Mike Peterson’s attorney and prosecutors have negotiated an arrangement to resolve the 16-year-old murder case against the Durham novelist without a second trial.
David Rudolf, the Chapel Hill attorney who represented Peterson at the 2003 trial, acknowledged that a hearing has been set for Feb. 24.
“We’ve reached an agreement with the district attorney’s office that will resolve all charges against Mike Peterson,” Rudolf said Tuesday.
Rudolf, who returned to Peterson’s defense team in December after several years away, would not elaborate on the details of the arrangement or negotiations with the Durham District Attorney’s office. Roger Echols, the district attorney, said he could not discuss the case.
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The plea will close a case that began in December 2001, when Kathleen Peterson, a Nortel employee, was found dead at the base of a staircase inside the couple’s Durham home.
Mike Peterson has maintained throughout that he did not kill his wife. But a Durham jury convicted him of her murder in 2003.
Peterson, 73, spent eight years in prison before winning a new trial in 2011. He has been out of prison in Durham since then, awaiting the second trial, which currently is slated for May 2017.
In November, Peterson was in court with a different defense attorney, Mary Jude Darrow, seeking dismissal of his case because of the way evidence had been stored after the trial.
Judge Orlando Hudson, Durham County’s chief resident superior court judge, told Darrow she had failed to meet her burden of proof to have the case dismissed. Hudson added that he thought that much of what had been raised at that November hearing could be brought up during a new trial to cast doubt on the evidence presented by prosecutors.
The defense team found the evidence in numerous boxes stored in several different places in the Durham courthouse and police stations.
In court documents and hearings last year, Darrow described finding clothes from Kathleen Peterson and her husband mingled in boxes stored in several locations. Notes from another case were mixed in the boxes, and envelopes with “biohazard” labels on them had broken seals that left the evidence open to possible contamination.
Darrow argued in November that because of the commingling of evidence and unsealed bags and boxes, the post-trial defense team had been hampered from doing reliable DNA tests and more for the retrial.
Since Kathleen Peterson’s death, Mike Peterson’s defense team has tried to cast doubt about the police investigation.
At the 2003 trial, Rudolf and his team not only argued that Kathleen Peterson could have stumbled down the stairs while inebriated, he and others on the defense team contended that investigators homed in on Mike Peterson as the suspect early on and refused to follow evidence that might have led them to a different conclusion.
Then in 2011, the attorneys raised new questions about the work of a State Bureau of Investigation blood analyst.
Hudson ordered the new trial after finding that SBI blood analyst Duane Deaver had conducted flawed tests in the case and misled the jury.
In court documents filed shortly after Rudolf rejoined the defense team, the Chapel Hill attorney sought to suppress evidence that prosecutors presented at the first trial about Peterson’s contact with a gay escort and his interest in gay porn.
There have been talks since then about a possible plea arrangement that would alleviate the need for another trial.
The 2003 trial was one of the most protracted in Durham’s recent history.