The Michael Peterson Case

As I do with all cases before I blog about them, I research them to refresh my memory, make sure my facts are straight, and get the most up to date information.  This is a case that I have read many things about and have seen movies and documentaries about and all but thought the case was over.... it appears I was wrong.

Undisputed Facts:

1. On December 9, 2001 Kathleen Peterson, wife of author, Michael Peterson died in her home in North Carolina. Michael stated his wife had consumed alcohol and had apparently fallen down the stairs.

2. Upon an autopsy report investigators concluded that Kathleen's injuries were not consistent with a fall down the stairs.

3. In 1985, in Germany, Elizabeth Ratliff was found dead at the bottom of her stairs, like Kathleen.  Elizabeth and her daughters had been at the Peterson home the night before and Michael had taken them home and was the last person to see her alive.  In April of 2003 Elizabeth's body was exhumed for a second autopsy. The second autopsy determined that Elizabeth had been murdered.  While Michael was not charged with Elizabeth's murder her death was mentioned in his trial.  


4. After Elizabeth's death Michael was granted custody of Elizabeth's two daughters as her husband had died a few years before her. They supported Michael during his trial and against allegations of their mother's death.


5. On October 10, 2003, Michael Peterson was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Kathleen. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


6. In August 2010 it was discovered that forensic analyst, Duane Deaver, had likely falsified, and withheld evidence in many criminal cases.  He was subsequently fired in January 2011.  Deaver had testified at Michael's trial.  It was challenged that when asked to state his experience in the field, Deaver had lied.  Based on this evidence Michael's lawyers filed an appeal for a new trial.


7. On December 16, 2011 Michael was released on bail pending a new trial based on the evidence that Deaver had misled jurors. While released from jail, Michael remains on house arrest.


Disputed Facts:

1. Michael has maintain his innocence in the murder of his wife.


2. Michael states Kathleen died from falling down the stairs after drinking wine and taking valium.  Prosecutors maintain that, mainly based on autopsy results, was killed by a blunt object (speculated to be a fireplace poker). During the trial prosecutors stated the Peterson's owned a fireplace poker and it could not be found. Prosecutors showed a fireplace poker similar to the one they claim was used in trial.  There were some reports that the poker was found in the Peterson garage and that forensic testing showed no evidence.  I am unable to completely confirm this fact.


3. Elizabeth Ratliff's original autopsy reported her cause of death as being a brain hemorrhage to which she then fell down her stairs.  The second autopsy was done by the same medical examiner that performed Kathleen's autopsy and he determined the cause of death to be homicide.  Original police reports had indicated there was not a lot of blood at the scene.  Two witnesses, one who found Elizabeth and one who helped clean the scene testified differently at Michael's trial.


4. Widely known forensic expert, Dr. Henry Lee, testified for the defense stating he believed the projected blood splatter at scene of Kathleen's death was caused by her coughing up blood as she died.


5. Prosecutor's theorized that on the night of Kathleen's death, after sharing a few glasses of wine on the porch with her husband she had gone in the house and upstairs to use Michael's laptop computer to check some things for work.  They believe that while on Michael's computer she came across some information that he was carrying on with bi-sexual affairs and confronted Michael.  The defense consented that Michael was in fact bi-sexual but argued that Kathleen knew this and had accepted it.

6. An "independent" review was made of the work by Duane Deaver and has been reported that he "mislead," "hid evidence," and "exaggerated" things in more than 30 cases.  Deaver was considered to be the main prosecution witness in Michael's trial.  Deaver's attorney maintains that this was not the case, at least pertaining to the Peterson case.


7.  Many years into the case another theory was stated by members of Michael's defense team.  This theory states that Kathleen was outside, was attacked by an owl causing the lacerations to her skull, she ran into the house somehow tripping at bottom of stairs and hitting her head.  They argue that this theory is plausible as there apparently was evident of a few microscopic owl feathers found.  As in most cases there are "experts" on both sides of this theory as to whether it is possible that owl talons created the lacerations in Kathleen's skull.


My Opinion:


I had not kept up on the case and did not realize that Michael had been released on bail this past December.  By many reports I have read on this issue there is question as to whether the state will in fact obtain another guilty verdict as it has been estimated that most of their evidence largely relied on the reports and testimony of Duane Deaver.  


