely delayed. News accounts said Caitlin Atwater's lawyer was "livid upon learning of the bankruptcy application." Jay Trehy was quoted as saying:

"Once again, Mr. Peterson has found a way to hurt the family and friends of his deceased wife. This is a transparent effort to avoid the civil justice that Caitlin Atwater is entitled to. All this accomplishes is to delay the trial. In the long run, bankruptcy cannot wipe out the damages you caused by murder."

All things happen for a reason. A declaration of bankruptcy accomplishes much the same as the stated goals of the civil litigation, and claiming to be bankrupt does not prevent Peterson from being sued.

While I understand Mr. Trehy's anger, I am in many ways, relieved. We have -- for the time being -- been spared more horror.

And Michael's not going anywhere, any time soon.

Caitlin Atwater

June 19, 2006 would mark the beginning of Peterson's civil trial, and the end to many desperately maintained fictions.

Caitlin Atwater, through her dedicated attorney Jay Trehy, will contend that she deserves monetary damages because Michael Peterson "did intentionally, maliciously, willfully and wantonly assault and kill" Kathleen Peterson.

Despite Kerry Sutton's objections, judicial permission for Trehy to take a deposition from Peterson has been granted. But word is, he won't have very much to say.

Unlike the combative, back-and-forth suspense of the criminal trial, the civil trial will focus on the nature and extent of Kathleen Peterson's pain and suffering.

It seems clear to me, the proceeding is going to be merciless.

After saying how much I was looking forward to it, I'm now dreading the event and the information that's going to come out. I'm sickened at this review of the horror. I'm terribly saddened for Caitlin, and for all of the family members involved.

All of them.

I am again overwhelmed by the pure evil of Michael Peterson, and by the death and devastation this one man has caused.

May 16, 2006

No word on Mr. Peterson's appeal is expected any time soon. But there is some news to report: Kerry Sutton, will represent the novelist when his civil trial begins on June 19. I wonder if she agreed to take the case prior to becoming immersed in the Duke University lacrosse scandal.

Tom Maher is set to argue the Peterson case before
the North Carolina Court of Appeals on April 18, 2006.

Michael's Mansion

Hizzoner, Michael Peterson -- April 18, 2001:

"Our solution? Blow more smoke to fool ourselves. Talk nonsense.
Avoid difficult decisions. Make outlandish promises we can’t keep --
theaters, parking decks, ice skating rinks, etc. Deny reality at all costs."

"Little pieces of information about the debacle that is Durham city
government have been leaking out for quite a while but now we
have enough pieces to see the true dimensions of the disaster."

"This city is heading into the toilet."


Comfort and Joy

Our loved ones live on in our hearts.

"We were never hired to represent Mike on the civil case.
That is not our area of expertise."
-- David Rudolf about himself and Thomas Maher

"There may be someone else who might step up,
but I can't speak to who that might be right now.
So is he being hung out to dry? Probably not."
-- -- Kerry Sutton

Not a Creature was Stirring

December, 2005

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays comes grim news for Camp Peterson. A date was announced for Michael's civil trial and yet no defense lawyer has stepped forward to announce that he -- OR SHE -- would take the case.

Et tu, Kerry?

Well -- with or without David Rudolf's smoke and Mahers, trial is set for June 19, 2006. The civil proceeding is expected to be an excruciating re-play of the evidence already witnessed in the criminal trial except for one, never-before-seen bit of testimony: Hizzoner won't be able to hide behind 5th amendment privileges.

The mere thought of having Michael "pool lights" Peterson on the stand is a gift that brings a delighted glow -- warm enough to last me the rest of the season.

May the merry dreams of Justice bring Comfort and Joy to all.

