For those not familiar with all aspects of the Michael Peterson murder trial, but are now diving into the story thanks to "The Staircase" documentary series on Netflix, we've put together a guide to some of our coverage over the years.
Peterson is a former novelist, Durham Herald Sun columnist and Durham mayoral candidate who went on trial in 2003 for the murder of his wife, Kathleen, who died at the bottom of a back staircase in the couple's home in 2001.
News & Observer reporters covered everything from Kathleen Peterson's death, through the trial and all its drama, up to his Alford plea in 2017 and the recent release of new episodes of "The Staircase."
Here is a timeline featuring a sampling of News & Observer stories.
Kathleen Peterson's death
Dec. 9, 2001: Kathleen Peterson, wife of Durham mayoral candidate, found dead — When rescue workers arrived at the home at 1810 Cedar St. after a 2:30 a.m. 911 call, Kathleen Peterson was lying dead on the floor. This story includes information on Kathleen and an interview with a neighbor, who was awakened by emergency vehicles.
Dec. 20, 2001: Michael Peterson is indicted for first-degree murder.
July 1, 2003: The State vs. Michael Peterson trial begins in Durham. District Attorney Jim Hardin says a blow poke is the likely murder weapon. Defense attorney David Rudolf says Kathleen Peterson died from an accidental fall.
Aug. 11, 2003: Former male escort Brent Wolgamott, aka "Brad from Raleigh," testifies that Michael Peterson arranged to pay him for sex three months before Kathleen Peterson's death, but says the two never actually met. Wolgamott testified under an immunity grant.
Aug. 18, 2003: SBI Agent Duane Deaver testifies that the blood spatters on the walls of the staircase, as well as the blood on Michael Peterson's shorts and sneakers, are evidence of a beating.
Aug. 22, 2003: Judge Orlando Hudson rules that evidence about the 1985 death of Peterson's friend Elizabeth Ratliff in Germany is admissible. Chief medical examiner Deborah Radisch's autopsy showed Ratliff died as the result of a beating.
Sept. 15, 2003: Forensic expert Henry Lee testifies that the blood spatters at the death scene are consistent with a fall, not a beating.
Sept. 23, 2003: Rudolf surprises the courtroom by offering a blow poke that he says was found at the Peterson house over the weekend.
Oct. 10, 2003: After 14 hours of deliberations over four days, the jury finds Michael Peterson guilty of first-degree murder. Hudson sentences him to life in prison without parole. Rudolf immediately appeals.
After the trial
Jan. 28, 2008: Caitlin Atwater, the daughter of Kathleen Peterson, is awarded a $25 million judgment in a wrongful death case against Michael Peterson.
Aug. 21, 2008: Peterson lawyer Larry Pollard holds a news conference stating that an SBI report listing the presence of a microscopic feather supports the theory that an owl attacked Kathleen Peterson.
Sept. 14, 2011: Judge Orlando Hudson grants David Rudolf's motion for a new trial for Peterson, determining that SBI agent Duane Deaver misled the judge and jury in his testimony.
Dec. 21, 2011: In an interview with The News & Observer, Michael Peterson talks about being free from prison.
Feb. 24, 2017: Michael Peterson took an Alford plea to the reduced charge of manslaughter, was sentenced to time served and set free.
The Peterson case in popular culture
The Peterson case has been the subject of numerous true-crime TV shows, books and podcasts. Here are just a few examples:
▪ The eight-episode French documentary series "The Staircase" was first available in England to viewers of the BBC. “Death on the Staircase” aired on BBC in January 2005 as part of the network’s “Storyville” documentary series. In April of that year, "The Staircase" aired on the Sundance TV channel in the United States. That same year it won the prestigious Peabody Award. The crew returned to Durham in 2012 to film two more episodes updating developments in the case. Those episodes were released in 2013. The three new episodes that debuted June 8 were filmed over the past three years, covering further developments in Michael Peterson’s journey through the justice system.
▪ A 2006 episode of the Headline News series "Forensic Files" focused on the Peterson case. The episode was called "A Novel Idea."
▪ In 2007, a Lifetime movie called "The Staircase Murders" starred Treat Williams as Michael Peterson and Kevin Pollak as Peterson's attorney, David Rudolf.
▪ The premiere episode (“Animal Instincts”) of the acclaimed Criminal podcast in 2014 was devoted to The Owl Theory and included an interview with Peterson’s neighbor Larry Pollard.
▪ The French documentary "The Staircase" was the inspiration for the first season of the NBC sitcom "Trial & Error," which aired in March 2017. In that show, a poetry professor (John Lithgow) goes on trial for the murder of his wife, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in front of a shattered window. In the final episode of the season, after the husband is convicted and sent to prison, cellphone video is discovered of the wife being attacked and killed by an owl. (An owl attack was one of the more unusual theories floated as a possibility for Kathleen Peterson's death.)
▪ In April 2017, NBC's "Dateline" tackled the Peterson case with an episode called "Down the Back Staircase." Peterson was interviewed by Dennis Murphy.
▪ Late last year, a BBC podcast called "Beyond Reasonable Doubt?" examined the case and scored a long interview with Michael Peterson. Reporter Chris Warburton also interviewed the Petersons' former neighbor, Larry Pollard, who came up with the infamous "Owl Theory."
▪ In December 2017, the popular podcast "My Favorite Murder" released a special 100th episode about the case. "The Staircase" documentary was one of the things hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstock bonded over the first time they met.
▪ The Investigation Discovery (ID) channel ran a three-part series on the Peterson case on April 8, 2018, called "American Murder Mystery: The Staircase." The series included interviews with Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin; the former male escort Brent Wolgamott (aka Brad from Raleigh) who was called to testify at the trial; and with Kathleen Peterson's sister Candace Hunt Zamperini, who initially defended Michael Peterson but later testified against him.
▪ On June 8, 2018, Netflix released the entire documentary series "The Staircase," which included three new episodes updating the case.