Just after Kathleen died a filmmaker began filming a documentary on the case, showing behind the scene things with the defense attorneys, interviewing people, going through the trial and later interviewing even the jurors.  I have seen this documentary (a six part series) however, I admit that it has been quite some time.  If I recall correctly there there often times in which his own defense was discouraged with Michael because of lies that he had told them and later were found out.  Again, if I recall correctly, one of these lies surrounded the issue of his sexuality. 


Does my gut tell me he is guilty?  Yes.  Why?  Well, for two reasons.  One surrounds the death of Elizabeth Ratliff.  It is my understanding that her husband passed away in 1983 and there has even been speculation as to if Michael may have had involvement although it was ruled a heart attack.  The latter claims are likely more media and rumor based in my opinion.  I find it highly suspicious that two women associated with Michael Peterson, in which he was the last person to see them alive were found dead at the bottom of their steps.  I just find this highly suspicious especially considering that it has been reported that after her death not only did Elizabeth's children continue to be raised by Michael and his first wife, he received items from Elizabeth's home.  One thing that has been reported on often (although I admit I cannot officially confirm, but if it is true it is TOO WEIRD) is that there was a picture at the bottom of the stairs where Elizabeth was found of a black cat that her sister has bought her.  It was covered in blood and returned after the death.  When Kathleen died there was an exact replica of this picture on the wall at the bottom of the stairs where she was found.  Michael's lawyers claim this is not the same picture that came from Elizabeth's home but that Michael had bought his own in 1997.  I am not sure I buy that one.


The other reason that I lean towards the guilt of Michael is not only the changing of his stories but of one story specifically.  It is Michael's claim that Kathleen knew of his sexuality issues and knew of the homosexual affairs he was apparently having.  He has maintained that not only did she know but that she was accepting of them and that they maintained all but a fairy tale marriage.  I just cannot see this being the case.  Kathleen's family states they do not believe she knew anything about this (unless of course she learned that night as the prosecutors claim) and that if she did she would not have been accepting of it as Michael claims.  Michael's and his supporters have stated that Kathleen's family knew little about their marriage life, but I am not sure I believe that either.  Regardless of what her family believes or what they may or may not know, few women would accept their spouse having any affairs, regardless of their sexuality.  I may have given Michael a little more credit in this area if he would have claimed that they had an open marriage and that they both had affairs but I have never heard this claim, nor any proof that Kathleen engaged in that type of activity.  Many people do keep their sexual activities (especially unconventional ones) more quiet, but it appears that no one knew of Michael's preferences or even suspected of such.   


Dr. Henry Lee has testified forensically in many trials, including this one.  It is his claim that the blood splatter in the stairwell was caused by coughing and apparently attempted to demonstrate this in the trial using ketchup.  Dr. Lee has never impressed me. Then again, I think that most experts can be "bought" in the sense that they will testify for whomever is going to pay them for their opinion. While it could theoretically be true the blood splatter could have been caused by Kathleen coughing, there has been no indication that this occurred and or why it would.


I will be keeping an eye on this case and on the next trial to see how this officially ends. 





Comments

  1. If this guy is guilty, he has as many lives as a damn cat....

    Id be interest in why you dont lend weight to Dr Lees testimony. I have followed him for years- before and after OJ-- and he is a pioneer in his field. He testifies for money, in the same way a lawyer participates in a case for money; he is paid hourly for his time and expertise. He cannot be bought to say any old thing; he reputation is stellar. And, I think you can find someone to testify to anything you want, but Dr Lee isnt just "anyone". Has he disappointed you on another case?

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  2. I don't remember what case it was I saw him in or testifying in but I just get good vibes from him and like him. I agree that people can buy any witness they want but I disagree that he cannot be bought... I don't know why...lol

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    1. I agree with you. The "coughing out blood" theory doesn't sound right to me.

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  3. I have followed a lot of crime cases but I am certain of ONE thing:this man is GUILTY...forget about his lies,his arrogance,his manipulations (he is using his own kids)....the crime photos do NOT LIE...maybe witnesses do,maybe they make mistakes,but hey...don't defence experts LIE all the time??why do we accuse only the ones the prosecution calls?hypocrisy!
    I was watching "The Staircase"....it's HILARIOUS how his defence team is gathered at the bottom of the stairs desperately trying to find a LOGICAL explanation for the blood evidence (accident)....there is none cause there was NO accident!
    I hope the prosecution won't make a deal he'll be found guilty AGAIn and sent where he belongs...in jail (or maybe in a psychiatric institution,he sure doesn't sound a normal man to ME)!

