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My wife and I were kind of at the. It's the story that became a sensation. There was blood. There was blood everywhere. Was this a fall or was this murder like she was bludgeoned to death?


They were asking me about Kathleen and Michael's relationship and she wasn't the first woman he found dead at the foot of the stairs.


Michael was at the bottom of the staircase. Liz was on the floor and there was a puddle of blood.


How can Michael found two women dead at the bottom of a staircase? What are the odds? Yeah, what are the odds? The emails were very specific about what they wanted to do with each other. Secrets dredged up from the past. Very graphic, steamy stuff. A body brought up from the ground. Seven lacerations. It was uncanny. A theory from out of the blue owl flew down and landed on Kathleen's head and a search for the truth muddied by lies.


They don't have the evidence they need to convict the person, so they make it up. A family's 16 year saga comes to an end that was wow, it just felt like a gunshot into my gut. There is no way I'm not going to get justice for her.


You might take him for a retired English professor from one of the universities in the Raleigh Durham area, preppy, witty, back when a sparkling storyteller welcomed so many of the best dinner tables. But nowadays in this part of North Carolina, Michael Peterson is known not as the novel was he in fact is. But as that man, the notorious husband, the one with a wife dead at the bottom of the staircase, you were not only the prime suspect, you were the only suspect, the only one.


There was massive amounts of blood.


How do you explain it?


Was this a fall or was this murder exactly what did happen on that staircase? And what is the truth about Michael Peterson?


A man once sentenced to die in prison for the commission of a homicide he has always maintained was nothing but an accident. Innocent, he asserts. But the novelist in him knows full well the irresistible appeal of the storyline. He says he got swept up in sex, money, murder.


My God, what more could you have tonight? One of the most compelling mysteries we've ever covered, as you haven't heard it before. People believe in you will always believe in you. People don't, never will. Michael Peterson, in his own words on the marriage, that fine old house, the blood spatter expert who wasn't and the family friend found dead in another staircase far away in time and place. Lightning don't strike the same place twice.


There's even a theory about an hour. Who done it? Oh, it's just awful. We're going to need some time here. It's both complicated and a simple question. So if I were to ask you, as I do right now, did you bludgeon Kathleen that night on the stairway of the house caused her death? No, no. Let's go back to the night, early December 2001, and stroll up the driveway of the gracious rambling house in one of Durham's better neighborhoods.


Michael and his wife Kathleen, are out back by the pool as the story goes, finishing off a bottle of wine in the living room. The Christmas tree is already on the ground. Peterson children expected home for the holiday. Christmas was big for Kathleen. Oh, God. Lower, yes. And Valentine's Day and Halloween. She made a celebration out of everything. Everything. Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin, stepdaughter to Michael says her mom was always happiest at the holidays.


She loves Christmas. She loves being in the mood, playing Christmas music from the start of December all the way through New Year's.


It was the kids, actually, who brought Kathleen and Michael together. His first marriage had started to fall apart. She was separated. Michael was raising his two boys and two young girls, Margaret and Martha. The girls became neighborhood playmates with Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin. They played, oh, my God, Barbies. And there was little my little ponies and their little trolls all the time. All the time. And then Kathleen came over to borrow a book one night.


And that's when it began as the kids spent more and more time together. So did Michael and Kathleen. It wasn't long before they approach the kids about becoming a family together.


They sat me down and said, you know, Caitlin, how would you like it if Martha and Margaret come to live with you? And I just immediately thought a permanent sleepover. And that's exactly how Michael presented it to his two girls. Margaret's the older.


It's really funny. I think he put it. We're going to have a long sleepover.


And we said, yeah, her younger sister, Martha, of course, we want to live with Caitlin and Kathleen and play Barbies and be a family together. So Michael and his four kids and Kathleen and her daughter became a blended family, he was a former U.S. Marine, turned full time writer who liked to draw on his wartime experiences in Vietnam.


One of his Vietnam books got a big advance money that went towards buying that fine house and said, we're thinking about moving into this house.


And they drove us over. We didn't even go inside.


We just looked and we thought, oh, my goodness, this is amazing.


There in his office, he wrote his war stories and churned out sharp elbowed columns on city politics for the local paper Stick in the eye stuff. He'd even been a losing candidate for mayor of Durham. Kathleen, meanwhile, was a top business at Nortel, the telecommunications company. She received a master's degree in engineering from Duke and had even appeared on the cover of a university magazine. She was a smart, smart woman, but most of all she was funny and sexual, but had this marvelous sense of life and vitality just were in the swirl of the local society.




Charity balls and parties and nice dinners. She did all of those good, smart friends at your table. Absolutely. She would invite people over. She cooked meals. She'd do the desserts. She did it all. So Michael was all too happy to say yes when after years of living together, Kathleen suggested the couple make it official.


So we got married and it was a gigantic whether it was in the house and there must have been one hundred and fifty people there. And it was just wonderful.


I always thought, you know, this is what I'll register as the happiest day of my life.


Kathleen's younger sister, Candace, says Kathleen was over the moon as well. She was thrilled to be marrying Michael.


All three girls were bridesmaids in her wedding. All remember at the wedding, the three girls singing or go into the chapel the day they married my sister Gload and Candace watched in amazement as over the next several years, Kathleen did it all.


Now, why did she raise these children and have a quite accomplished corporate career? Oh, dinner for 50, she do it.


And so it was on that mild December evening, 2001, with Kathleen juggling it all. She'd been preparing for the holidays while fending off the latest crisis at work.


Michael says she made dinner. They sat down to watch a movie, then headed out back to enjoy a midnight glass of wine.


We went to the pool and we talked. What time would you guess? You're out there 10, 11 tonight, which was at 11, 12 something. Something in there with a morning conference call scheduled. Michael says Kathleen turned in first.


She said, I got to go in. I've got to get ready. I got to sleep because the conference's first thing in the morning. So she gets up from the pool and goes upstairs. I'll see you later.


An hour went by maybe to Michael says he may have dozed off when he went back inside the house sometime after 2:00 a.m. There was Kathleen at the bottom of the stairs, a ghastly sight. And I saw her lying in the back staircase four feet out. And there was blood. There was just blood everywhere I went.


You're bringing more kind of back to her. But she breathing.


And she was at the time, she was conscious. There's no cause I knew she was dying. I mean, I'd seen enough of Vietnam. I mean, I knew she was dying here. By the way, your body is back in the ambulance and EMS right away. Right away. Call them again. But apparently it's a way point two minutes later, but it seemed like forever.


A long few minutes, but nothing compared to the many, many years of questions that would follow what had happened on that back staircase now pulled and blood. The answer would be in the eye of the beholder, what a husband called an accident. An investigator would see it very differently. I've seen falls, I've had family members fall. And to me, it did not look anywhere like a fall. Michael Peterson told us he'd come upon the unimaginable. His wife, Kathleen, at the bottom of their back staircase covered in blood.


EMT saw Michael cradling his wife, weeping so hard he had to be pulled away. That was the worst.


I mean, that was worse than anything in. In war, say anything because you expect that this is entirely different. I had everyone ready for this at all. At all.


Did anything explain itself to you, Michael, as you're looking at her?


She fell down the stairs, somebody at the bottom of the stairs. Your automatic responses where she fell down the stairs, Detective Arthaud was called to the Cedar Street mansion in the wee hours, we first spoke to him more than a decade ago.


So first, officers had already arrived at the Peterson house. First officers arrived, EMS were arrive.


The medical examiner was called in to he looked at the victim and said that a fall down the stairs was possible.


