On December 9, 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead with a pool of blood at the bottom of the servant staircase in her Forest Hills mansion in Durham, North Carolina. Michael Peterson reportedly called for police and medical help, sounding very distressed and panicked. Thinking this was going to be handled as an accident, he was shocked when authorities began to treat the scene as a crime and later arrested him for Kathleen's murder.
The Peterson case soon turned in a national sensation as Michael's case went to trial. 17 years later, in 2018, a Netflix documentary has been released that chronicles the case, including footage from the entire trial and preparation for the trial. This has rehashed many feelings and opinions about the case and the state of Michael's innocence.
I take major issue with the whole trial, as well as the documentary, that is supposed to be objective and unbiased. I am a true-crime lover, so I was quite interested in learning about this case when the documentary came out. I listened to two podcast episodes about it, Mile Higher and Generation Why, before I watched the documentary so I was already well-versed in how this trial unfolded.
In short, Michael Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2011, Peterson was released and put under house arrest as his request for retrial was being processed. SBI agent, Duane Deaver, who testified for the prosecution in Peterson's trial, was fired after being investigated for fraud. He had falsely represented evidence in 34 cases, causing a claim of misrepresentation of evidence on Michael Peterson's behalf.
On February 24, 2017, Peterson entered an Alford plea, admitting guilt to voluntary manslaughter and was facing no more additional jail time.
Let's dive deeper into what is wrong with the whole case. The first major red flag is that Kathleen's injuries are not consistent with a fall down the steps. There was a massive amount of blood at the scene, more than would be expected from a fall down the steps. She had multiple lacerations on her head but no skull fractures or brain contusions, which eliminated blunt force trauma.
However, the prosecutions went with the blow poke theory, which says that Michael beat his wife with their blow poke that was always in the house but mysteriously could not be found after Kathleen's death.
Next, they brought in witnesses of Elizabeth Ratliff's death, which happened in 1985 in Germany. Michael was living there with his first wife at the time and was the last person to see Ratliff alive. The death was declared a brain hemorrhage as a result of her Von Willebrand's disease.
I'll give it to them that it looks suspicious. However, there's no evidence pointing to foul play by Michael Peterson, and yet the prosecution still went with it. They went as far as to exhume Ratliff's body for another autopsy, done by the same medical examiner that performed Kathleen's autopsy. Of course, she's going to say it was homicidal since she's working with the prosecution. There's a conflict of interest. It would have been more credible if her second autopsy was done by someone not involved in the trial.
My final issue is with the documentary itself. A lot of filming was done during the preparation and the trial, but it was all of the defense. It shows Michael with his family, depicting him as a loving father with his children that support him. It shows the defense speaking with experts and devising their strategies, but nothing of the prosecution. We only see the prosecution and hear their side in the courtroom.
Bottom line is, there's no way Kathleen's injuries came from a fall down the stairs, but there's also no possibility it was a beating with the blow poke either. I always thought Michael was guilty, but even I was questioning my stance while watching the documentary. I believe that documentary was made to enhance Michael's reputation and make him seem to be a good guy who was just pulled into this case. They obviously are not going to bring in any evidence that makes him look guilty if this was their objective, to begin with.