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  4. There are several points you got wrong here. I just finished watching the 9th episode of the documentary you mention, entitled "The Staircase." Sundance Channel aired all of them, and will air the final 10th episode tomorrow night. The original series was 8 episodes, with two more just added to include the petition for retrial.

    At no time did Michael lie to his attorneys, and he never denied his sexuality. As a matter of fact, he was very open about it and insisted that his wife knew. You may find it difficult to believe that a couple could be happy with one member having sexual relationships outside the marriage, but it does happen, and those couples are very happy together because they can be completely honest with each other. I have no idea if that's the relationship Michael had with Kathleen, but it's very plausible. I've seen it in action. Even the prostitute he arranged to meet said that Michael was very casual and open about the fact that he was married and loved his wife very much, and that's why he wasn't looking for any kind of relationship. Even Michael's brother, Bill, said that he knew about Michael's sexual orientation from the age of about 13 or 14. Your memory on this is simply wrong.

    Also, about Elizabeth Ratliffe, Michael may have been the last person to see her alive, but she died at least 10 hours later, since it was undisputed that Michael left her home after helping her put the two girls to bed at around 11:00 p.m. The coroner's report stated that Elizabeth died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the "late morning," since rigor mortis had not set in when she was found. Several friends and family members also said that Elizabeth had been complaining of migraines for a couple of weeks before her death but did not go to a doctor. Migraines are consistent with cerebral hemorrhage. So is blood in the spinal fluid, which is confirmed also in the coroner's report.

    I think this guy has been railroaded from the get-go. It's telling that right before the trial started, Michael himself acknowledged in an interview that the trial had nothing to do with truth. It was about winning. There are weird questions, such as the lack of skull fractures and the sheer quantity of blood, but there is absolutely no evidence that Michael killed her.

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    1. Well said. I just watched it, and confirm that Michael did not lie to his lawyers in the film. In fact they believed in his innocence so much, that they represented him on appeals pro-bono. It was amazing to see how people changed their stories about the amount of blood at Elizabeth Ratliffe's house years later. That was very prejudicial. Hope his troubles will end soon. I will be following his new trial wishing him well.

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  5. Henry will no longer testify after the Spector trial. He lied about finding evidence at Spector's home then lying about it.

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  6. Henry? Do you mean Dr. Lee? "Spectors?" Wow. Step away from the pain killer bottle.

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    1. Hi Brian - I think the other anonymous meant 'Phil Spector' the record/music producer. I didn't watch that trial coverage and didn't know HL was involved in it but I have seen him in two trials over the last ten yrs where he seemed to be reaching. He's a smart man, but for him to think we are to believe Kathleen Peterson was coughing blood all over the stairway is just not right. He even went on to say not coughing from internally..he meant if blood went down from her hair onto her face..she coughed and all that spatter went all over the walls. Sorry but that's ridiculous. I don't know who killed that woman but it wasn't from a fall from 2-3 steps as the defense wanted us to believe. Should have gone with an intruder theory.

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  7. I have seen Dr. Lee warn a defendant when they hired him that, if the evidence points towards his guilt, that he ( Mr. Lee ) now works for the prosecution at that point, and , that, in essence, they would be paying for evidence to be used against themself, as they pay the bill regardless of his findings. So, they needed to think about whether they wanted to hire him or not. That is a straight shooting man, and I don't believe it is a good practice to question someones reputation based on a "feeling." As for you not being "impressed" by Mr. Lee, I guess I will have to side with the entire forensics community that considers him to be one of the top blood spatter experts, and running the Connecticut State Police laboratory isn't handed out to amateurs, I assume. The number of cases that an "expert" can testify in over a period of time also seems to be minimal that you would really have to be a dirty person to be "bought" as these are not sums of money that are going to put you in Bill Gates income bracket. Some "experts" just are not very good at what they do, hence the reputation for being "bought." Mr. Lee has always proven to be an honest, straightforward man and his reputation should not be questioned with generalizations about the use of "experts" as a whole.