He could see some lacerations or feel some of the lacerations on the back of Mrs. Peterson's head. And he stated that this could be the result of a fall by dawn.


News of Kathleen's fall started rippling through the family. Details were still vague when family members reached Michael's girl's Margaret and Martha at college, she said something's happened.


Your mom was found on the stairs. You know, it was an accident. You know, you should come home.


By the time Kathleen's daughter Caitlin got the word, it was as shocking as it was definitive.


Her college roommate delivered the news and she looked me straight in my eye and she just says, Caitlin, it's your mom, she's dead. And those words still ring clearly in my head.


Kathleen's sister, Candace, couldn't believe what she was hearing. Michael called her directly. It was still vague.


Or she we can tell she fell down the stairs or she fell off a ladder. But there is no question, like, are you sure she's dead?


Yes. Michael was sure. Candice headed to her sister's house. The whole thing was sealed off with crime scene tape. And this is a it's a mansion, huge property. So the police kept saying, you know, you may not want to go in. There's so much blood.


This is really awesome, really scary. The police were not exaggerating. When Candice finally got inside. She says Michael brought her to the back staircase where it happened.


My sister's blood is washed in pools up against the wall.


I mean, her blood was everywhere.


The image would be seared in her mind. It didn't look right. She couldn't go there.


I still want to believe it was an accident. I think something horrible happened.


But all that blood up the walls, could it all be from a fall down the stairs? And that's precisely what was gnawing at Detective Holland. I've seen falls. I've had family members fall.


And to me, it did not look anywhere like like a fall.


Something to him seemed off about Kathleen's body position to her body was and not in the position that it would be in if she came to a final resting position.


After the fall, they processed the scene, photographing the stairwell, documenting the pool of blood and spray up the wall outside drops on the walkway and a smear on the front door in the kitchen, bloodstains on a cabinet and underneath, a drop of blood on the counter and right beside it and opened wine bottle and two glasses.


It was in a very, very time consuming. You don't want to go through it real speedy. You want to make sure that you cross all your T's and dot all your eyes.


It would take investigators a couple of days to go through the 9000 square foot estate. While they did, Michael in the kids took refuge at a neighbor's house.


I just spent most of the time in bed.


Then Margaret came in, Martha Kaitlynn, everybody flew in, everybody.


He says from the moment the police arrived at the house, they were aggressive towards him and his family. But even in his haze of shock and grief, Peterson says he thought he knew why.


I had written some really negative comments. I've been a columnist. I had really, really been hammering the place you let out at the cops.


Oh, many times. His accusations of the city cops range from their failure to get a handle on drug trafficking to only solving a small fraction of crimes.


The chief of police had emailed me just a couple of days before saying, Mike, you don't know how much damage you've done to the morale of the police department.


So if you're seeing the cops giving you and the family some attitude, you think you understand why that's what I saw. Sure. Sure. I understood it. Yeah, of course they're pissed. I got I got it.


But he says one of his sons read the police's behavior differently. He thought the police were zeroing in on his father from the get go.


He immediately called my brother, his uncle, who is an attorney in Reno, and said Uncle Bill, Kathleen's dad, they think Mike did it. And my brother got on the phone and he said, I'm representing Michael Peterson. Do not talk to him.


Michael's daughters were also worried. They knew very well their father relished being the provocateur. And now the police were swarming their house, walking the yard, looking under bushes and trees.


I remember feeling that something was going badly with the police. Michael called a family meeting.


He sat down with us and said, You know, girls, I don't. What's going on, but it seems bad, and I just want you to know I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't do anything. And we said, of course, how do we know?


But police weren't so sure. They seemed intent on peeling away the veneer of the Peterson's marriage, what was going on behind the closed doors in the mansion on Cedar Street?


They were asking me questions about Kathleen and Michael's relationship. And if I knew of anything, I thought they were happily married. She was very much in love with him.


But the detectives were beginning to believe the perfect marriage was anything but.


Despite that gorgeous house, maybe they weren't exactly rolling in dough.


There was a lot of financial problems. I sensed it. I sensed the stress of that. And then what? The autopsy revealed that one picture that was at. Michael Peterson says he was certain that his wife, Kathleen's death had been a terrible accident, a slip and fall down their back staircase after a night of drinking. But as days passed, he started to realize that not only did police think Kathleen's death was a case of murder, but also that he was the prime suspect.


That's just nonsense.


And I wasn't worried because when you're innocent, nothing can happen. But it was hardly nonsense. To Detective Holland of the Durham Police Department from the start, he was investigating not an accident, but what he believed was a suspicious death. And there were good reasons, he felt, to take a close look at Michael Peterson reasons, he says that had nothing to do with Peterson's very public criticism of the police.


He may have had some issues with the PD. You know, I don't. My perception of that is that I don't pay much attention to I don't I don't really like politics anyway, so therefore it didn't affect me one way or the other.


The detective wanted to know more about what was going on inside the Peterson home.


In addition to the forensic evidence you gather and you got to ask this question, what's going on in this marriage? Right. That's a big part of your investigation.


Detectives pulled aside Kathleen's sister, Candice, to ask if she'd noticed any trouble in her sister's marriage. So the police took me in a police van to interview me privately in her grief.


Candice was hesitant to say anything bad about her now widowed brother in law. She'd always liked it. He was a fun person to sit and chat with it across the dinner table.


He was interesting. He's a little bit arrogant about his intelligence, but he was a very smart man.


When I found out my sister was dead, I was his biggest defender.


She told investigators that everything was fine between Michael and Kathleen. It was only later, as she started replaying conversations in her head that she wondered if the couple had been fighting. Kathleen certainly seemed stressed.


She was very, very concerned about her job stability at her company and they were making layoffs.


According to Candice, job insecurity couldn't have come at a worse time. Her sister told her the financial pressures on their lives were mounting. She and Michael were drowning in credit card debt, and that big house had turned into a money pit and they'd invested heavily in her company's tech stock only to lose a bundle when the dotcom bubble burst. Then there were the big college tuition bills.


We've got three kids going to college and good colleges, expensive private colleges. Kathleen's daughter from her first marriage, Caitlin, remembers it, too.


There was a lot of financial problems. I sensed it. I sensed the stress of that.


And when investigators looked at the couple's credit reports, they saw just what Kathleen's sister, Candice, feared it was living above their means.


I mean, you know, if he wasn't writing a book or had any royalties coming in, he had no income.


And according to Kathleen's sister, Michael's dabble in local politics had brought even more stress to the marriage. When he ran for mayor, he'd been caught out publicly in a lie. A whopper of the war action novel is claimed to have been awarded a Purple Heart. Only he hadn't. He got hurt not by taking pills in Vietnam, but in a car accident in Japan.


One became public about his lies. It did cause Kathleen these friendships. She had to decide whether to stand by Michael or keep these friendships and these friendships were lost.


So if the true state of the Peterson's marriage was murky, investigators thought the story told in blood was becoming clear. Not only was there more of it in the stairwell than detectives would expect to see with the fall, but according to EMTALA, much of it was dry when they arrived.


So you have to wonder when the victim actually goes down those stairs, right? How long she had been actually been there.


A blood pattern expert analyzed the scene when he completed his initial findings, police suspicions were confirmed. He told me that he felt strongly that that this was a homicide.


So I thought this was just a few days before Christmas, Michael Peterson was charged with the murder of his wife. They had the grand jury. And, of course, I was indicted. And so I turned myself in.


As the officers booked Michael into the county jail, the blended family formed a unified bloc of support.


My mother would just be absolutely appalled. And this is the last thing I ever, ever want to happen to her husband.