"For one thing, if he were ever to write a book in prison, he couldn't make any money from it . . . it shows Kathleen Peterson's life had value, and that people around her really cared about her . . . the judgment would make a statement about how the Durham community celebrates human life and abhors domestic violence."
-- Caitlin Atwater's lawyer,
Jay Trehy
about the civil trial

Abuse of Discretion
Kerry Sutton Files

"I ask you to remember that one of the things that makes our country the envy of the world is a criminal justice system whose foundation lies in the premise 'innocent until proven guilty,' I remain confident that the Durham Police Department's diligent investigation will ultimately show that Kathleen Peterson's death was a dreadful accident."
-- Kerry, December 2001

"I'm not on the payroll now. If nothing, I'm a loyal person . . . I had some trouble with people in the courthouse at first, questioning my judgment because I'm Mike Peterson's friend."
-- Kerry, May 2003

"Not a single day passes when I don't think about it."
-- Kerry, October 2004

"The circumstances of these two deaths create striking similarities, but striking similarities alone are not sufficient . . . In this case, the evidence that Mr. Peterson was involved in Ms. Ratliff's death is so thin that its admission . . . was a clear abuse of discretion."
-- Kerry's 2005 brief

Kerry Sutton

Defending While Intoxicated

October 24, 2005

The North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers has submitted a brief signed by Mike Peterson's original attorney and number one admirer, Kerry Sutton, as well as a former Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

Press accounts reveal the document, submitted to the state Court of Appeals, endorses Peterson's argument that evidence about Elizabeth Ratliff's 1985 staircase murder disguised as an accident was improperly introduced into his trial about Kathleen Peterson's 2001 staircase murder disguised as an accident.

According to Kerry, the 404B evidence is irrelevant:
"It's like saying to you, 'Well, I have evidence you were driving badly six years ago and here you've gotten a ticket. I'd like to throw that evidence in to make you look worse.'"

Such unfortunate statements show why -- very early on -- Kerry was replaced by David Rudolf and asked to maybe . . . donate her services on the side.

Attorney Jay Trehy says the brief lacks credibility because it was signed by Kerry who has been a "blindly loyal" personal friend to Peterson for years. "It cannot be said that this brief has the full support of all academy members," Trehy stated. "As an academy member, I certainly do not support the academy weighing in."

When asked about her obvious bias -- considering her decade of near slavish devotion to Hizzoner bordering on worship -- Kerry insisted she was just an impartial lawyer who happened to file a legal brief. "I don't deny that I am a loyal friend, but I wouldn't jeopardize my integrity by inserting personal opinions into a court matter," she swore. In case that failed to convince, Kerry noted the additional signature of His Honor, retired Justice James G. Exum Jr., "He doesn't know Mike Peterson from Adam."

Oh, that explains it.

Well, I have just one word for Kerry -- and Judge Exum -- and public defender Maher:


Not that Peterson could be made to look any worse -- but, does Judge Exum know that in 1993, Mike was stopped by police while drunkenly weaving along Chapel Hill Boulevard in his car? He registered an alcohol level of 0.11. Peterson pleaded guilty, and in exchange -- paid some fines, had his license suspended for 30 days, and got the charges reduced to "careless and reckless driving."

Five years later, in an October 9, 1998 column, an outraged Peterson railed about the horrific death of a man killed by a drunken driver and the legal system's handling of the case.

Peterson wrote:
"Drunks are on the road, and they're going to kill innocent people and ruin countless lives. The message must be: zero tolerance . . . The lesson? I didn't think we needed one, but apparently we do: Don't drink and drive. DON'T, DON'T, DON'T."

When confronted in 1999 with his hypocrisy and asked why he failed to mention his own record at the time, Peterson said it never occurred to him. "I wasn't writing about myself," he protested.

Don't shoot messenger

August 30, 1999
Editorial Section

Perhaps if certain Durham city matters had not been allowed to approach the absurd, they wouldn't appear quite so ridiculous when brought to the public's attention by concerned citizens like mayoral candidate Michael Peterson. Let us not shoot the messenger.

