Durham County

Peterson Trial: 'Brad from Raleigh' set to testify under immunity grant

Durham attorney Tom Loflin (left), self-described male escort Brent Wolgamott (center), 28, of Raleigh, N.C., and Durham assistant DA Freda Black look over an email the former Fort Bragg soldier testified about in the Michael Peterson murder trial.
Durham attorney Tom Loflin (left), self-described male escort Brent Wolgamott (center), 28, of Raleigh, N.C., and Durham assistant DA Freda Black look over an email the former Fort Bragg soldier testified about in the Michael Peterson murder trial. cliddy@newsobserver.com

For the man who described himself only as "Brad" from Raleigh, the Internet was a place to offer his body to strangers as a "male escort," all the while shielding his true identity.

Now "Brad" has learned just how little safety there was in his electronic masquerade. On Monday, a brief e-mail correspondence nearly two years ago will put him in a nationally televised murder trial, giving him a notoriety far beyond anything he desired.

At the request of District Attorney Jim Hardin, a Wake County prosecutor granted immunity this week to Brent Wolgamott, a 28-year-old N.C. State University chemistry student, to testify in the Mike Peterson murder trial.

A phone call to the number listed on a Web posting by "Brad" from Raleigh was answered Friday by a man who identified himself as Brent Wolgamott.

"It's been a bad day," he said, and declined to comment further.

Hardin is introducing evidence of Peterson's bisexuality, including e-mail messages negotiating sex for hire found in the depths of Peterson's computer, to show a potential motive for killing his wife in December 2001.

The messages were exchanged three months before Kathleen Peterson's death, and defense attorneys and the would-be escort's attorney say the two men never met in person.

At the time, Wolgamott was an Army pharmacy specialist posted at Fort Bragg, military records show. An athletic young man from Indiana, Wolgamott described himself in an Internet posting as a tennis player and a runner who is a fan of reality TV shows. The U.S. Tennis Association listed an Indiana player by that name as one of its rated members in 1999.

Wolgamott joined the Army in March 2000, going through basic training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas before being stationed in Fayetteville.

Sometime in 2001, prosecutors say, Peterson came across a Web site for "male escorts." In fact, forensic computer technicians digging through Peterson's hard drive found the computer had been used to visit that site 84 times.

That, they say, is where Peterson found a young man calling himself "Brad." A link from that site showed a photo of "Brad" naked on a float in a swimming pool, bragging about his anatomy, with the information that he does two or three calls a week.

Testimony in the trial this week indicated "Brad" and Peterson exchanged e-mail in September 2001, discussing the price, location and other details of an encounter that apparently never took place. "I know this is strictly business: I pay you, I have sex with you," Peterson wrote in one of the e-mail messages.

Wolgamott left active duty in March 2002 and moved to Raleigh to enroll at NCSU.

It was there that he met a man he calls the love of his life and moved in with him, according to a posting bearing Wolgamott's name on an Internet site for fans of "American Idol."

He also says on the site that he was once a contestant on "The Price Is Right," where he won $8,000 in prizes.

But "Brad" from Raleigh also hung around on the Internet: A posting on the male escort Web site dated May 29 says he is still escorting but has been busy as a full-time student.

His brief electronic interaction with Peterson came back to haunt him not long after that. A month earlier, Durham prosecutors had sent the hard drive from Peterson's computer to forensic technicians in Ohio.

Their findings led Hardin to the true "Brad," who made it clear he had no interest in testifying in the high-profile trial. Hardin subpoenaed him and he hired a lawyer, who told Hardin his client would invoke his right against self-incrimination unless promised immunity from prosecution.

Hardin, by now a month into the trial, called the district attorneys of Wake and Cumberland counties to see whether they would grant Wolgamott immunity if he testified. Hardin wanted truthful testimony without the witness worrying about being charged with prostitution or crimes against nature.

Hardin spoke with Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby about a week ago. Willoughby didn't have a problem with it, and he signed a letter Thursday promising immunity.

"The public interest in getting to the truth in finding out what happened in the homicide of Mrs. Peterson far outweighed any interest the public had in trying to go back and seek to investigate or prosecute some type of sexual conduct between consenting adults," Willoughby said Friday.

Earlier in the day, the attorney for "Brad," Thomas F. Loflin III of Durham, strode into the courtroom where the trial has been going on since July 1 and asked the judge not to force his client to testify. Loflin said his client used a military computer to correspond with Peterson, and he was concerned that the Army might take action against him for misusing government property.

Even if his client were forced to testify, Loflin asked the judge to order that news camera crews not show his client's face and that his client's name never be uttered in open court.

Loflin told Judge Orlando Hudson that his client's name and face should be shielded from the public because the revelation would cause "harassment and embarrassment."

Loflin said the protective order was necessary because "there's been quite a bit of salaciousness" surrounding State v. Peterson, with unprecedented news coverage and live broadcasts of the proceedings via Court TV.

Hudson replied that as veterans of the Durham County bar, he and Loflin have seen plenty of cases with salacious aspects. Initially, the judge indicated he was not inclined to protect a witness who was worried about being publicly identified as a male escort.

"Because he's embarrassed is not good enough," Hudson said. "Because he could be subject to harassment is not good enough."

"He's already received calls from the press ...," Loflin said.

"A reasonable person could say he brought that upon himself," the judge replied.

Still, Hudson decided he would direct the lawyers not to use the witness's name in court during his testimony, which will happen Monday, yet the judge would not prevent photographers from taking his picture.

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News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

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The Peterson trial

DAY 24

SUMMARY

A man who prosecutors say exchanged e-mail with Mike Peterson about a proposed sex-for-money liaison will have to take the witness stand. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that the man, identified in court only as an N.C. State University student named "Brad," would testify Monday, and if the judge grants the prosecution's offer of immunity, the man would have to answer lawyers' questions. Prosecutors want evidence of Peterson's bisexuality to raise doubts about his marriage to Kathleen Peterson.

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