It was hardly the Christmas that the Peterson family had so looked forward to.


Kathleen dead, their father in jail, who was just us kids, you know, in that house by ourselves, you know, trying to piece together a Christmas.


But soon another bombshell and this one would blow the family apart.


Two months after Christmas, the coroner released the results of the official autopsy, multiple lacerations to the back of her head like she was bludgeoned to death. Severe long Lantier lacerations not consistent with a fall, not consistent with a fall.


If Kathleen's sister, Candice, had been harboring suspicions about what had really happened to her sister, the medical examiner's report was the thing that pushed her over the edge of the seven huge lacerations that basically scalped her.


He was marked. That one picture, that was it, after reading the autopsy report herself, Kathleen's daughter Caitlin agreed with her and she called her step sister, Margaret.


I said, you need to read this. You need to understand that, mom, she did not die from falling on the stairs, that she was beaten to death.


But Caitlin's childhood playmates, her stepsisters, Margaret and Martha, stood strong with their father, had told me that he didn't do it.


And I believe him. I trust him.


The stepsisters never spoke again. Caitlin removed her belongings from the house.


I've lost, obviously, far more than just my mother that, you know, I did lose Martha and Margaret and Michael and my family, my home.


Could the family agony get any worse? Well, it could. And by a wide margin, because now investigators were picking through Michael Peterson's past, turning the clock back some 20 years and taking a peek at his previous life, an ocean away.


What they would discover was beyond eerie. How can Michael found two women dead at the bottom of a staircase? I go over to the house and Liz is dead. Dead at the bottom of the stairs, bottom of the stairs. The story disturbingly familiar. And so were the suspicions.


If you fell down the stairs, why would there be blood splattered it up the side of the walls? It didn't make any sense to me. And police work a good tip can make your day and also make your life a lot more complicated, just such a tip came to the desk of the detective working the Kathleen Peterson case.


I think it was two or three days after Kathleen's death is when I first had contact with the family members of Elizabeth Ratliff.


And just who was Elizabeth Ratliff? To answer that question, we have to turn the clock back almost 20 years. And Michael Peterson's life. And go across the Atlantic to Germany in the early 1980s, Michael Peterson was living with his first wife near a U.S. Air Force base outside Frankfurt.


Their good friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, a widow, lived nearby.


Liz has two children and she's teaching school a great many friends. We're all there.


On November 24th, 1985, Elizabeth went to the Petersons for dinner. Later, Michael Peterson says he drove her home. She got out and went upstairs.


Let's say tomorrow, the next morning. Michael says he was fast asleep when Elizabeth's nanny came running with urgent news.


I'm upstairs in bed and she's saying something to the effect of, you know, dead or hurt or I don't know. She's screaming. And so I put some clothes on and I go over to the house. And in fact, Liz is dead. Dead at the bottom of the stairs, bottom of the stairs.


Another good friend in their circle, Amy Beth Berner, and her husband were summoned to Elizabeth's townhouse to she asked Michael what happened.


He said while she probably had an aneurysm like her father, when I started to think about someone falling down the stairs, I thought, well, that's possible. Those stairs are pretty steep and, you know, they're slippery and wooden.


But Amy Beth says as she looked around, she noticed something blood, not just where Elizabeth lay, but high up along the staircase walls to too much blood. She thought for a slip and fall. If you fell down the stairs, why would there be blood splattered it up the side of the walls? It didn't make any sense to me.


And she says there were household details out of order, like the table that Liz set out every night with the girls breakfast plates.


It was bare the snow, but she routinely left by the front door, still on her feet.


Liz never wore her boots in the house. She always took her boots off. And that was another clue to me that something was wrong. It's obvious that she was either running from someone or trying to escape, Amy bethought.


A full fledged investigation would ensue. But as she tells it, Michael Peterson spoke to the authorities that day relating that Elizabeth had a hereditary bleeding disorder. Perhaps she'd had a stroke and fallen down the stairs. The questions, Amy, both expected to be asked, never were.


I wonder, you know, why aren't they talking to people? Why aren't they asking questions now?


And then later that day, Michael Peterson phoned Elizabeth Ratliff's family in the U.S. with the dreadful news. Margaret Blair is Elizabeth's sister.


He said, Margaret, there's been an accident. Liz fell down the stairs and died. What are you saying I just. Totally went numb. I mean, my sister, he's saying she died, she's young, she's got two beautiful little children, babies, really, those baby girls, they are Martha and Margaret.


Michael took custody of the girls after the accident in Germany. And then Michael, along with his first wife, Patty, and then later with Kathleen, raised them as his own party was saying that our birth mother was like a sister to her.


She was her closest friend in the whole world. And it was set in her mother's will that we would go to Mike and Patty when they passed away. And so dad saw it as his responsibility and took us in and stayed. We stayed with him for her whole life.


You didn't think that strange the Petersons were these people? Well, actually, you know, I can understand how that could happen. This was her world. Now, Liz must love these people and trust to them. To the nth degree.


Elizabeth Ratliff's body was flown to Texas for burial at the funeral. Margaret was desperate to hear further details from Michael Peterson about her sister's passing.


But to her surprise, Michael was very aloof and very strange. Did he speak? No, he didn't really say a lot at all. He never talked about the what happened to Liz.


But any questions regarding foul play and Elizabeth Ratliff's death were laid to rest by the results of an autopsy performed at the U.S. military hospital in Germany. Elizabeth died, the examiner said, from a brain hemorrhage. Natural causes. So the story lay buried for nearly two decades. But when Detective Art Holland heard it, his head spun.


And I was overwhelmed with, you know, here I have two women that appear to die the same way, two women that are associated with Michael Peterson.


Detectives wanted to dig a little deeper. What would they find?


For investigators, a risky move, a lot of people were very antsy about that. Will it pay off? I'm just thinking that my case is getting a whole lot bigger. As time went by, Margaret Blair had come to accept Michael Peterson's explanation of her sister's death years before a tumble down the stairs in a German townhouse. I just believe what I was told about the cerebral hemorrhage. And, you know, I'm presuming that a doctor had, you know, made this diagnosis.


But when she learned that Kathleen had also been found dead at the bottom of a staircase, Margaret began wondering anew about how her sister died. She started reaching out to Elizabeth's old friends from Germany.


When I talk to her friends, I found out that blood had been dripping down the walls. Well, that doesn't happen when you have a cerebral hemorrhage.


Authorities in North Carolina were thinking the same thing. If foul play had been involved in Elizabeth Ratliff's death, it might bolster their case. But the only way to know for sure, they concluded, was to dig up Elizabeth's grave. Fred Black was the assistant district attorney. We decided that it probably would be worthwhile to try to exhume her body to determine whether the findings in Germany were accurate or not.


To do that, they'd have to get the OK from Elizabeth's daughters, Margaret and Martha, the girls who believed in their father's innocence as fiercely as they mistrusted the authorities, struggled with the decision.


The hardest thing I've ever had to do was to write off on the exhumation of our birth mother.


But ultimately they agreed and I signed off on it because we wanted to be like, there is no way this could have happened. Like, please look at the evidence. I will do this to to to free our dad of these accusations.


On a beautiful blue sky day, the remains of Elizabeth Ratliff were exhumed from the resting place in Texas, Ratliff's body will. Julia Sims of NBC's Raleigh Durham affiliate WRAL TV covered the story from the beginning and the bells started tolling right as they started pulling that casket out of the ground.


A lot of people were very antsy about that, about what they were going to find.


Her body was driven to North Carolina, where it would be studied by the same medical examiner who'd ruled Kathleen Peterson's death a homicide.


