The Michael Peterson/Kathleen Peterson case last made headlines in February with his Alford guilty plea to manslaughter.
The entire story is revisited in BBC Radio 5’s ongoing podcast “Beyond Reasonable Doubt.” (bit.ly/BeyondReasonableDoubt-podcast).
It’s produced by Mark Sandell of Wise Buddah Productions and hosted by BBC presenter-interviewer Chris Warburton. In late July, I was retained to reach out to or locate additional key figures for potential interviews.
The lineup included Peterson. The 73-year old lives in a modest, tree-shaded apartment complex about a mile from South Square.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald Sun
The episode that includes Judge Orlando Hudson, former District Attorney now Judge Jim Hardin, and juror Kelli Colgan is scheduled to post on the evening of Monday, August 28.
Let’s begin with Hudson. He said that when deliberations began in the 2003 trial, he believed the jury would come back with a finding of guilty.
He spoke about the importance of the prosecution’s presentation on the similar 1984 staircase death of Peterson’s friend and neighbor, Liz Ratliff, in Germany.
“The Ratliff evidence was extremely powerful,” Hudson said. “Jurors said that none of that mattered. I don’t think I believe that.”
Regarding the plea, the judge was asked, “Did it give us justice?”
He answered, “Reasonable people could disagree on whether justice was done. I think the public is satisfied that he committed this crime.”
To Peterson’s claim that he played at a “crooked table,” Hudson said, “I think it’s ironic … because the system worked in his favor. Someone who might have been actually guilty of murder got a pretty good deal.”
Blood spatter testimony
Hardin (the former DA) told Warburton that at the time of trial he had reports from two of the country’s pre-eminent blood spatter experts that mostly agreed with then-SBI specialist Duane Deaver.
Deaver would later be discredited, and Peterson’s first-degree murder conviction was thrown out.
“The basics” of the other reports, Hardin said, “were on the mark in terms … of who was involved and what was going on within that scene.”
Hardin revealed that the DA’s office learned after the trial that Peterson had purchased three fireplace blow pokes during the proceedings.
Hardin said prosecutors obtained the shipping order and credit card receipt.
Peterson’s defense attorney had appeared in court with surprise evidence: what he said was the “missing” blow poke.
Peterson confirmed the purchase and said his side originally planned to use them to show that a blow poke could not have been the murder weapon.
Hardin’s most provocative words came when Warburton asked whether anyone may have assisted Peterson after his wife’s death.
“Is there a mystery figure that helped him later?” Hardin responded. “I believe: yes.”
‘We were all crying’
“Beyond Reasonable Doubt” also interviewed Peterson juror Kelli Colgan, who remembered a poignant moment after the verdict.
“Once we got down below … we were all crying.” Colgan said. She called it both a release and relief.
She discussed her subsequent viewing of “The Staircase,” a documentary in which Peterson was front and center.
He spoke “in these William Shakepeare-like ways,” Colgan said. “That was bizarre. I saw sides of him that I never would have thought. I think he always wanted to be famous. This was his chance.”
As for a conspiracy against Peterson? “I think he’s saying that because he wants people to feel sorry for him.”
Candace Zamperini told BBC Radio 5 that she’s convinced the night Kathleen died, there was a “perfect storm” that triggered a confrontation.
There was a huge fight, she believes, and “he kept beating her and beating her and beating her.”
Zamperini went on. “If he didn’t murder her, when has he ever put one ounce of effort into finding out what really did in his mind happen … in that house that would cause her … blood to be washed upon the walls?”
Peterson began his sit-down by lambasting podcast commentators; 18-plus minutes in, he said he didn’t kill Kathleen.
He conceded the autopsy and photographs led some to think he murdered her. “Okay, there it is,” Peterson remarked. “When you do see the blood, you are overwhelmed. I was horrified myself. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is awful.’”
Peterson repeated that the system tried to bring him down. But when asked if there was any “funny business” relating to Liz Ratliff’s death, Peterson answered: “I would never go that far. No. No. No. No, I wouldn’t even touch that one.”
Warburton asked about the theory that an owl attacked Kathleen. Peterson replied, “Of course it’s possible”.
Then he added: “Was there an intruder? Yes, that’s a possibility.”
Asked why he’s never taken any steps to find a would-be assailant, Peterson answered, “Would that make Kathleen any less dead? I have decided I am just moving on.”
Four miles from where he spoke: Kathleen Peterson’s gravesite under a giant oak tree in Maplewood Cemetery.
Audio excerpts: http://www.gaspowrites.com/
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo.com or 919-219-0042.