Michael Peterson reacts after pleading guilty to manslaughter
Netflix has ordered additional episodes of the French documentary series "The Staircase," which has chronicled the Michael Peterson murder trial and all of its many twists and turns.
The Jean-Xavier de Lestrade-directed series released in 2004, with eight parts covering the death of Kathleen Peterson and the subsequent murder trial of her husband, Michael. It won a Peabody Award in 2005.
Kathleen Peterson was found dead in December 2001 at the bottom of a staircase in the Durham home she shared with Michael. Michael Peterson, who has always maintained his innocence, 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.
The French film crew embedded with the Peterson family and defense team for the film. A two-episode follow-up called "Last Chance" was released in 2013, documenting Peterson's efforts for a new trial.
Three new episodes of “The Staircase” will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 28 and will be released on Netflix this summer, along with the original 10 episodes of the series. The new episodes are produced by What’s Up Films, directed by de Lestrade, and produced by Matthieu Belghiti and Allyson Luchak.
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:
▪ 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 "The Staircase" 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 a 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."
▪ In December 2017, the popular podcast "My Favorite Murder" released a special 100th episode about the case. "The Staircase" documentary was one of the things hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstock bonded over the first time they met.
▪ The Investigation Discovery (ID) channel ran a 3-part series on the Peterson case on April 8, 2018, called "American Murder Mystery: The Staircase." The series included interviews with Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin, the former male escort Brent Wolgamott (aka Brad from Raleigh) who was called to testify at the trial, with Kathleen Peterson's sister Candace Hunt Zamperini, who initially defended Michael Peterson but later testified against him.