There was a risk here, wasn't it? It was a wolf in that coffin and found that the authorities in Germany had been correct in ruling it a death by natural causes. We just decided that it needed to be done. Roll the dice, basically. Exactly.


The detective peered through a morgue window as the top was pried off Elizabeth Ratliff's coffin. It was so airtight, it was hard to use the crank to get to the casket to open once it was raised. You can see part of Elizabeth Ratliff's face and hair. It was remarkable.


They were stunned. The body was practically intact. Fingernail polish was still on.


Her dress, was still perfectly in place.


The M.E. took a closer look at the injuries to Elizabeth's head.


She was finding lacerations, deep gouges in the scalp, seven of seven lacerations. It was amazing. It was uncanny. The lacerations were very similar to the ones that had been perpetrated upon Kathleen Peterson. And in her findings, she made a decision that Miss Ratliff had been had been murdered.


Investigators thought they'd hit pay dirt in death. They thought Kathleen Peterson and Elizabeth Ratliff could have been twins. Just thinking that my case is getting a whole lot better. Kathleen's sister, Candice, thought that Peterson had killed both women.


I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than finding two people who I intimately know at the bottom of a staircase.


But to Martha and Margaret, the whole thing seemed absurd. The fact that Michael was being accused of killing Kathleen, the woman they called mom, was bizarre enough. But now their birth mom to what would their father have gained by killing Elizabeth Ratliff? He would have gotten into screaming little raggamuffin kids out of it. And that's it. Like there's nothing there's no reason for it.


For the investigators in North Carolina, though, the death in Germany became a strong building block in their circumstantial case for murder. And what's more, detectives learned that Michael Peterson had a secret life secrets. Tawdry ones were about to spill out in the Durham courthouse. Enter Brad, the male escort. What types of services did you perform? Oh, wow, that's that's pretty broad. In the summer of 2003, Michael Peterson would stand trial for the bludgeoning death of his wife, Kathleen.


He'd pleaded not guilty to first degree murder, innocent of these charges.


And we will prove it in court with gavel to gavel coverage on live TV, the state versus Michael Peterson was a national spectacle. Was it surreal, Michael, to be in a courtroom charged with murder?


Well, it was surreal from the first moment. I mean, you know, because there surreal beyond surreal. I don't know now.


Reporter Julia Symmes covered the proceedings in court every single day of that trial. The courtroom was packed and not packed with just media and not packed with just lawyers, but people off the street. People took a vacation to come in and watch that trial.


And Michael Peterson didn't shy away from all the attention. In fact, he allowed a documentary crew to film him every step of the way.


But the only audience that mattered was the 12 person jury. And when the trial began, the prosecution introduced them to the man behind a professorial mask, the person they saw as the real Michael Peterson.


This case is about pretence and appearances.


It's about things not being, as they say, scratch beneath the glossy veneer, the beautiful house and sparkling dinner parties. And prosecutors would tell the jury they'd find a marriage in shambles more than the couple's money problems, more than the loss of social standing. After Michael got caught out lying about his military record, there was what investigators found when they searched his home office. It was just so different than what everybody that knew Michael Peterson believed him to be as far as a family man, a happily married man.


It was jaw dropping while Kathleen toiled away at her executive job to pay the couple's mounting bills. Michael's writing career was hitting a wall.


He had some free time on his hands.


And we believed that he, somewhere along the way, began to form relationships, let's say with me, man, that he particularly met on the computer, not women, but men.


The prosecution's theory was this. The night Kathleen died, she went into Michael's office to retrieve an e-mail about that work conference call. The next morning there in his office, the prosecutors believe she stumbled upon e-mail exchanges between her husband and an escort.


The emails were very specific about what they had planned on doing and what they wanted to do with each other. Very graphic, steamy stuff.


They were the escorts, username soldier, top brass. His website pick was a come hither beefcake pose, complete with dog tags. You have great reviews and I would like to get together, Peterson wrote in one email. I've never done escort, but used to pay to blank a super macho guy who played lacrosse. I'm very by and that's all there is to it. What types of services? Digit form. Oh wow.


That's that's pretty broad. In a sensational revelation. The prosecution called Brad the escort to the stand.


What types of sexual activity, sir?


Oh, just about anything under the sun on the witness stand, the escort told the jury that just three months before Kathleen's death, he and Michael Peterson had arranged to meet.


We were to hook up. And what were you all planning on doing? Having sex?


The hookup never happened. But combine that with the other combustibles in the couple's life, the prosecution said, and you have all the ingredients for a fatal confrontation.


They got out of control and Michael Peterson snapped and he was the only one who could have done it, according to the prosecution, further evidence that Michael attacked Kathleen ferociously.


The prosecution stated, was as clear as the spray of blood up the staircase walls, the amount of blood, the positioning of the blood, the location of the blood, it was overwhelming in general terms.


The greater the force, the smaller the drop to take the jury vividly up the back stairs. The prosecution called the state's blood pattern expert, Duane Deaver. He told the jury with certainty that Kathleen Peterson had been beaten to death.


He testified the droplet pattern high up the walls was just what you'd expect to see with a weapon rising, striking and casting off blood with each new blow.


I believe there's a minimum of four blows that have occurred in this in this scene.


What's more, Deaver testified this bloodstain was found on the inside of Peterson's shorts. He'd done tests that he says prove that the only way it could have gotten there was if Peterson had been standing over his wife, beating her at the individual.


Wearing these pants at the time of that impact was in close proximity to the source of blood when it was empty.


I remember the jurors were captivated by his testimony and it all seemed to make perfect sense.


Then there was all that dried blood. The EMTs noticed around Kathleen's body suggesting she may have been attacked well before Peterson called 911. One, according to prosecutors. Lab tests back that up.


Kathleen's head injuries had produced something called rete neurons, which they say form after oxygen is withheld from the brain for at least two hours.


That gives Mr. Peterson at least two hours to do things before the nine one one calls placed.


What was he doing during all that time? The state argued he was staging the scene. Detectives saw what they thought were white marks on the stairs. To them. It was an attempt at a clean up. And there were those two wine glasses on the kitchen counter suggesting an evening of maybe too much drink, followed by a tumble down the stairs. Thing was, Kathleen's fingerprints weren't on either glass. In fact, the prosecution said Kathleen's blood alcohol content was low enough that she could have passed a roadside breathalyzer test.


She wasn't drunk. She wasn't intoxicated. She did have a little in our system, but not enough, arguably, to have caused her to not be able to walk up stairs.


Was the writer of fiction making up yet another story covering up murder as an expert? But if Kathleen was bludgeoned to death, as prosecutors thought, problem investigators hadn't found the murder weapon prosecutors believed was a hollow fireplace tool called a blow poke. It had been given to Kathleen by her sister Candice as a gift. I'd given it to her about 10 years prior, that's for sure.


And that Thanksgiving when I was at her house, I definitely saw it by the fireplace.


Prosecutors thought Peterson had ferreted the blow poke out of the house that night after the attack.


If he had, that could explain those blood drops on the walkway, blood dropping from the murder weapon as it was potentially disposed of somewhere outside of the dwelling.


But the state thought some of its most powerful evidence was what the medical examiner found on the top of Kathleen's head. Seven tears to the scalp.


Do you recall any case where someone died falling down the steps and there were multiple lacerations?


No, were you able to determine, in your opinion what the manner of her death was, the manner of death in this case is homicide injuries that were eerily similar to those suffered by the Peterson family friend from Germany all those years before?


Elizabeth Ratt and the jury, almost in a trial within a trial, heard that story the long ago. Friends from Germany testifying to their suspicions about Michael Peterson's involvement in another stairway death, another one with so much blood.


