Michael Peterson, the Durham novelist waiting to find out when and whether he will be retried for murder, was in a Durham County courtroom Thursday asking for a court-appointed attorney.
Who that will be was unclear on Thursday. Peterson, set to return to court Oct. 13, has been caught in a state of limbo between freedom and imprisonment for nearly three years.
Peterson stands accused of killing his wife, Kathleen, a Nortel employee found dead at the base of a stairwell in their Durham home.
A Durham jury convicted him of murder in the case on Oct. 10, 2003, after one of the longest trials in North Carolina history.
But in December 2011, Orlando Hudson, Durham’s chief resident Superior Court judge, vacated the verdict that put Peterson behind bars for eight years.
The N.C. Court of Appeals issued a ruling in July 2013 upholding Hudson’s decision to grant Peterson a new trial. In December 2013, the N.C. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
Now Durham prosecutors are weighing next steps, which could include another protracted trial, which would be costly for the state and the defendant. They’ve also weighed whether to negotiate a plea deal.
The verdict was vacated after defense lawyers brought forward evidence about one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses.
That witness, Duane Deaver, a former State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst, 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.
Hudson ruled that Deaver conducted unscientific experiments and misled the jury about his experience and credentials.
Kathleen Peterson was found dead Dec. 9, 2001, and prosecutors went to trial without a murder weapon and with no clear motive for her death.
Mike Peterson maintains that he did not murder his wife. He has been out of prison since December 2011, when he won a new trial.
Until July, Peterson was subject to house arrest and electronic monitoring. In July, a judge gave him permission to move about more freely, ordering the anklet monitoring his movement unlatched. He must ask permission to leave the state.
He has been ordered not to travel to the Northern Virginia metropolitan area where the family of his wife lives, according to the new conditions of his bond. If that cannot be avoided, pre-trial release service officials must notify the family.