"Brad" strode into court Monday with the chest-out, shoulders-back carriage drummed into all who ever wore a uniform. His head was shorn but for the top, where the ends glinted a honey gold. He smiled.
For weeks, he struggled against his moment before the television cameras in court, even though much more than his face had been featured on a website soliciting clients for a male escort service. But at last, when it could not be avoided, Brent Wolgamott appeared in State v. Peterson, ready for his close-up.
A sophomore in chemistry at N.C. State University with a 3.97 grade point average and dreams of medical school, Wolgamott, 28, was at one time "Brad from Raleigh," advertised on the Internet as a military man who would have sex with other men for money. The website featured a naked picture of Wolgamott.
In August and September 2001, while on active duty with the Army at Fort Bragg, Wolgamott exchanged e-mail with Mike Peterson in which Peterson agreed to pay for sex for $150 an hour.
On the date they made, Wolgamott stood up Peterson. They never met in person, and they never had sex. But prosecutors have said the e-mail constitutes a crucial link in the events that led to the death of Peterson's wife, Kathleen , 48, on Dec. 9, 2001. She was found at the foot of the back staircase in the couple's Durham mansion, lying in a pool of blood that flowed from lacerations in her scalp.
Much of the prosecution's case aimed to find the story of Kathleen Peterson's death in her blood. On Monday afternoon, SBI agent John Bendure, who studies fibers, said he examined the pair of khaki shorts that police collected from Mike Peterson. The front of the shorts was covered with blood. But Bendure said he found eight tiny drops of blood spattered on the inside of the right leg of the shorts, on the back.
But before that, prosecutors used Wolgamott's testimony to fill out their timeline: Late on Dec. 8, 2001, Kathleen Peterson asked a colleague at her company, Nortel Networks, to send a document via e-mail to one of her husband's accounts. Prosecutors said last week that they think Kathleen Peterson may have opened the account that contained the exchange between her husband and Wolgamott, which may have led to a fight. So far, they have not offered evidence that she saw the e-mail.
At the least, introducing the e-mail and presenting Wolgamott to the jury would put a cloud over defense attorneys' description of the Petersons' marriage as idyllic.
When chosen for the jury in the first-degree murder case against the novelist-politician, the eight women and four men said they could deal with courtroom discussions of homosexuality, bisexuality and pornography. Last week, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said the jury should see and hear the prosecution's evidence about Mike Peterson's sexual orientation and taste for gay porn. On Monday, the jury received a stack of 400 photographs of naked men unearthed from the hard drive of Peterson's computer.
Statement not enough
But the witness who could put words to the pictures was Wolgamott.
He left active duty, now lives in Raleigh and no longer works as an escort. When prosecutors subpoenaed him, he went to Peterson's chief defense attorney , David Rudolf, for help because he was trying to turn his life around and did not want to be exposed.
Rudolf drafted a sworn statement that Wolgamott hoped would suffice. It did not. Then Wolgamott retained Durham lawyer Thomas F. Loflin III to obtain a grant of immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. Solicitation for sex is illegal in North Carolina.
For the scheduled appearance of "Brad" on Monday morning, Superior Courtroom No. 1 brimmed with observers; the place had not been so full since opening statements July 1. Wolgamott wore a blue blazer with brass buttons, a blue shirt, a blue and gold tie and khakis. He put his left hand on the Bible, raised his right hand -- and smiled.
When Assistant District Attorney Freda Black asked about his escort business, Wolgamott invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Hudson granted him immunity.
As Black led him along, Wolgamott relaxed. She asked how he got work from the escort website.
"People see my e-mail address or call me to get information about my services."
"And what types of services did you perform?"
"Oh, well, that's pretty broad," he said cheerfully. "Basically, it's companionship for other males of legal age."
"Did that involve sexual activity?"
"Sometimes it does."
"What types of sexual activity?"
"Oh, just about anything under the sun, heh-heh. Uh, I mean, I don't know exactly how much the court wants me to go into detail, but, uh ..."
Hudson said, "The court just wants you to answer the question."
Wolgamott said, "That's my answer."
Black repeated, "Anything under the sun?"
"Yes, ma'am," the witness replied. "Safely, I might add."
His e-mail conversation with Mike Peterson, 59, started in August 2001. At the time, Peterson was running for the Durham City Council, an election he lost.
The e-mail messages introduced in court contained coarse expressions for sexual organs and explicit descriptions of what Peterson sought with Wolgamott. On Sept. 2, 2001, Peterson wrote, "You're not looking for a relationship, and neither am I. We each have lives. I know you deal with professional types who obviously can afford a couple hundred bucks to get off and maybe get degraded a little. Hey, I know a lot of guys like that myself."
Wolgamott said he set a price of $150 an hour.
"Was that your normal price?"
"In the beginning of my short career, yes."
"Your prostitution career?"
Wolgamott sniffed. "I do prefer to call it 'escort.' "
A moment of laughter
Peterson invited Wolgamott to meet him on Sept. 5, 2001, in "his house or another house that he had." But Wolgamott said he was too tired to make the date. Six days later came the terrorist attacks on the United States, and active-duty personnel went to high alert. Wolgamott said he sent an e-mail message Sept. 30 to Peterson to apologize but got no response.
On cross-examination, Rudolf asked Wolgamott what led him to go into the escort business. Wolgamott said he was saving money for his education. Most of his clients were married men. "Usually, they are professionals, because my fees were quite high. I saw doctors, attorneys, uh, one judge."
Just about everyone in court laughed out loud, including the jury. Hudson looked over the scene impassively, then with impeccable timing said, "It was not this judge."
Rudolf's questions to Wolgamott intimated that the defense believes Kathleen Peterson knew her husband was interested in men sexually and that she was not troubled by it.
Rudolf paused, then asked, "Sir, do you know anything about the death of Kathleen Peterson?"
Wolgamott leaned forward to the microphone.
"I know diddly. Diddly."
Hudson asked, "I take it that means nothing?"
"I know nothing. Zip."
The witness stepped down from the box and, going behind the lawyers' tables, walked right past Mike Peterson, who did not move. At the side door, Wolgamott cast a last glance into the courtroom, then turned the knob and left.
The Peterson Trial - Day 25
SUMMARY: A former $150-an-hour prostitute, Brent Wolgamott, testified that about three months before Kathleen Peterson's death, Mike Peterson had arranged by e-mail and phone to pay him for sex. Prosecutors had sought the testimony to show that all was not well in the Petersons' marriage. But Wolgamott said that he never showed up for the liaison and that the two men never met or exchanged communications again. Later Monday, a fiber expert for the State Bureau of Investigation described how some blood on the shorts Mike Peterson was wearing at the scene of his wife's death had soaked through from the inside to the outside.
SURPRISES: After trying vigorously to keep his name out of the trial, Wolgamott decided to forgo Monday any attempts to hide his identity, even though Judge Orlando Hudson had agreed to seal court documents bearing Wolgamott's name and to allow him to testify without stating his name.
QUOTABLE: "It was not this judge," Hudson, responding to Wolgamott's testimony that his clients have included doctors, lawyers and one judge.
COMING UP: Court will be recessed today because of a personal commitment of Hudson's. On Wednesday, one of the state's key witnesses, SBI agent Duane Deaver, is expected to begin testifying about the meaning of the blood spatter at the death scene.