The blood was up so high that I. I couldn't figure out how did the blood get up there?


Michael Peterson was the last person known to have seen his friend Elizabeth alive, just like his wife, Kathleen. It was the boat that wrapped up the state's case.


Do you really believe that lightning strikes twice in the same place?


So there was the prosecution's case for conviction, blood evidence, a staged scene and the trigger, the violent confrontation between husband and wife that resulted when a secret appetite for men was exposed. And not a bit of that made any sense. The defense was about to tell the jury. Michael Peterson speaks out about it all, including his interest in sex with men. He says others knew all about it. This is not a family secret. It's not. And then why?


He thinks Kathleen most likely fell after a recent injury. He says she was on major meds. Do you remember her being wobbly? Oh, my God. Yeah. When it comes to managing your small business in 2020, you have to do more with less suddenly every single hire is critical, but there are fewer resources to find the right people indeed is here to help. Indeed, Dotcom is the number one job site in the world because indeed gets you the best people fast.


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Hey, guys, Willie Geist here reminding you to check out the Sunday Sit Down podcast. On this week's episode, I sit down with Grammy winner D.J. Callard to talk about his rise as the son of immigrants to a hip hop empire. His latest self-titled album and his keys to quarantine over the last few months. You can hear our full conversation right now on the Sunday Sit Down podcast. Get it for free wherever you download yours.


The state's case lasted more than two months, and each day Michael Peterson's girls, Margaret and Martha, sat in court suffering as prosecutors labeled their dad a killer.


They would accuse my father of double murders or the wife murder of the staircase murders.


And we couldn't stand up and say, wait a second, this isn't true. Michael Peterson did not testify at his trial, but he did sit down with us later to answer questions about all the evidence against him. Nothing was off limits. I know I did not kill Kathleen.


So at a certain point, you think, well, this is just crazy to understand the case.


He says you have to go back to the very beginning, to the moment police arrived at the scene and recognized him as the same Michael Peterson, who would like to publicly criticize them in the local paper. You think the cops had it in for you? That's what set this in motion.


Oh, absolutely. No question. That framed the narrative. They were delighted that something really bad had happened and would have been even more delighted if I had anything to do with it.


Michael says the prosecution theory of what happened that night is total fiction, starting with the trigger.


That explosive fight he and Kathleen supposedly had after she saw those e-mails in his home office, said the prosecution version of this evening, you were described as that she goes to your office, logs in and then lo and behold, there's the traffic from Brad Mackler.


He's not only cheating on me, he's cheating on me with a guy. Right. That was one of their theories. But just a theory. Michael points out that the prosecution never offered proof that Kathleen saw anything compromising that night. So this whole story about she stumbled on this information? No, absolutely not, of course. But Michael insists the supposed fight never happened, though he doesn't deny he did try to set up that sexual encounter. In fact, he readily admits a sexual interest in both women and men.


So you are bisexual?


Yeah, I first knew this when I was maybe 11.


I was madly in love with this girl. Oh, Melanie Grant. And it was during some masturbatory fantasy. That certainly there was Melanie, but then there was this, the shortstop on my ball team and I was like, whoa, wait a minute, how did how did he get a part of this for where this one come from?


I'd never had a male man on my own male thought in my life.


Throughout his marriage to Kathleen, Michael admits he did seek male companionship from time to time, but says it by no means affected his feelings for his wife.


Did I want a boyfriend? No. Did I want to spend the night with one and I want to cuddle and I want to have a candle lit dinner? No, never, never, never. For me, it was strictly sex. Had nothing to do with. Love or relationship? Moreover, Michael says his interest in men wasn't exactly hush hush in the family. Perhaps Kathleen had a hunch this is not a family secret.


No, no, no, it's not. Was it known to Kathleen, Michael?


I think it was one of these things that was not discussed but known. It was don't ask, don't tell. Yeah, exactly. And of course, when I was growing up, there wasn't any don't ask, don't tell. It was dought, period. Had she known that there were assignations, that there were hookups.


What how do you think she would have taken it? I wish I had told her. I mean, that's one of my great regrets. I wish we had discussed it. We did. I was afraid not that she would leave. She would that she just wasn't. She was the most open minded, liberal, intelligent woman.


As for the other piece of the prosecution's motive that the Petersons were on the edge of financial ruin.


Oh, that was a lot of money out hard's expensive schools that were bleeding in the wonderful house was something of a money pit. What's your reaction to all of that stuff?


Well, my reaction is exactly what the prosecution proved in court.


The financial expert who testified about their debts also noted that in the end, the Petersons were still worth one and a half million dollars.


I had money, and it's not a matter it was not a financial problem. But what about that dramatic trial? Within a trial, the jury had seen Michael implicated in not one murder, but two that friend Elizabeth Ratliff's death long ago in Germany.


So there you are in the court of public opinion of this guy with two important women in your life, and they're both dead in the heap at the bottom of the stairs.


Exactly. Absolutely has to be guilty. You're a writer of fiction, your editor would probably take that kind of coincidence out of the book where he would say, well, you know, come up with another one.


She died in the bathtub or something. But you're not immune to the irony of this. No, of course not.


But at the time, because in the course of this investigation didn't even occur to me, honest to God, it never even occurred to me.


Did you kill her, Liz? No, of course not. As for those witnesses who said Elizabeth Ratliff's blood was all over the staircase walls, Michael insists their memories are wrong. And they said, my God, there was blood everywhere. And well, no, there wasn't the German police didn't see any blood. The German doctor didn't see any blood. The American military didn't see any blood. Why didn't they see any blood?


And if you saw this blood. Why didn't you say something at the time to someone he is certain Elizabeth Ratliff died of a stroke. As for how his wife Kathleen died years later, Michael can't say for sure, but he thinks his first instinct was the right one.


I guess maybe I'm the last person to believe it. I think she fell down the stairs. I don't know. Michael believes alcohol must have played a role in her fall. And even though her blood alcohol levels weren't off the charts, he says there may have been another contributing factor. A few months before her death, she'd suffered an injury diving into their swimming pool and her doctor put her on several prescription meds. Do you remember her being wobbly in the weeks that followed by the suspect?


She had to wear a neck brace. They put her on Percocet to begin with. Then they brought in Valium. She was on Flexeril, which is apparently a muscle relaxant. Oh, yes. She was in a great deal of pain all the time.


For Michael Peterson, the trial was hard enough to bear, but the family split made it even worse. There was Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin, across the room in the prosecution's camp and behind him the whole time. His girls, Margaret and Martha, they were sisters.


They loved one another. They helped one another. And that's been the biggest to me. The sadness that everything that Kathleen wanted to make happen and did happen as far as the family was torn asunder.


Michael's story is one he says those closest to him have known for years that a story his lawyers were about to present to the jury and they had an ace up their sleeve, a moment straight out of Perry Mason, one that would leave mouths agape in the courtroom. That's a blow poke, isn't it? The alleged murder weapon found. What will it reveal?


And then they certainly have a verdict. Your heart stops. What had happened on that back staircase from almost the moment he was retained, defense attorney David Rudolph thought Michael Peterson was innocent. No one thought Michael could have ever harmed Kathleen.


And indeed, there was never a shred of evidence that they had ever had so much as a loud argument in court.


He laid out a straightforward scenario for the jury. The truth is that 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.


And she fell and she bled to death just as the prosecution had the defense put the couple's marriage front and center, telling the jury it was more or less perfect.


Everywhere they went, people noticed Michael looking at Kathleen with the kind of pride that you just don't fake.