For those who say Peterson has no specific plan to make improvements as mayor, I suggest you go back and read a few of his columns from the past several years. There is one recurrent theme that will go a long way toward repairing many of Durham's ills. That theme is accountability.

Each citizen, parent, student, city employee and elected official should be held accountable for individual responsibilities and duties. In the case of city employees and officials, whether it's city credit cards, missing water or torched playground equipment, someone is responsible and should be held accountable.

The time for personal accountability has come, and I think Durham is going to see a lot more of it when Mike Peterson is elected mayor.


Michael Peterson vs. Time
sentenced to life

"The war isn't over"
-- David Rudolf, 10/10/2003


October, 2005

Paperwork for Mr. Peterson's all-important appeal was to have been filed by September 12, but defender, Thomas Maher, missed the deadline. Apparently he claimed he needed more time because the case was just too complex.

The State Court of Appeals granted Maher more time, and by pure coincidence, the new filing deadline was set for October 10. Of course, the date has special significance to this case -- October 10, 2003 was the day jurors returned a verdict declaring the novelist guilty of the first degree murder of Kathleen Hunt Atwater Peterson.

Maher's last-minute excuses are lame . . . and suspect. An hour after the verdict, he and a red-faced David Rudolf angrily vowed to launch an appeal. They've had fully two years to prepare. True, the official transcript took a while, but the entire trial was televised, videotaped and committed to film by a French production company.

Considering that their oh-so innocent client has been wasting away in a prison cell all this time, desperately waiting on a decision about his appeal, why would Camp Peterson suddenly claim things were so complex and demand yet more time?

For those who followed the case, nothing about it was complex. In fact, it was horribly plain and simple: Peterson brutally beat his wife to death and left her battered corpse at the bottom of a blood-drenched staircase.

Kathleen Peterson's autopsy revealed a shocking matrix of injuries and wounds, including seven skull-deep lacerations on the back of her head and a neck fracture. As the only person who was with Mrs. Peterson the night she was killed, investigators turned to Mr. Peterson for answers, but other than to say his wife fell down the stairs, Mike had no explanation.

Juror, Paul Harrison didn't find the case to be so very complex. He told reporters, "On the first day when we voted, on one element, it was unanimous. It was not a fall. It was definitely a homicide."

The only thing complicated about Peterson's case was the intricate web of lies he and his defenders created and spent a million dollars trying to maintain. What was complex was the fictional world of blissful soulmates and horrible but purely coincidental twin homicides.

On October 10, 2003, David Rudolf defiantly remarked, "I don't think you can call a guilty verdict anything other than a defeat. But it's not a final defeat."

He was right.

In the two years since, Peterson and his apologists have suffered a series of devastating defeats -- both in and out of court -- most recently when a federal court ruled that Nortel Networks was dead wrong to award the fictional writer $384,000 in Kathleen Peterson's employment benefits.

No decision on the appeal is expected until some time in 2006. Surely Maher knows he'll have no luck appealing testimony about Peterson's male hookers and previous staircase murders, since those issues only came in to refute the defense's case of an ideal couple and an innocent accident. Time will tell. Until then, Hizzoner will remain locked in a small cage at Nash Correctional Institution.


"The benefits of an intruder theory is -- it's simpler. There's no debate over the forensics for the most part. The real problem with the intruder theory is lack of evidence that there was an intruder. An intruder would have to have a weapon with them capable of inflicting these wounds, but not a knife or a gun, and then take that weapon with them."
-- Maher

"We will seek damages awards for two reasons: We don't want anyone to forget that Kathleen Peterson's life had value, and we want to make sure that Peterson will never be able to write about and profit from his wrongdoing."
-- Jay Trehy

In what's being advertised as "a follow-up to
Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's acclaimed eight-part
documentary series The Staircase" on October 25,
the Sundance Channel is airing a
British documentary by Nick Copus about
"what has happened to the film's leading protagonists
since author Michael Peterson was found guilty of murder."

