Grayer Peterson awaits another day in court

dan.kane@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2011 

Michael Peterson was once Durham's best-known public scold, railing in the local newspaper about the corruption and dysfunction that he found in the Bull City's political and justice circles.

His dispatches, which had continued online, ended shortly before his 2003 conviction for murdering his wife. He is now serving a life sentence in a Nash County prison.

But when he returned to Durham on Monday seeking a new trial, it didn't seem like things had changed much. His case had become strangely tangled in District Attorney Tracey Cline's unprecedented legal attack on Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who had ruled against her in several high-profile cases. None of them involved Peterson. The only link was Hudson, the original trial judge who is slated to hear Peterson's motion for a new trial.

"He's caught in the same web that he was railing against," said Larry Pollard, a Peterson supporter.

Peterson, 68, a former bestselling novelist who wrote political thrillers, showed little emotion as he watched the courtroom drama. Dressed in a red jail smock with white sneakers with no laces, Peterson watched Cline intently, occasionally peering at her up over his eyeglasses, as she contended that Hudson should not be hearing Peterson's request for a new trial.

"Basically, what he's focused (on) is that he did not get a fair trial," Peterson attorney David Rudolf said.

Several family members pensively watched the proceedings.

In his heyday, Peterson called Durham council members "dwarfs" and handed out "Stupid Person of the Year" awards. His rallying cry of "Throw the Rascals Out!" helped persuade voters to cut the size of Durham's city council from 13 members to seven.

He ran for mayor, shortly after that council-shrinking referendum, but the campaign forced the disclosure that Peterson had lied about his war record. Though he had seen action in the Vietnam War, he had not - as he maintained - suffered a disabling injury in combat. There also was no record of the two Purple Hearts that he had claimed. He lost the campaign, and lost his column in The (Durham) Herald-Sun.

Peterson continues to have supporters who say his calls for honest, open government and justice for all still need to be heard.

And some in the courtroom Monday talked about the hearing the way Peterson would have in his column-writing days.

"In Raleigh, they circle the wagons and shoot out," said Valjeanne Jones, a former school teacher and campaign manager for the late state Sen. Jeanne Lucas. "In Durham, they circle the wagons and shoot in."

By midday Monday, Peterson had been extricated from Cline's attack on Hudson, which may produce another odd twist . On Tuesday, Cline is likely to ask Hudson - the judge she's been attacking - to let her out of the case and let the state Attorney General's office take over.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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