Under cross-examination, even Brad, the escort, said Peterson had told him how much he loved his wife in his emails.


Unlike most of my clients, he indicated that he had a great relationship. Most clients don't want to say anything about the relationship. He indicated he had a warm relationship with his wife and nothing would ever destroy that.


Michael hadn't killed Kathleen, the defense argued, and he certainly didn't kill family friend Elizabeth Ratliff.


They called their own medical expert who reviewed her autopsy reports and said it wasn't a murder.


Is blood in all of the ventricles of the brain consistent with a stroke from natural causes? It is consistent.


Then there was the Mount Everest of the case, the forensics explaining to the jury all that blood in the Peterson stairwell.


The defense would call Dr. Henry Lee to stamp the defense, called celebrity forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee of O.J. case fame to show the jury in theatrical fashion just how Kathleen fall. Then staggering about coughing up blood could have accounted for the spray.


A younger person come walking can move to shake the hand.


Obviously, the blood all around was due to her being alive and moving around for some period of time.


It didn't have to do with what inflicted the wounds, the blood on his shorts that could have happened, the defense said, while Michael Peterson was cradling his wife. The fact that some of the blood was dry when first responders arrived, well, Michael never said he knew what time Kathleen fell. And as for those drops of blood in the house and on the walkway outside suggesting he staged the scene, the defense said none of that could be trusted.


The blood in that area had been completely altered. The scene at the house had been completely contaminated.


But what about those ghastly lacerations on Kathleen's head, which the state's medical examiner attributed to a beating?


Defense attorney Rudolph notes what he didn't find, though the cuts were deep, there were no skull or bone fractures.


There was absolutely no fractures anywhere, no fractures to her fingers, to her arms, to her skull. And there was absolutely no injury to the brain. And that's just almost an impossibility of what you're doing is beating somebody with a metal object.


That and for a final exclamation point, the defense had a Perry Mason moment up its sleeve. The prosecution had insisted throughout the murder weapon used to bludgeon Kathleen Peterson was the fireplace blow poke only police never found it. Almost three months into the trial, one of Michael's sons made a stunning discovery in the Peterson's basement.


He immediately runs up to Margaret, who is at the house, and said, I think I found a blow poke. And they look at it. That's the blow poke hidden in the corner, sort of buried behind something covered with cobwebs, dirt, bugs. Everything had obviously must have been there for years.


That's a blow poke, isn't it? In court, the defense played the moment for all it was worth here.


Speaking of getting the lead detective to agree that there was no evidence at all that the Petersons blow poke was used to commit a savage crime, see any dents in there, even like a tiny little indentation, doesn't appear to have any dancing.


That was the blow poke. Well, if it is, then what was the murder weapon?


Lawyer David Rudolph thought he'd peppered reasonable doubt all the way through the state's circumstantial case. The Peterson camp was competent.


We were so positive that he was going to get off because in our minds, it was the clearest thing in the world.


But after sitting through the trial, Kathleen's sister, Candice, thought that the brother in law she once admired was both a killer and a liar. Did I ever think. He was capable of murdering my sister, no doubt I know we've already found another woman dead at the bottom of a staircase. No. Did I know he lied about his military awards? No. He's a writer of fiction, and that's what I found. He makes things up as he goes to suit the situation.


When the case went to the jury, three days passed without a verdict. Finally, on day four, they came out and one of them said, you know, we have a verdict. Your heart stops a hush. Then the clerk began to read, we, the 12 members of the jury, unanimously find the defendant to be guilty of first degree murder. It's guilty.


Just as soon as we heard the first juror say guilty, I just was weeping like I was being taken over by by grief and shock.


Is anything you want to say before the court imposes judgment?


I want to say Michael Peterson turned to his kids.


He said, it's OK, it's OK. I think on his part he was just trying to calm himself down. But also, I think he felt like his role was to protect us.


I was really. Continuity in their life and to see them, you know, it's OK and I could and I could do it.


Michael Peterson turned back to face the judge for the reading of the sentence.


The defendant is in prison in the North Carolina Department of Corrections for the remainder of his natural life, will have the benefit of parole.


I believed that Michael was innocent. I continue to believe Michael is innocent. And I thought we won that trial. So when that guilty verdict came out, I was pretty devastated for Kathleen's sister, Candice.


The verdict was nothing to celebrate.


It makes me cry, cried when I heard it.


I mean, I was happy we were getting justice. But there's no joy in this. There's just great sadness.


The Peterson children resigned themselves to the harsh reality that prison was now their father's home. They sold the dream house on Cedar Street and tried to get on with their lives. They visited their dad whenever they could.


I would just sob every time I left. You hold it together for Dad because there's. Why would you cry in front of dad?


That's not going to help him. But then when you leave, you know, you're you're sobbing in your car.


They watched his lawyer file a series of failed appeals.


We would have hope for every single appeal and every single time it would get beaten down. His case went all the way up to the North Carolina Supreme Court and was rejected. But Michael says he never lost hope. I told her I am not going to die in prison. The odds were certainly stacked against him. But then life can take some very strange twists and turns. A wild new theory about what happened to Kathleen, the owl flew down and landed on Kathleen's head and the fresh evidence backing it up, you have to magnify them 400 times just to see them.


There are pleasant places to idle away your golden years, but North Carolina's Nash Correctional Institution isn't one of them. But that's where Michael Peterson's father, novelist and wife killer, according to a jury of his peers, was incarcerated. Just another number in a cellblock with other felons, no parole, life without parole.


And they meant to. They did. And they did everything they could to make that happen.


After he'd exhausted his appeals, it looked as though prison was where he would stay. But out in Nevada, Michael has a lookalike, younger brother Bill Peterson, who's also an attorney to the lawyer. And you say, that's it, my brother.


That's when the real hard work started. We were out of money, out of lawyers. And so that's when the burden fell on me and whoever would help me.


Bill Peterson spent hours in the Durham County courthouse combing through the district attorneys piled high boxes of evidence. Was there something that had been overlooked? And he wasn't the only supporter nursing alternate theories of Kathleen Peterson's death. There is a neighbor on Cedar Street, an attorney who had an intriguing idea for what he believes happened that night. His scenario of an accidental death has come to be known as the Powell theory he's seen in the area.


He thought that this was very plausible. He put together this whole theory himself.


So here's how the neighbors theory goes. According to Brother Bill, Kathleen, who has spent the day putting up Christmas decorations, goes out front that night while Michael is back by the pool. She's checking on her lawn display beneath the trees.


The owl flew down and landed on Kathleen's head and then tore her scalp in a manner that would be consistent with the lacerations that were found on her scalp.


Bleeding. Kathleen leaves, drops on the wall and a smear on the door as she struggles into the house, getting only as far as the staircase where she joins the defense's depiction of falling, passing out, coming to and rising again, only to fall for the final time.


The owl theory was not completely knew it had been floated years earlier.


The cops are making a big joke out of this. They put a picture of the owl there and their most wanted list.


And back then, without any forensic actual evidence, the defense didn't want to confuse the jurors. So the Peterson jury never did hear about an owl theory.


But five years into Peterson's sentence, the neighbor who was advocating for it was still looking for something to back it up and sure enough, there it was. In the original case, notes file a mention of a feather.


You have to magnify them 400 times just to see them.


Tim Thompson, owner of Associated Microscopes, was asked by the neighbor to examine a slide of that feather. They grow under the clouds of an owl. When they attack something, they leave behind the small particle feathers.


