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Freda Black, prosecutor in Michael Peterson trial and ‘Staircase’ documentary, dies

Freda Black, prosecutor in Michael Peterson trial and ‘Staircase’ documentary, dies

Freda Black, former Durham County assistant district attorney, was found dead at her home over the weekend, Durham police confirmed Monday morning. She was known for being part of the prosecution in the Michael Peterson murder trial. (No Audio)
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Freda Black, former Durham County assistant district attorney, was found dead at her home over the weekend, Durham police confirmed Monday morning. She was known for being part of the prosecution in the Michael Peterson murder trial. (No Audio)

Freda Black, the former assistant district attorney who helped prosecute Michael Peterson for murder, was found dead at her home over the weekend, Durham police confirmed Monday.

Police found Black around 3:30 p.m. Sunday after a family member reported they couldn’t get in touch with her, police spokesman Wil Glenn said.

“There aren’t any apparent signs of suicide or foul play,” but we won’t know the cause of death until the medical examiner examines the body, Glenn said.An individual made a request for a welfare check at Black’s Enzo Court address on Sunday, according to a 911 call released Tuesday morning.

“No one has been able to get in touch with her since Thursday,” the caller stated.

The 911 operator asked whether Black had any physical or mental conditions that emergency officials needed to be aware of, and the caller said no.

Black, 57, a mother of two daughters, was a member of the prosecution team that won the initial murder conviction of Peterson in the death of his wife, Kathleen.

The trial has regained much attention this summer, after the documentary “The Staircase” was released on Netflix. Black is perhaps best remembered for her closing arguments, delivered in a molasses-thick Southern accent.

She memorably described the pornography found in Peterson’s home as “pure-T filth.” Jeff Astrof, creator of the NBC comedy “Trial & Error,” in which the first season is loosely based on the Peterson case, said he has “pure-T filth” in episode 9 in the second season. The character of DA Carole Ann Keane is partly based on Black.

After the trial, Black ran two unsuccessful campaigns for Durham County district attorney, in 2006 and 2008. In 2010, she ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Durham County District Court bench.

Black later faced driving while impaired charges in Durham and Orange counties. A 2012 arrest warrant, in which she was listed as working at the Durham Cleaners, said she measured 0.18 on a blood alcohol test. She pleaded guilty to the charge in 2013 and surrendered her license. In 2015 she pleaded guilty to a second DWI, and in 2016 she was charged with driving while her license was revoked for impairment, according to court records.

Black started as an assistant district attorney in the early 1990s. She left the office in 2005 after Mike Nifong was appointed district attorney and asked for her resignation.

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‘Absolutely fearless’

“Freda was an incredible person in so many ways,” said Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin, who served as Durham district attorney from 1994 to 2005.

She was “absolutely fearless” in the courtroom and a relentless advocate for victims of violent crimes, he said. She had a way of talking with victims and family members with “incredible empathy and understanding.”

District Court Judge Shamieka Rhinehart, elected in 2016, remembers Black encouraging her when Rhinehart was running for office.

“I guess she felt a kindred spirit of connection and just wanted to help a brand newbie like me,” Rhinehart said. “It was endearing when she reached out to me.”

“In the courtroom, Freda was no nonsense,” N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey said. “She was whip smart and all business.” Morey and Black were both Durham assistant district attorneys in the early 1990s.

She said Black saw a lot of gruesome crime, including sex crimes and felony child abuse cases, and handled pressure very well.

Hardin said Black was a true prosecutor.

“When she left the DA’s office, she was no longer able to do that,” Hardin said. “I honestly believe that was a significant contributor to some of the problems that she had.”

Intern Christy Kuesel contributed to this story.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges


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