As a follow-up to their follow up, new material has
been added to the documentary debunking website:

Behind The Staircase

Hooker's Lawyer Paying High Price

Thomas Loflin, attorney for Peterson pen-pal and prostitute BRAD, pleaded guilty in September to six counts of willful failure to file North Carolina individual income tax returns for 1998 through 2003. He and wife, Ann Loflin, were sentenced to a 45-day prison term and $1,000 in criminal fines. The prison term was suspended and they were placed on probation for 24 months. Thomas Loflin was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and must report his sentencing to the N. C. Bar Association.

Dear Kathy:

Courageous Ladies

September, 2005

Trial tracker and victim's rights activist, Kathy Monkman, known around the world wide web as simply, KatieCooLady, has long been a supporter of this site. Along with donating time and money, she has also supplied these pages with insights and inside information.

For years now, Kathy has posted, commented and unofficially reported on Peterson East, Peterson West and many trials in between, often as the single source blogging realtime news from the courthouse to various message boards. She has recently become a regular contributor to Justice Magazine, so now the world has a central place to tap into findings from the supreme court watcher. It's a good thing . . .

Kathy has just published an important article that begins with these words:

"I opened up my email box early this summer to this letter from Ann Christensen, sister of Michael Peterson."

Thank you for your courage, Ann Christensen.

And thank you, KatieCooLady -- or perhaps we should now simply call you, Lady Justice.

"Most of my family, all except for Jack, quit communicating with me after that day. I became an outcast.

The guilty verdict came in on October 10. I was surprised, but realized that despite a million dollar defense, justice was served. If anything, it shows that the justice system really does work. Because a person is rich and white and well-spoken and cultured and intelligent and spends over a million dollars, he doesn't always get off. It is a tribute to the justice system in America."

-- Ann Christensen

Kathleen Atwater

"As to the last witness who appeared before you,
this witness has committed perjury and the court
orders you to totally disregard all the testimony
of this witness."
-- Judge Hudson, Sept. 27, 2001

The Total Disregard of Saami Shaibani

Biophysicist, F.B.I. consultant, forensic physics professor and bald-faced liar, Dr. Saami Shaibani, will not be held accountable for padding his already over-stuffed resume while under oath in the Peterson trial.

"Our special prosecutions unit reviewed the entire matter and declined to pursue charges," a Justice spokesman told reporters. "After reviewing all of the information, our attorneys did not think the case would sustain a charge."

Dr. Shaibani

"I do not believe we are desecrating her memory."

August, 2005

The following is Clayton Peterson's published letter to Metro Magazine about their tasteless and insipid article -- The Death of Kathleen Peterson: The Owl Theory.


I am Michael Peterson's son and Kathleen Peterson's step-son. I just want to take a minute to thank you for your article and tell you that I believe in what you are doing. While I was taken aback to see Kathleen's photos, I also believe that it is essential that those photos, that ALL autopsy photos, remain in the public domain.

I do not know what happened that night in December (owl, stairs, intruder, etc.); quite possibly, neither does anyone else. The important point is that we remain open to the possibility that anything could have happened. But I do not believe that my father smashed my stepmother over the head and killed her.

It could be that sometime in the future, someone, some expert, some layperson, could look at these photos of Kathleen and say, "I know what happened, and here is why. ..." Perhaps there will be a technology breakthrough; maybe the right person has not yet been reached. But without these images available to everyone, we might never have that opportunity.

I love Kathleen as much as my mother and father, my brother and sisters. I do not believe we are desecrating her memory. She lives in me, and nothing will take that away or corrupt it.

Keep going and thank you for helping to protect us all.

Clayton Peterson

Clayton Peterson

I must say -- I have never read anything so horrifying in my life. Michael Peterson himself couldn't pen such demented fiction. While nothing could possibly be more chilling, there's a related outrage in the news, also from the "Wishful Un-Thinking" department . . .