Thompson peered through his microscope, studying bloody strands of hair found clutched in Kathleen Peterson's hair. Tangled in the hair were not one but two minute bird feathers. A surprise, he says to the detectives and an assistant D.A. watching in the room.


I think they were surprised because the lab had not found the second feather.


Bill Peterson was interested in the results to a review of the slides showed what traces of bird feather?


Yes. Yes, exactly right.


In her hair. Another very, very compelling fact, what was most compelling about the idea that an owl attack, Kathleen, the supporters thought was how it accounted for the distinctive lacerations on her scalp, had the three main talons of an owl caused this bleeding head wound when it swooped down symmetrical tears.


We had an ornithologist who said these tears are consistent with an alcohol. You think of the characteristic Trident kind of talent laws.


And as we all know, you know, scalp wounds cause plenty of bleeding that she panicked, obviously run in the house to get away from the owl that she did and ran down the stairwell.


And if an owl attacking human sounds like so much urban legend, don't tell that to Byron Unger. He owned a company about 20 miles away from the Peterson home. He was leaving work with his manager one night when an owl swooped down from the trees and swiped his colleague on the head. And if that weren't strange enough, it happened to Byron himself just two weeks later.


I've never been hit so hard by something that felt like a baseball bat, not me.


Probably five feet to the ground, nature all around, scattered around the ground. I was bleeding so bad I thought. I thought I lost my eye.


His wife, waiting for him in the car, dialed 911, one they didn't believe.


My wife, they thought, were crazy when they said my husband's been attacked by a bird or now show me where in your head you think it got you.


The talons got me right here into my eye a little bit and all the way up in my hair. Really bad. All this is black and blue. My whole saw my face and all of it. He was hit by talons. Is that what happened to Kathleen Peterson? But critics see problems with the idea that an owl attack, Kathleen, problems like why isn't there more of a trail of blood from the front door to the staircase? And wouldn't Michael have heard Kathleen being attacked?


Kathleen, Sister Candace doesn't believe it for an instant.


I'm supposed to believe an ripped apart. There's no ripping on her arms of a Alstyle. And the thing is so ludicrous.


And even Michael Peterson understands the skepticism whodunit. Oh, just awful. But he says the evidence is worth considering their feathers. And where were they?


In Kathleen's hand with strands of her hair, with strands of her hair.


Does that mean and I wonder it. I don't know. What do you think?


I'm surprised to hear possibility. Nice to hear you saying it's not as ludicrous as. No, no, no.


I've seen the photographs. So is it possible? Well, certainly it's possible. I don't know. Did that now do it? I can't tell you that.


In the summer of 2009, Peterson's attorney neighbor helped him file a motion requesting a new trial based on the actual theory. But the trial judge dismissed the owl theory was dead in court, but lives on still in the court of public opinion.


There are people a lot smarter than me who are absolutely convinced this is what happened.


So with the motion denied, with the owl hooted out of court, it really did seem finally to be the last chapter for the novelist. But a development was in store that would call the heart of the case into question. And no one, not even Michael Peterson, could have seen it coming.


Dramatic revelations about the scientific evidence against Peterson. Did the blood expert manipulate one of his experiments? There's a system does a little jig. Happy end zone. That's exactly. By 2010, seven years after Michael Peterson's conviction, his daughter Martha had given up hope that her father would ever be released from Nash Correctional Institution. Dad was probably going to be in prison until he died.


This was a reality that was never going to change.


But in Michael's cellblock, an interesting story was circulating.


A series of articles have been published in Raleigh's The News and Observer alleging misconduct at the State Bureau of Investigations crime lab, the SBI in prison.


You don't really care much about international affairs or political. They don't have any affect that the SBI who were behind many guys being in there, oh, they're under investigation or we cared about that.


It turns out one of the experts at the center of the storm is a name you've heard before. Special Agent Duane Deaver, remember him?


My opinion is that this is the scene of a beating.


He was a star witness for the prosecution in the Peterson trial, the blood pattern expert who put Michael Peterson in the staircase bludgeoning his wife, reporter Julia Symmes.


You talk to the jurors here in this case, Julia, how important was the blood expert Deaver's testimony that blood evidence was critical?


Here's a guy who has been doing this for years for the state. Look at what his experiment showed. It's got to be the truth.


He'd been key in other cases, too. The newspaper recounted the story of a man who was sent to prison for murder after Deaver's lab report suggested a stain on the man's car was the victim's blood.


And it turned out not to be it wasn't blood at all. Now and Deaver knew and didn't disclose it.


Deaver knew that that was not blood and didn't disclose it.


That man's conviction was overturned. Greg is innocent of the charge of first degree murder and there was more evidence of questionable conduct linked to the newspaper investigation, suggested that the methodology behind some of the blood pattern experiments he was involved in was flawed, designed to produce pro prosecution results like this test conducted for a 2009 murder case. d'Hiver videotaping the experiment was attempting to match a bloodstain on the shirt of the accused. That's a wrap, that's a wrap, it's like the movies, right?


Peterson's attorney, Dave Rudolph, says it does not look to him like objective science.


They come to the belief that someone is guilty. They don't have the evidence that they think they need to convict the person, and so they make it up.


Rudolph signed back onto Michael's case, this time without pay, and began to dig. He discovered that at the Peterson trial, Duane Deaver had not been truthful about his professional experience on the stand.


He said he had been involved in 500 cases involving blood spatter. Was that true? No. In fact, he had been involved in 54 cases. He said he had written 200 reports involving blood spatter analysis. Not true.


He said that he had been to the scenes of falls 15 times. In fact, he had never been to a scene of a fall.


What's more, remember Deaver's conclusion of the trial that the bloodstain on Peterson's shorts proved he had been standing over his wife beating her?


The individual wearing these pants at the time of that impact was in close proximity to the source of blood when it was in.


Turns out he conducted an experiment pretrial and it was videotaped, too, on the second attempt. Peterson says it looks as though Deaver and another agent got the results they wanted his assistant. It does a little jig. Happy end zone dance. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We got it. Got a gotcha moment when Peterson's brother Bill stalled the experiment videos, he couldn't believe it.


It's all reverse engineered stuff. It's all designed to get a result. To me, it's not scientific at all. For Michael's defense, the implication was clear the jury had been duped after all, in its closing argument, the state had even played on Deaver's credibility to try to secure a conviction.


Then you just got to believe that Duane Deaver is just a liar. And he has no reason in the World Cup here, lot of. Who are you going to trust? Duane Deaver. Of course, he would never lie. Well, turns out he had he did lie.


Defense attorney Rudolph filed a motion asking for a new trial. And the judge this time was ready to listen.


Yet another jolt for Michael's children.


I was weeping with shock and a critical decision that could change everything, said, well, that's just not going to happen.


I won't do it. A decade after he was arrested for killing his wife, Kathleen, and older looking Michael Peterson was back in a North Carolina courtroom arguing for a retrial on the grounds that the state's crucial blood pattern expert had given false testimony against him.


But as far as Kathleen's sister, Candice, was concerned, prison was where Peterson deserved to rot. My sister's dead for eternity. Oh, no, no, no. He murdered my sister. He took the prime of her. He's to be held accountable for what he did at the hearing.


The judge gave Candice a chance to address the court 10 years before that.


My sister, 10 years or daughter hasn't happened in 10 years. The rest of us have been alive and had our freedom.


Not Kathleen, but Peterson's attorney, David Rudolph, was just as determined to free his client from prison. Over the course of a seven day hearing, Rudolph methodically dissected the original testimony, a blood pattern expert, Duane Deaver.


Agent Deaver lied to this court and our jury not once or twice, but repeatedly.