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  8. I watched some of the trial coverage from Court TV years ago, and recently watched the documentary. I didn't jump to think MP was guilty..I looked for other reasons for KP death. I can't get over the amount of blood at that scene. Not a fall down the steps. When I saw her body, mass amount of blood, then the injuries to her head, it looked like an "attack" but I couldn't figure out from who or what. I read about the Owl theory, but unless there was a door right near that staircase where she would have been attacked outside by the owl and then fought to get the thing off of her inside, I doubt it was an owl. There were owl feathers in her hair that were in her hand..her own hair (weird)..but no owl in the house and no owl feathers in the house. Also, MP states the door to the house was closed so how would the owl of gotten out? I gave that theory some credit then dismissed it. I'd like to know how MP got blood spatter inside the leg portion of his shorts. Henry Lee would have you believe he found her, stood over her, she coughed blood spatter up between his legs. I think Dr. Lee was grabbing at straws to find a reason for all that blood. I don't believe for a moment an intelligent specialist like HL believes KP fell down 2 or 3 steps. There are so many things in this case..but I believe she was attacked and it was a homocide. I think the defense should have gone with the intruder theory. That is possible that someone came into the house and killed her. There are no footprints leading outside..so I guess that's why they couldn't use that. I went on another site and saw a lot of the prosecution evidence that was not included in the documentary. I think the prosecution team were against MP partially b/c of the gay stuff. They almost seemed surprised about him being bi-sexual and that surprised me. It was 2001 not ancient times. And the on-going stories about that blow poke! I was so sick of hearing about that thing. If you notice the tip of that blow poke they found is missing. This is one of those cases that we will never know all the answers..much like the Jon Benet Ramsey case.

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  9. Any person, looking at Kathleen Peterson's loss of blood and the splatter that went as far up as that cat picture, can only conclude one thing: Michael Peterson, in a fit of rage, murdered that woman. If an owl had attacked her...she would have been screaming for help. Peterson has never once stated she screamed. I KNOW how a skull laceration can bleed. He murdered her. This has nothing to do with his hidden homosexuality, an owl or a fall. BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA killed that woman.

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  10. I don't understand how, after reading that a minuscule bird feather were found in her hair, there can be any doubt that the death was the result of an owl, or large bird of prey, attack...

    -The cuts are wildly irregular, but uninterrupted: This implies several things: The cutting object had no edge, or the cuts would be straighter, so having no edge the skin was penetrated fully, pulled and stretched, the skin's resistance broke, it was pulled and stretched again, it broke, and so on, leading to an instant jagged appearance, but without interruption: A straight pointy object without edge would have needed a very high level of pressure to maintain the cut without interruption: That would leave a mark on the skull for an object hard enough to cut skin. Or the cut would have non-full depth interruptions: There is neither skull marks or cut interruptions: This was always the most incredibly baffling aspect of this case for me...

    This is what the cutting suggests: The object was not metal, it was light, it had no edge, but it was extremely pointy. But even a very pointy object that is straight would have lost some purchase when the skin broke and it slid onward to the next "pulling" zig zag...: Some of that skin would have slipped in between the skull and the point: There is only ONE way such an object could have avoided losing purchase on a thin layer of remaining flesh, having no edge and leaving no skull marks: The object had to be a curved tip point, meaning that the skin was effectively trapped inside its point, which had no edge to make straight cuts, but could not lose full-depth purchase by leaving a sliver of flesh pass under its point, when the stretched skin resistance broke.

    Only a light, non metal curved hook shape, with a very sharp no-edge tip could do these injuries...

    -The pattern of the injuries matches perfectly the size an location of the talons of a large bird of prey: 3 forwards prongs slashing backwards, with a centered back talon slashing forward: TWICE, AND indentical in size, AND correctly LEVEL with one another...

    One the more incredible case I have ever heard of, but not at all ambiguous: Several Ornithologists have concurred the attack was within behavioural range.

    Gaston



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  11. You may want to rethink the manner in which you classify things. That Michael Peterson has always maintained his innocence is not a "disputed fact". It is a fact, though many may disagree with him.

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  12. There are certainly unknowns, but...MP and his defense team HARPED on Kathleen's drinking, though her BAC was low and her fingerprints weren't on the wine glasses. And she was so intent on checking a work email, loaded?

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  13. There are unknowns. But...MP and defense team HARPED on her drinking, though her BAC was low and her fingerprints weren't on the wine glasses. And she had to address a work email, loaded? As to the owl attack, who charges up a staircase bleeding profusely? An owl attack and fall from the BOTTOM few stairs still doesn't add up to death, imho.

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