The Investigation Discovery Channel (ID) has announced a three-part documentary series on the death of Kathleen Peterson.
Peterson was found dead in December 2001 at the bottom of a staircase in the Durham home she shared with husband, novelist Michael Peterson. Michael Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003 and was in prison for eight years before his conviction was overturned because of improprieties at the State Bureau of Investigation. Peterson entered an Alford plea while awaiting a new trial last year, allowing him to plead guilty to manslaughter while maintaining his innocence.
"An American Murder Mystery: The Staircase" will premiere on Investigation Discovery (ID), on April 8.
ID says the show promises to explore "the shocking theories, critical evidence and surprising secrets that thrust this case into the national spotlight," calling the series the "unabridged story" of Kathleen's death and Michael's trial.
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The three-part series will have new interviews with key players in the case, including Kathleen's sister Candace Zamperini, who initially defended Michael Peterson and later testified against him; and male escort Brent Wolgamott, who was emailing with Michael Peterson about a potential meeting prior to Kathleen's death, and who also testified at the trial.
The special will also include legal experts, jurors and reporters who covered the case from the beginning. Former News & Observer reporter Joseph Neff is one of the reporters interviewed for the series.
Henry Schleiff, president of Investigation Discovery, called Kathleen Peterson's death "one of the most confounding cases in history."
In a news release about the series, Schleiff cited the many interesting aspects of the case," from Michael’s salacious secrets to investigator misconduct to the odd owl theory," as the reason the network launched the project.
The Peterson case in popular culture
The Peterson case has been the subject of numerous true crime TV shows, books and podcasts. Here are just a few examples:
▪ The murder and subsequent trial were the subject of a 2004 French documentary miniseries, "The Staircase," by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. The film crew embedded with Peterson, his family and the defense team to make the film.
▪ A 2006 episode of the Headline News series "Forensic Files" focused on the Peterson case. The episode was called "A Novel Idea."
▪ In 2007, a Lifetime movie called "The Staircase Murders" starred Treat Williams as Michael Peterson and Kevin Pollak as Peterson's attorney, David Rudolf.
▪ The French documentary was the inspiration for the first season of the NBC sitcom "Trial & Error," which aired in March 2017. In that show, a poetry professor (John Lithgow) goes on trial for the murder of his wife, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in front of shattered window. In the final episode of the season, after the husband is convicted and sent to prison, cell phone video is discovered of the wife being attacked and killed by an owl. (An owl attack was one of the more unusual theories floated as a possibility for Kathleen Peterson's death.)
▪ In April 2017, NBC's "Dateline" tackled the Peterson case with an episode called "Down the Back Staircase." Peterson was interviewed by Dennis Murphy about his decision to plead out the case.
▪ Late last year, a BBC podcast called "Beyond Reasonable Doubt?" examined the case and scored a long interview with Michael Peterson. Reporter Chris Warburton also interviewed the Petersons' former neighbor, Larry Pollard, who came up with the infamous "Owl Theory."
Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain