Spoiler Alert! Spoilers for “The Staircase” ahead.
Chapter 12: Between Anger and Despair
A Final Plea.
I went to the hearing on Klinkosum’s motion to dismiss hoping for the best. Mary Jude Darrow believed that Judge Hudson was likely to grant the motion. But as I watched the hearing
unfold, it became clear to me that the prosecution had the better of the argument on the merits. The defense had not really been prejudiced by an inability to do DNA testing in 2016. Judge Hudson’s ruling did not surprise me.
The next morning, Mike called to ask that I get back involved. He wanted me to see if I could negotiate a resolution that would not require him to admit guilt and would guarantee he would not go back into custody even for a minute. I agreed to get back involved for that purpose, but approaching the DA’s office after losing the motion did not make sense. Candace and Laurie would be emboldened by their “victory,” and unlikely to agree to anything other than a retrial. And Roger Echols had already shown that he would not agree to anything without their consent – even though it was clear that he didn’t really want to try the case again.
I decided we needed to provide the DA’s office with arguments it could use with Candace and Laurie, to convince them there was a real possibility that Michael would be found not guilty at a retrial. This would create negotiating leverage. So we filed two motions.
The first was a motion to suppress all of the evidence that had been obtained as a result of the search warrant for Michael’s computer, which included almost all of the evidence of Michael’s bisexuality and the email exchange with Brad that had been admitted at the first trial. Judge Hudson had overruled our motion to suppress at the first trial, but the appellate court had ruled it should have been granted. However, it held that the erroneous admission of the evidence was “harmless error.” But at a retrial, that evidence would have to be excluded.
The second was a motion that Judge Hudson reconsider his ruling on the admission of the evidence regarding the death of Liz Ratliff. There had been several North Carolina appellate decisions since 2003 that had narrowed the grounds on which such “similar acts” evidence could be admitted, given its prejudicial impact. Those cases would have to be taken into account and strengthened our motion to exclude that evidence.
After filing those motions, I requested a status conference with Judge Hudson to determine when they would be heard. At the conference, Judge Hudson made it clear to the prosecutors that he would exclude all of the evidence from Michael’s computer and all the evidence that was subsequently discovered by the police as a result of the search of computer. He also indicated that he was seriously reconsidering the admissibility of the evidence relating to the Ratliff death. The message seemed pretty clear: any retrial would be very different than the original trial, and anyone opposed to a resolution without a trial should understand that.
Shortly thereafter, Roger Echols called me. The DA’s office would accept an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter. Michael would be sentenced to time served. He would not even have to go back to the jail to be processed. Michael’s two requirements to an agreement had been met. The case would be resolved with a re-trial.
Good evening Sir,
my husband and I are both fellow NC’s. We both watched the news when the original news broke and we both believed Mr.Petterson to be guilty. We didn’t follow the news or coverage that much. We then heard about the retrial and thought wow again.. Sir I must say after watching every episode of the Staircase I am upset that this man was denied a fair trial. We watched the documentary together and once we seen the photos and then the gentleman explained how she fell, that did it for us. We didn’t know about Michael’s other life but that didn’t matter to us while watching. I did have a question that you might know. Did their home come with that stair lift or did they put it in? I have to believe as sad as this case was that this was not for Mr.Petterson to use. My husband and I have both changed our minds after watching this documentary. This man did not harm his wife. This man was a target and a means to an end. I am sorry for him but also happy that he was able to plea to regain his life. My husband and I both agreed that we would have done the same thing if in the same situation. I was also relieved about what the Judge said in the end as well. We also knew that you would stay by this man’s side even when you wanted to let it go. We knew you would not have allowed all your hard work to be for nothing. As a fellow NC from Cameron NC we thank you for helping this innocent man regain his life back.
A changed mind
I’m happy to be able to watch it on Netflix. But I am really excited because my Uncle was the investigator for Michael Peterson. Ron Guerette. It’s just one of the many cases he worked on. We laid him to rest today. He will never be forgotten.
I’m sorry for your loss. Having just watched The Staircase it’s clear your uncle was an invaluable member of the defence team. At least the documentary will be a testament to his work: Not only did he do the investigatory stuff but topped it off with damning evidence against Deaver. Good job!
You were so good! I’m curious if you had been the lawyer for the request for mistrial what would you have done different if anything? Are you still in contact with Mike. You seemed like pals after all that.
I am so sorry to hear of your loss. He came across as a truly solid person which you can see was relief upon by the whole defence team
I am from Scotland in the UK and just watched this on Netflix, I was completely gripped. I can’t believe the bias and discrimination surrounding this case; his sexuality seemed to suddenly colour him as a potential murderer! His friend in Germany who died from injuries from a fall due to an aneurysm! Anyone suffering from an untreated aneurysm will usually fall over and injury results.
The man seemed to be in a constant cycle of no win after it was revealed he used or planned to use a male escort, why this was allowed is appalling. Also, as soon as i saw the actual stairwell, i noticed how many different areas you could knock your head if you fell, it wasn’t a straight standard staircase, it had so many corners and twists, if you fell, it is only logical that you’d bump..bump…bump given the shape of it. No one seemed to pay any attention to the fact that if he hit her on the back of the head, she’d have fallen forward or back and it would have been impossible to keep hitting her on the same areas on the back of the head!, she wouldn’t have fallen with her head upright still facing the opposite way. Plus, the first thing you’d do is put your arms and hands over your head to protect yourself and your hands and arms would have been more beaten than your head itself. She clearly had her hands on her head as hair was found in her fingers, so if it was an attack, why weren’t her hands beaten up also? For so called experts, they missed a lot of common sense logic. The poor man should have been cleared.
I am an Australian 65 year old woman. Many years ago I lived in the US – California for three years. These days I am almost afraid to even go there to visit. The justice system in the US is terrifying to an outside sider. It is a good thing that shows like this documentary expose what a rigged and broken system it has become. The extent to which a person’s life can be totally destroyed by a corrupt and authoritarian legal system is truly frightening.
David Rudolph is an extraordinary person and attorney. His razor sharp intelligence, clarity, humanism and downright genuine charm were the hook for me as I watched the entire tremendous series. Incredible guy. Yes, there is a lot that is awful in the American justice system, and Durham didn’t make a good impression either. But then there are people like Rudolph who deserve every penny paid to them, and, it seems, he’s also willing to work pro-bono in a dire moment.
Originally my first thought was that Eterson was guilty. Watching this Docu-Drama I became convinced of Peterson’s innocence . His wife Kathleen has been drinking and taking Valium. The staircase was windy and narrow. She was wearing flip flops.. All I could think of was how often I almost misstep on stairs without being impaired ! They had a little dog too . I am wondering if the dog got underfoot. Just think this guy Peterson had a lot of bad luck !
When this case was first aired I had no doubt that this was a tragic accident. I must admit when evidence was disclosed about Mr Peterson and his sexual activities it did bring doubt in my mind. On reflection it should have had no bearing on the case. When the expert on blood spatter was giving evidence I had huge doubts how Deavers dithered. I at least thought at the trial there could be a hung jury but shocked at a guilty verdict due to , in my opinion, as it seems as though the defence HAS to prove innocence. Surely that should not be the case. The prosecution has to PROVE guilt.
A very similar thing has happened to a member of my family which I was involved with. In my case the same pattern emerged. Proving innocence is not how it should be. I just wish that we had David Rudolf had represented our case.