Maher Files Appeal

Millionaire Mike's taxpayer-funded lawyer, Thomas Maher, recently told WRAL reporters,"I was never convinced he was guilty of what he was convicted of."

I'm sure Maher's clever little linguistic slip-knot pales in comparison to the word aerobics found in his recent court filing. In the papers, Maher apparently points to several major mistakes made by prosecutors in the Peterson trial, and clarifies his intention to appeal -- and have the verdict overturned.

Maher would have better luck with Peterson's appeal if he pointed out his own major mistakes, but be that as it may, a ruling is expected by next spring.


"I've felt from the start that it's just inappropriate for
autopsy photos to be released regardless of whose they are.
I continue to feel that way. I think most people in
North Carolina would feel that way."

-- David Rudolf, 2003


Colonel Eugene I. Peterson

Colonel Eugene I. Peterson died on July 26, 2005. He was born in San Francisco 7 July 1918 to John and Della (Mellander) Peterson, but had been a life time Nevada resident. He was raised in Golconda, NV, where his family owned and operated the Golconda Hot Springs Hotel and adjacent ranches. He returned to San Francisco with his family in 1929, attended grammar school and graduated from Galileo High School. Returning to Reno, he attended and graduated with a B. S. Degree from the University of Nevada in 1940. He was the first University of Nevada athlete to win the tennis championships in the Far Western Conference, Reno City and Nevada.

Drafted into the Army in late 1940, Eugene served until Pearl Harbor, when commissioned a Lieutenant of Infantry. He served through World War II and landed at Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion. In 1945, he was commissioned in the regular Army and served through 1972, retiring as a Colonel. He attended all senior service military schools including the Army War College. His 32 years of active service included 15 years overseas.

As an Infantry Officer through 3 wars, Eugene was awarded three Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, 2 Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and many other decorations and commendations. In 1975, he became the Senior Assistant General Manager of Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta, GA, where he served until 1984, when he returned to Reno. He has resided in Reno since and has served as President of the Sierra Nevada Chapter, Retired Officers Association, was a member of the Knights of Columbus, BPOE and several community associations.

Eugene was preceded in death by his wife Eleanor June 20, 2002. He is survived by his sons; Michael Peterson, Durham, NC, William (Suellen Fulstone) Peterson, Reno and John (Lynda) Peterson, Las Vegas, NV, daughter, Ann (John) Christensen, Mill Valley, CA, 10 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. Funeral Services will be held at 9:30 am on Monday, August 1, 2005 at Walton Funeral Home, 875 West Second Street in Reno. Interment with full military honors by the United States Army will follow at 11:30 am at Veterans Cemetery in Fernley, NV. Memorial Contributions are suggested to the American Cancer Society, 6490 S. McCarran Blvd., Suite 40, Reno, NV 89509-6125.


July, 23, 2005

"I've been thinking about this for a number of weeks since my resignation from the D.A.'s office and I just decided it's the right thing to do," former Assistant District Attorney Freda Black said Friday announcing her candidacy for Durham County District Attorney.

Ms. Black's opponent will be Michael . . . Nifong.

Freda Black

June, 2005

Whoever it was that took Freda Black's parking space should be promptly given his walking papers. Rumor has it -- the loss of that secure parking spot in the courthouse basement prompted Senior Assistant District Attorney Freda Black to resign after 14 years.

That's not surprising. The woman is a genius, and therefore a flight risk. Freda Black is simply not to be toyed with.

The loss of so superior a legal personality in the Durham DA's office is huge and everyone in George Bush's America should know it. There is no other attorney who can compare to Freda Black.

To quote her is to love her.

"And you need to keep in mind, we're not dealing with the average individual over here. We're dealing with a fictional writer. Some people even say he's a good fictional writer. He is a person who knows how to create a fictional plot -- and in this case, he has tried to create one. He tried to sell it to the EMS workers… didn't work -- not ultimately -- he tried to sell it to the firemen, he tried to sell it to Corporal McDowell, to Connie Mack Bullock, to Pascal, to Art Holland. He tried to sell it to his family… and in this courtroom, he's tried to sell it to you -- a fictional plot."

