Spoiler Alert! Spoilers for “The Staircase” ahead.
Chapter 1: Crime or Accident?
Unfortunate Accident? Or Planned Murder?
We were hired about a week after Kathleen’s death, when it became clear that the police believed Michael was responsible. Michael’s brother Bill, an attorney, made a number of calls to other attorneys, and several recommended us. Tom Maher, my partner, and Ron Guerette, our investigator, drove to Durham to meet with Michael. No matter the recommendation, the client has to have trust in us, and we have to feel comfortable with the client.
We began by asking Mike about his relationship with Kathleen. He was very emotional talking about how they met, how the relationship developed, their wedding, the blending of their families, and the depth of their connection with each other. He was adamant that he would never hurt Kathleen and had nothing to do with her death. We interviewed the children, who all agreed that the relationship was loving and special, and that they never had any serious arguments. When Michael was arrested, it was Kaitlin, Kathleen’s daughter, who spoke on Michael’s behalf.
Kathleen’s sisters agreed (at that time, although their story would later change). We interviewed Michael and Kathleen’s friends. What we heard over and over again was that they had an incredible relationship – one that other couples envied. Not a single person who knew them ever said a negative word about their relationship and the prosecution never found or presented any evidence from friends or neighbors that there was ever any trouble or bad times between them. It didn’t exist.
We questioned Michael in detail about the night Kathleen died. Everything he told us we were able to confirm. Renting the movie from Blockbuster? Check. There was a Blockbuster receipt. Watching the movie while they ate dinner and drank wine? Check. Todd and a friend, a medical doctor who we interviewed, stopped by the house around 10 pm and observed Michael and Kathleen watching a movie, drinking wine, and enjoying the evening. Everything was normal after the movie? Check. The co-worker Kathleen spoke to late that night, after 11 pm, said she sounded perfectly normal. There was no tension in her voice, or anything else unusual.
For us, it seemed highly unlikely a couple with no history of tension or trouble, on a relaxing night at home, would suddenly end up in a fight to the death. Why would Michael suddenly turn into a raging monster and beat Kathleen to death at the end of a quiet evening at home? There was no motive, and the scenario the police apparently believed just made no sense to us. Based on our investigation, I believed Michael had nothing to do with Kathleen’s death. After 17 years, I still believe that.
But of course, Michael could not tell us how Kathleen ended up at the bottom of the staircase. His immediate assumption was that she had fallen down the stairs. But we could not rely on Michael’s assumption. So we set out to hire the most qualified experts we could, to help us understand what had happened. We brought them to the scene, which we had preserved exactly as the police had left it and let them brainstorm together while we listened, asked questions, and learned.
I am a retired Swede whatching the last episode of “The Staircase” last night. In fact I saw all episodes in a row which took most of my yesterday.
You impressed me much. Your devotion combined with humour and an easy relaxed attitude made the hours go fast.
In Sweden I have murder trials as a special interest.
Thank you for the many exciting hours. I hope Mike is doing well although he HAD to agree to the Alford Plea!
Your legal system is in many aspects hard to comprehend. Poor people, un-educated, blacks and others have built in difficulties. To say the least.
Making a Murderer was another true story from the great USA that made me hestitant to my normal love for your country.
Reading about your cases on your web site shows that you do your best to assist those with special needs.
Jan Nyberg in Swden
I watched the entires series. You did an amazing job of representing your client, your dedication, commitment, integrity and unwavering belief in your case and client are absolutely commendable.
Like many people, I have been obsessed with the documentary. There are very few men (let alone lawyers.. lol) that I can say I truly admire and look up to. Your integrity and dedication touched me deeply. I hope I am half the man you are and thank you for your service.
Dear Mr Rudolph,
After watching all episodes of The Staircase, I want to thank you for putting your heart and soul and entire being into obtaining justice. I had a difficult time liking Michael Peterson, but he is so clearly innocent. I am touched and impressed by the devotion and faith of his family and by what a wonderful father he was to create such strong, intelligent and loving people that his four kids became. You, your associate and your investigator, Ron, are an impressive bunch of folks. The state of North Carolina is fortunate to have you living and working there.
I just wanted to write a little message to say how much I thoroughly enjoyed watching you and Ron on #TheStaircase – it sounds so so silly but I from the snippets of the last 16 years shown on the Documentary how likeable you guys are and how very personable you come across! You are someone who I would love to have a conversation with!
From someone who wishes they had pursued a career as a Barrister (I have a Masters degree in Law and Criminology) I think you’re an amazing representation of what I would have liked to be!
Much love from Manchester UK,
My Name is Trent Jones I live In Perth Western Australia I am good friends with Michael Peterson and have known him for the last 16 years . I believe every thing that Michael Peterson said about Kathleen and still to this day Believe Michael that he had Absolutely Nothing to do with Kathleen’s death and I will all ways believe in him and what he and his children said a swell
Where does Bill go? He is a feature player then gone, no mention. In later episodes there is heavy set guy, another brother. At least, I think he is a relative.
Bill was visiting from another State.he dropped everything and came to NC to Michael in the defense but after the trial went back to Nevada I think to resuyhis own law practice. The other man is the third brother Jack who helped care for the family during the trial and after.
I just wanted to say that I am so moved by The Staircase, it was one of the most interesting and enlightening real-life tv shows I have ever seen.
You and your team did your absolute best to present the facts and we saw how utterly corrupt the ‘system’ can be.
I was so emotionally involved that when you finally managed to get the original verdict crushed I cried on the train whilst commuting to London. Tears of joy!
There were several times I shouted at my tablet (much to the shock of other commuters) and also many times I laughed out loud.
I am quite naive about the Law and have this ‘trust’ that everything will be truthful and honest. I wouldn’t say I have lost faith in the legal system but when someone as fine as yourself is shaken by a verdict, this impacted me greatly. I could see that you experienced a crushing blow as much as the family and Mike himself.
I see by your website that things are going great for you and that you continue to and always have stood up for people who have experienced injustice.
So I wanted to say that the world is a better place with you in it, thank you for being an inspiration!
Claire – London, UK
Dear David Rudolf,
I have just come out of an intense three day obsession watching The Staircase. It was startling and gripping and insane to watch the case develop from the prosecution into a total frenzy of hyped up accusation and embellishment of the facts; all the while you and your team focusing on the defense in such a controlled, calm and levelled way.
How anyone in a lesser financial situation than someone like MP is able to cope is beyond me and I’m forever thankful for the (albeit not strictly perfect) UK legal system, especially with regards to the first amendment/right to a fair trial aspect!
Even in spite of reading all there is to learn about the case outside of The Staircase doc, I STILL don’t think he did it. Anyhow, that’s irrelevant now.
You were fascinating to watch and I’m offering up my total admiration for you in light of learning more about your work and career. So great…And so hot!
Keep it up,
With huge respect