HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase’ centers around the true story of the murder of Kathleen Peterson, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. Although her husband Michael Peterson claimed that Kathleen died after falling down the stairs, he was tried and found guilty of the murder. In October 2003, Michael was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, even after the rejection of two appeals, Michael was granted a new trial and he got eventually released from prison. If you are curious about the reasons behind both, let us share everything you need to know!
Why Did Michael Peterson Get a New Trial?
After the initial verdict, Michael appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and subsequently to North Carolina Supreme Court, only for both the courts to stand by the jury verdict. However, in 2010, the credibility of State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) blood-spatter analyst Duane Deaver, one of the principal witnesses against Michael, was questioned when SBI found out that Deaver reportedly withheld his findings/results concerning a different case. The investigation into Deaver’s reports reportedly resulted in the finding that he had falsely represented evidence in 34 cases, further raising concerns regarding the testimony he gave in Michael’s trial.
Deaver, in Michael’s trial, testified that the blood pattern found at Kathleen’s murder scene indicated a murder. He also testified that the blood found in Michael’s shorts indicated an assault. Jurors who found Michael guilty of the murder reportedly considered Deaver’s testimony as an essential part of their deliberations and subsequent verdict. However, SBI later confirmed that Deaver exaggerated his training and experience while providing his testimony in Michael’s trial. Judge Orlando Hudson, who presided over Michael’s trial, granted Michael another trial in 2011 after finding that Deaver’s testimony was “materially misleading” and “deliberately false.” The judge also found that Deaver exaggerated his training, experience, and expertise.
SBI’s investigation into Deaver paved the way for Michael’s second trial. Judge Orlando Hudson’s finding that Michael was deprived of his right to a fair trial due to Deaver’s false testimony seemingly made him grant the latter another trial.
How Did Michael Peterson Get Out of Jail?
When Deaver’s testimony was found misleading and false, Michael was released from jail on $300,000 bail. After the release, he was placed under house arrest with an ankle monitoring bracelet for 937 days. In July 2014, a Superior Court judge lifted the restrictions and put an end to his house arrest. He was permitted to travel within the state of North Carolina freely and out of state after obtaining a judge’s permission. In November 2016, Michael’s second trial got scheduled to happen on May 8, 2017.
Before the second trial, Michael entered an Alford plea in February 2017. Michael pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen while asserting his innocence at the same time as per the provisions of the Alford plea. The plea allows a defendant to acknowledge the existence of sufficient evidence to convict one while maintaining innocence at the same time. Following the entering of the plea, Michael was sentenced to a maximum of 86 months. Since he had already served the sentence time in prison, no additional prison time was ruled, ending his overall imprisonment.
“I don’t see it as victory at all. […] I can live with this. It’s not fair. It’s not right. I’m innocent, and yet I’ve got this verdict there. […] I didn’t hurt Kathleen. I didn’t kill her. It just didn’t happen,” Michael told the press after entering the plea and becoming a free man.