It just doesn't get any better than that. You can search high and low but you will not find a finer prosecutor than Freda Black -- anywhere.

Mike "Pool Lights" Peterson had calculated the tough time he'd get from detractors down at the Durham police station, but obviously, he never counted on attorney Black's ferocious frontal attack. As the perfect, no-nonsense antidote to Peterson's poisonous fiction, she was beyond Hizzoner's worst nightmare.

Freda Black

"Michael says that Kathleen is his soulmate. His lawyer told you that, yesterday. Did he honor her? Did he keep her? Did he forsake all others? And was he faithful only unto her? You all know the answers to those questions. The answer to every one of those questions -- is no."

Over at the Durham law offices of Clayton, Myrick, McClanahan and Coulter there's a parking space with Freda Black's name on it. But nothing about that sad fact prevents Freda from running for the office of District Attorney down the road.

"If you had a piece of junk like this in your house wouldn't you just throw it away? Granted, apparently that garage was filthy, but wouldn't you just throw it away? We don't really know what this is. You've been given no information about who found it -- it surely wasn't the photographer -- when it was found -- why it was there? . . . So I argue to you that defense exhibit 280A is just a piece of nothing"

Freda Black

"Obviously she's been of great benefit
to the office for a great period of time.
I can't say I'm terribly surprised."

-- Michael Nifong
unsurprised interim replacement for former DA Hardin

Along with Jim Hardin, another Triangle prosecutor, Orange-Chatham DA Carl Fox, also ascended to a judgeship.

The Smoking Son

Low Down on High-Profile Attorney's Son

Police log
April 04, 2005

A 17-year-old East Chapel Hill High School student was arrested at 5 p.m. Friday and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, Chapel Hill police reports state. According to reports, Aaron Lucas Roskin Rudolf, of 209 Old Franklin Grove, was stopped for driving a four-wheel vehicle on an OWASA sewer right-of-way on Pinehurst Drive near Burning Tree Drive.

Officers smelled a strong odor of marijuana in the car, and Rudolf admitted to smoking the substance earlier that day, reports state. A search of the car revealed four partially burned marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray and a brown bottle used to store the drug, reports state.

A passenger in the car, 17-year-old Ashley Richards, was cited for marijuana possession after two partially burned marijuana cigarettes were found in her purse.

Rudolf was taken to Orange County Jail to be released to a responsible adult. He is scheduled to appear April 25 in Orange County District Criminal Court in Hillsborough.

All Rise for the Honorable
Judge Jim Hardin!

In April of 2005, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley's office announced that Jim Hardin would become a Superior Court judge.

People in North Carolina and all over the country applauded news of Jim Hardin's ascent. Mr. Hardin -- who currently serves as Acting Staff Judge Advocate for the 108th Division of the United States Army Reserve, holding the rank of Lt. Colonel -- has honored us all.

Mike Easley announced: "Jim Hardin's nearly two decades as a prosecutor has prepared him to accept the responsibilities of a Special Superior Court Judge. I am confident that he will bring the same commitment and dedication that was displayed during his 11-year tenure as District Attorney to this judgeship."

70 witnesses and 500 pieces of evidence

63 days of trial

Jury selection begins

Opening statements

Defense Closing

Prosecution Closing

Guilty Verdict
May 5, 2003

July 1, 2003

October 2, 2003

October 3, 2003

October 10, 2003
estimated expenses to the state,
county and city:   over $450,000

estimated expenses to the defendant:
over $1 million

"In America, justice is very, very expensive."
-- indigent millionaire, Michael Peterson


The Black Cat

Peterson's Appeal

Murder Time Line

Filthy, Dirty E-mails

A Killer Chronology

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