Spoiler Alert! Spoilers for “The Staircase” ahead.
Chapter 10: The Last Chance
Blood Splatter Expert? Or Expert Fraud?
A critical point I had to establish during the hearing centered on Deaver’s opinion about how a tiny blood spatter ended up just inside one leg of Michael’s shorts. Our experts believed it was likely from him holding Kathleen and putting towels under her head after he found her on the stairway. But Deaver had insisted to the jury it was from standing over Kathleen while he beat her a second time.
This was critical testimony, since Hardin had relied on it to claim the alleged murder was premeditated (i.e. first degree). During the original trial, I had established that Deaver’s opinion was based solely on his experiments. I therefore showed all of our blood spatter experts this portion of Deaver’s testimony and asked them if the experiments were scientifically valid and accepted by experts in their field. All agreed they were not.
But I wanted to go further, to establish that Deaver had not just been mistaken or misguided but had intentionally lied to Judge Hudson and to the jury. Part of that was showing he had done similar things with experiments in other cases, such as Kirk Turner’s murder case So, we called one of Turner’s defense lawyers and showed Judge Hudson the video of the “experiment” Deaver supervised in that case, which after a number of unsuccessful attempts, ended with Deaver proclaiming: “that’s a wrap” when he finally got the result he was looking for. This echoed the “victory dance” done in Michael’s case, when finally, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, Deaver got a small drop of spatter to land inside the shorts he was wearing. These were not “experiments” at all. They were done solely to support the theory Deaver had already formed.
Paulette Sutton, who for many years had worked as a forensic expert for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, put the nail in the coffin when she testified that (a) Deaver’s experiment with the shorts did not support his opinion about how the drop of blood got inside the leg; and (b) contrary to Deaver’s sworn testimony, the experiments he had done were not “consistent with what others in the field of blood spatter interpretation do.”
We also were able to establish that Deaver had lied to Judge Hudson about his qualifications and experience when he was being cross-examined about his credentials as an expert. Although he had claimed to have written 200 blood spatter reports and analyzed several hundred crime scenes, the truth was his experience with crime scenes was minimal. Indeed, he had never been to the scene of an alleged fall, although he had claimed to have done so 15 times before. Finally, being able to show Judge Hudson the video of Deaver testifying demonstrated how he had expressed his opinions to the jury with complete certitude, and contempt for contrary evidence. He was not an impartial expert, as ADA Freda Black had portrayed him to be in her closing argument. He was an advocate for the prosecution, not a neutral expert.
Before Judge Hudson ruled, I believed we would win, but I had believed that once before. As he began announcing his decision, I could feel my heart begin to race, and when he granted Michael a new trial, it felt as though a enormous boulder had been lifted from my spirit.
What an amazing case you put forward from start to finish. Respect from Scotland!!
I am Intrigued to find out if Deaver will be held accountable for his actions which secured Mr Peterson’s conviction?
Also, where did Hardin source him from, surely he had insight to what Deaver was all about? i genuinely wonder if his deceit was the attraction all along.
how earth Deaver got away with his antics in so many cases for so long is beyond my comprehension.
Watching him testify (commit perjury) via The Staircase was somewhat disturbing.
Hi David Rudolf, I just want to thank you so much for all your work throughout this whole process even though there wasn’t a 100% guarantee of Michael’s innocence. I’ve watched the documentary with friends and I’m sure everyone all around the world can agree with me when I say his freedom couldn’t have been possible through such a broken Justice System at the time and I hope you have been a good living life that you deserve as you are one of he most honest man I have seen. Please keep it up sir, Nyamka
P.S. I’m pretty sure you get a ton of fan letters but I simply just wanted to thank you for your gratitude.
I’ve been following the case over the years, ever since it was first reported on one of the network morning news shows. As Michael Peterson himself said, “it has become entertainment”. How prescient he was as this documentary has become one of many, with the somewhat dubious distinction of being one of the first.
Duane Deaver lied about his experience and credentials. His “experiments” we’re just that. I cringed as he swatted, beat, whipped and did whatever he could to make an action fit a result.
I wish you and the Peterson family, especially Mike, peace.
There’s so much more of Deaver’s testimony in Episode 9 & 10 than in the trial episodes; now I better understand why the defense, from my position as a Netflix viewer, rested on its laurels, laughing. Though as Peterson himself said, “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Where was I?’ during some of that trial because I don’t even remember some of that stuff where (Deaver) was so gross.” Again there was much assumption and maybe some arrogance among the whole of the defense side. And what a terribly narrow and severely angled staircase! A drunk and barefoot woman slipping on her own blood could’ve hit her head on a number of points, and smeared her spattered blood herself trying to get up off the floor or otherwise right herself. I’m even further convinced that public trials are an abdication of justice, yet Peterson not only thanks the film crew but says the granting of a new trial wouldn’t have happened without them! In truth, his imprisonment may not have happened without them! I feel for Peterson and his children, but was also again frustrated with him during his ‘monologue’ in Episode 10, acting like he and his are the only ones who’ve suffered, as if because his suffering is being captured on film that he’s the lone STAR in the literal world of suffering in which we live. It’s hard to be convinced of someone’s humility when they are the star of the show, where no show is necessary and, in fact, possibly harmful to the star as well as the entire justice system. But the human ego is a powerful director. At so it seems to me after this episode that we’re right back at square one indeed, having learned nothing. A dumb stroke of luck the catalyst, courtesy of the incredibly dumb Deaver. How terrifying that Hardin’s now a judge.