DURHAM — Durham novelist Michael Peterson walked out of the Durham County jail shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, joining his family for the first time after eight years in prison.
Peterson family members anxiously waited inside the building for his release, talking among themselves and occasionally getting an update from attorney Kerry Sutton.
"I didn't think this day would ever come," said Clayton Peterson, his son.
Added Clayton's wife, Rebecca, "We were always hopeful but never guaranteed."
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said Wednesday that former SBI agent Duane Deaver misled him and the jury at Peterson's 2003 murder trial, when he was convicted of killing his wife, Kathleen.
"Is a new trial required because of due process violations and the perjured testimony?" Hudson said. "The answer is yes."
Hudson set bail at $300,000 and required electronic house arrest, meaning Peterson has to be at his residence at certain times. He will stay in the Durham home of a friend.
Clayton and Rebecca Peterson's 1-year-old son was present Thursday. He has only seen his grandfather in court and when he was 4 months and 8 months old, for a total of about four hours, much of which he slept through.
"It will be a regular family celebration from the standpoint of (this is the) first time we've been together in eight years. It will just be a very special moment," said son Todd Peterson.
As Peterson was released and brought to the front of the jail in a car, family and media pressed in close to greet him. His sons clasped his hand and shared words. Peterson held his grandson for a few minutes before exiting the car to receive more hugs and words of support.
Dressed in khaki pants, blue shirt and bright, white tennis shoes, Peterson thanked his supporters and Judge Hudson for the opportunity to vindicate himself and to prove his innocence in a fair trial.
"I have waited over eight years, 2,988 days as a matter of fact - believe me, I counted - for an opportunity to have a retrial," Peterson said.
Peterson did not say what his immediate plans were.
"What I want to do now, though, is to spend time ... with my family and my children."
Before Peterson was rushed away, he fervently kissed his grandson on the forehead and shared several more hugs.
"I have no expectation (for the future)," Todd Peterson said. "Just taking it one day at a time (and) just super happy about this, and we'll just see what happens next."