Former SBI agent Duane Deaver misrepresented agency policy and exaggerated his training and experience under oath when he was certified as an expert witness in the Michael Peterson trial, according to SBI records and the SBI internal affairs director.
Peterson is challenging his 2003 conviction for the murder of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, on the grounds that Deaver, a key expert witness in the case, had a pattern and practice throughout his career of fabricating evidence of guilt and hiding evidence of innocence.
Deaver testified in the Peterson trial that he was an experienced expert in the science of bloodstain pattern analysis, and could interpret the bloody staircase in the Peterson household where Kathleen Peterson was found dead.
Under oath in 2003, Deaver said he had worked 500 bloodstain cases, written 200 reports, and testified in 60 cases, testimony that was contradicted Tuesday by SBI Assistant Director Eric Hooks, head of internal investigations.
Hooks was asked how many bloodstain reports Deaver wrote in his entire career, from 1986 to 2010.
"Forty-seven," Hooks said.
"Not two hundred?" asked David Rudolf, Peterson's lawyer.
"No, forty seven," Hooks said.
Tuesday was a rare courtroom appearance for Hooks, a career employee of the SBI who rose through the ranks from field agent to become an assistant director in charge of the agency's most sensitive investigations into public corruption and internal misconduct.
Hooks' testimony capped a drama-filled day at the Durham courthouse. The morning began with a terse exchange between Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline and the judge she had tried to remove from several cases, including the Peterson hearing. Cline had accused Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson of moral turpitude and corruption for ruling against her in several high-profile cases.
Hudson told Cline he did not understand her allegations or why she filed them, and turned to Cline's request that Tuesday's hearing be delayed.
Cline said she wanted the N.C. Attorney General's office to step in; Hudson said the Attorney General's office hadn't contacted him.
Cline said she hadn't prepared at all for the hearing, which had been scheduled for five months. To support her motion, Cline had Kathleen Peterson's sister address the court.
Appeal for delay
Candace Zamperini made a forceful appeal for more time. After receiving a call at 5 p.m. on Monday, she had driven 250 miles from her home in Northern Virginia. Her voice rose and filled the courtroom. Friday will mark the tenth anniversary of her sister's murder, she began.
"I am here to say my sister still has rights, and there is no way you can have this district attorney represent my sister," Zamperini said. Some of Peterson's friends and family visibly tensed as they sat in the court benches. "She is not prepared, her office is not prepared. The only thing a convicted murderer has is time, and I ask for the time to prepare for proper, quality, intelligent representation."
Hudson denied Cline's request, and the hearing began with Cline defending the guilty verdict in Durham County's most publicized and notorious murder case.
At noon, alarms sounded and sheriff's deputies evacuated the building due to a bomb threat that kept the courthouse employees milling outside for an hour.
Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel Networks executive, died in a pool of blood at the bottom of a blood-spattered staircase in the Petersons' Forest Hills mansion in December 2001. Michael Peterson was a best-selling novelist and had been a Durham mayoral candidate. The case was nationally televised and was the subject of books, documentaries and film.
As an expert witness at the trial, Deaver was charged with interpreting facts in an unbiased and scientific fashion that favored neither the prosecution nor the defense. Jurors have said his testimony was essential to their deliberations and verdict, and in particular, his opinion that a bloodstain in the crotch of Peterson's shorts could only have landed there during an assault.
But over the past two years, a stream of damaging information has emerged about Deaver. A Wake County man was exonerated based in large part on the discrediting of Deaver's work in the case. An audit by former senior FBI officials singled out Deaver's lab reports as especially misleading. A bloodstain analysis team that Deaver trained and led was suspended and disbanded. A federal judge found that Deaver gave misleading testimony in a 1993 murder case.
On Tuesday, Rudolf began a systematic attack aimed at undermining Deaver's credibility in front of the judge, Hudson, who presided at the 2003 trial and now must decide whether Deaver deserved to testify back then as an expert.
Deaver testified at the Peterson trial that he was a veteran bloodstain analyst with experience in conducting tests and experiments to unravel how blood was deposited at a crime scene. He spent days at the trial testifying about experiments he conducted in a model of the Peterson's staircase.
Deaver actually had scant experience in such recreations, conducting four such experiments during his career, Hooks testified Tuesday.
The first occurred in a 1989 Greene County capital murder case where the victim had been bludgeoned with a two-by-four. Deaver tried to recreate the blood spatter using pumpkins as skulls, Kinston attorney Bill Gerrans testified Tuesday.
"I didn't understand how that had anything to do with a human skull being hit by a two-by-four," Gerrans said.
The second was a Wake County case in 1993. The third was the Peterson case.
The final recreation was a Davie County case where Deaver and one of his trainees tried to duplicate what prosecutors contended was a knife stain on a shirt. After the second try produced the desired results, Deaver is heard on the video exclaiming "Oh, even better, holy cow, that was a good one. Beautiful. That's a wrap, baby." The SBI cited that remark as a reason for firing Deaver in January.
Deaver also testified at the Peterson trial that, in addition to two classes in bloodstain analysis in the 1980s, he was mentored by SBI agent David Spittle, who was more experienced in bloodstain analysis.
"I was assigned to an expert, I was trained by him, I continued to work with him," Deaver testified of Spittle.
In an interview during the SBI's internal investigation, Spittle said he could not recall training or mentoring Deaver.
Deaver spent hundreds of hours investigating the Peterson case and seeking to recreate how the bloodstain patterns were created. At the 2003 trial, Deaver testified about his opinions, that the bloodstains indicated a homicide and showed Michael Peterson was the killer.
In a video of the trial played in court Tuesday, Rudolf is shown asking Deaver why he didn't put those opinions in his reports.
SBI policy does not permit agents to put opinions in a report, Deaver replied.
A skeptical Rudolf questioned if that was SBI policy.
"That is my testimony," Deaver said.
After the video, Hooks testified there was no such policy for field agents like Deaver.