And with the Peterson supporters holding their breath, the same judge who presided over the murder trial now laid out his thinking point by point, rhetorical questions is a new trial required for newly discovered evidence, due process violations and for perjured testimony?


The answer to those questions is yes.


The Duane Deaver misrepresented himself to the jury. Yes, the twenty first testimony make a difference in this case.


Yes, it will be the court's order that Mr. Peterson will see a new trial.


And there it was. Michael Peterson's conviction was tossed out. His family was overwhelmed.


I was weeping with joy and shock and could not believe that there was hope.


And I was like, my dad's getting out. We're going to have our daddy back for the Peterson children.


Now, there was only joy, lots of hugs, lots of happy, happy photographs.


And so we're all like jumping up into the air in a silly picture. I'm just so, so happy.


24 hours after the judge issued his decision sharply criticizing the blood pattern, experts work on the case. 68 year old Michael Peterson was released on a 300000 dollar bond. I imagine you remember the day our end date. I do. December the 15th. Oh, my kids are there.


Oh, my God. My grandson had been born a sweet little baby and, you know, go out and I hold her crying. Of course, it was wonderful.


You were meant to die in prison. You were going to be fitted for. That was the plan. Absolutely. And now you're outside. And now I'm out.


I have waited. Over eight years, two thousand nine hundred and eighty eight days, as a matter of fact, and I counted for an opportunity to have a retrial, I want to thank Judge Hudson for giving me that opportunity so that I can vindicate myself and prove my innocence in a fair trial this time.


So Michael Peterson was out of prison, but not exactly free. The state had promised to try him for murder again, and he was placed under house arrest, his every move monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet. But that hardly mattered to his girls, Margaret and Martha. For them, the dark cloud that lay over the family name for nearly a decade had lifted.


We're part of the Peterson family and we are not afraid to say it. We were so stigmatized before, you know, and like hiding it.


Still, the second trial looms, but working in Michael's favor was the fact that the prosecutor would have to try a very different, much weaker case. Duane Deaver had been fired from his job and some of the state's critical blood evidence would be inadmissible.


I think their case is very, very badly compromised because of Deaver.


He was all over the crime scene and there was another important victory for Peterson side.


What types of services? Digital form. Oh, wow. That's that's pretty broad. Brad, the male escort, a sensational centerpiece of the prosecution's case, wouldn't be part of a second trial either.


A judge said the escort had been revealed in a search that was deemed illegal.


The search warrant that resulted in the seizure of the computer was found to be invalid.


Furthermore, that dramatic trial within a trial about Michael's long dead friend in Germany. Well, a change in North Carolina state law regarding the admissibility of evidence meant a second jury might not hear that story either.


The male escort has gone. The death in Germany is gone. The expert blood testimony is gone. You're left with the autopsy pictures, yeah. The medical examiner's testimony and maybe the prosecution's theory for motive. Is that enough, the stars seem to be aligning for Michael Peterson, perhaps vindication was at hand, but one final twist was on the way.


I said, well, that's just not going to happen. I would go back to prison before that happens. I won't do it.


Michael makes a choice that rocks everyone in the case. That was. Wow. Including Michael himself. That was the most difficult decision I ever made in my life.


Michael Peterson's days in the mansion on Cedar Street were long gone as he awaits trial number two. He passed his days in a Durham condo, writing about his experiences in prison.


Meanwhile, the prosecution was forging ahead a new trial scheduled for spring 2017. Has that date got closer? The reality hit daughters Martha and Margaret heart.


And that was actually devastating for me. It was pretty much a nightmare to live the first trial and to have to go through that a second time would be even worse of a nightmare. I can't go through that again. I can't go through another guilty verdict.


Kathleen's sister, Candice, knew a second murder trial would dredge up all the pain again, but there was no way that she was backing down.


I have to relive how my sister died.


She died one of the worst horse ways.


She was beaten and she knew the person who she loved was beating her. There is no way I'm not going to get justice for her.


But there was one other option that could avoid a trial, something that had been floated a few years earlier.


The D.A. and the defense could hammer out a plea deal whereby Peterson could walk away with time served. But the negotiations went nowhere.


And Candice, no, under no circumstances he must stand up and say he's guilty. And I said, well, that's just not going to happen, that will never happen, ever. I would go back to prison before that happened. So it seemed the hopelessly divided families were destined to face off again on opposite sides of a North Carolina courtroom. All these years later, the district attorney, 100 percent was willing to go to trial. They felt they had a strong case.


But as the trial approached, Michael found himself rethinking a possible plea deal and how it would affect his family.


And I'm all the time thinking, you've got some responsibility. I got two grandsons now, four and six. Do I want to drag this out for a couple more years? No, you didn't want to spin that wheel again. Exactly. My son Clayton is the one who said it perfectly. He said, Dad, you're playing a game at a crooked table. You're never going to win. The odds are against you. Pick up your chips and go home.


And so that's what Michael Peterson agreed to do. I was a little surprised. We were all preparing to go to trial again. And then the district attorney heard from Michael Peterson's attorney and they wanted to make a plea. And that was, wow, he's going to say the word guilty. OK, we'll take the plea.


Well, it was a little complicated. Peterson was going to take what's referred to as an Alford plea.


An Alford plea is when you don't admit guilt, but you acknowledge there is enough evidence there that a jury could convict you in the books. It goes down as a guilty plea.


In February 2017, 73 year old Michael Peterson arrived at the Durham County courthouse. What would be the final chapter of this saga? He was there to take that Alford plea, pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Kathleen's daughter, Caitlin, came to Durham to see it happen. And, of course, Kathleen's sister, Candice, was there. She ran into Michael's chief defender outside the courthouse.


Oh, David, good to see you today. Pleading guilty, pleading guilty. Thank you. That's what I always wanted, actually.


When you're pleading guilty, Alfred Schimel for guilt, Michael Peterson, he'd like to walk around and proclaimed his innocence, but he can't he can play with these words, but he can't play with the facts.


The courtroom was eerily reminiscent of the 2003 trial packed with TV cameras. Everybody is a little bit older, but there's so much that's the same. The emotion, the tension, the anger, all of it was still there.


How does Mr. Peterson plead to charge involuntary manslaughter? He enters a plea of guilty pursuant to offer.


Mr. Peterson, you're pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. That's a class D felony. Understand, sir? Yes, sir. And do you now personally plead guilty pursuant to the Alford case?


Yes, sir. That's the was the most difficult decision I ever made in my life was to take the oath.


And that's going to give Kathleen's family an opportunity for what they called the victim impact statement. Right.


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.


It was very cathartic to say this is what I fought for. We weren't waiting till we heard that word guilty. We thought we were going to hear from another 12 jurors.


But we got to hear Michael say guilty Michael Peterson, not only can you wear the Scarlet Letter A for adultery, but also the black leather letter G for guilty. Not perfect justice, but justice.


Michael Peterson was sentenced to time served. His daughters say that at long last they can properly grieve Kathleen's death together.


I think a big piece that's important to our family is to be able to say goodbye to mom and to be able to honor her memory and let her go in peace.


And they have accepted that their father is once again a convicted felon, but a free man who still maintains his innocence. So your plea allows you to take the position you've taken all these years, Michael. Exactly. And yet on the ledgers of the criminal justice system, you're guilty of manslaughter.


It's an ending that neither side had hoped for. A family saga with so much love and so much loss, an imperfect conclusion.


The Meet the Press Chuck Todd cast, it's an insider's take on politics, the twenty twenty election and more candid conversations with some of my favorite reporters about things we usually discuss off camera. Listen for free wherever you get your podcast.