NC attorney general asks state Supreme Court to review Mike Peterson case

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 16, 2013 

— The state attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to review whether Michael Peterson should get a new trial or go back to prison.

The request comes 30 days after the state Court of Appeals upheld a Durham County judge’s decision to give the novelist and one-time Durham mayoral candidate a new murder trial.

Peterson was found guilty Oct. 10, 2003, of murdering his wife, Kathleen, in their Durham home.

One of the witnesses at that trial – often described as one of the longest in recent state history – was Duane Deaver, a State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst who was forced out of his job several years ago after an independent review of the state crime lab revealed problems with some of his cases.

In December 2011, when Hudson tossed out the murder conviction over the objections of Tracey Cline, Durham’s district attorney at the time, the judge ruled that Deaver conducted unscientific experiments and misled the jury about his experience and credentials.

In seeking review by the state’s highest court, Attorney General Roy Cooper said in the petition that Peterson and his attorneys had access to, but “apparently never sought” to have SBI files searched to determine the “extent of Deaver’s working cases.”

“There is no reason why defendant could not have sought to procure the evidence in question from the SBI prior to trial, all of which existed at the time of defendant’s trial,” the petition from Cooper states.

“It is important to note that while the trial court concluded there would be a different result at trial because it would not have allowed Deaver to testify if it had known he had misrepresented his experience, the Court of Appeals focused instead on the effect that the new evidence would have on a jury trial," the petition states.

In upholding the 2011 decision by Judge Hudson in Durham, the three appeals court judges who reviewed the ruling said the importance of Deaver’s testimony was such that “had it been undermined, the jury would probably not unanimously agreed on a guilty verdict based on this evidence.”

But state prosecutors have argued that “there was plenary evidence presented” that Peterson “killed his wife.”

“Evidence that Deaver had misstated his qualifications would not have likely completely undermined his testimony,” the state’s top prosecutor said. “After all, he would have qualified as an expert in bloodstain pattern analysis even with less experience than he professed at trial.”

Defense response

Jim Cooney, the Charlotte attorney who successfully argued before the appeals court panel that Peterson should, at least, get a new trial, said Friday that the defense team plans to file a response by Aug. 26 opposing the prosecution’s petition.

Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel executive, was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the Petersons’ stately Durham home on Dec. 9, 2001. Prosecutors never found a murder weapon, but put forth several theories during the trial about Kathleen Peterson’s death. One such theory was that Peterson struck his wife on the head with a blowpoke prior to her falling down the stairs.

Michael Peterson, now 69 and restricted by electronic monitoring and house-arrest curfews, contended at trial that his wife died as the result of an accident.

Peterson did not take the stand in his defense during one of the state’s longest murder trials.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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