It has gripped the Triangle and likely most of North Carolina for 15 years now, the tragic death of Kathleen Peterson in her Durham home in December of 2001. Her husband, Durham novelist Mike Peterson, was charged and put to trial, found guilty by a jury and sent to prison.
But there were complications — notably, a question about the credibility of an SBI blood analyst who testified. The agent later lost his job after a critical review of the SBI’s crime lab. That helped lead to Peterson’s being freed after eight years in prison, but another trial was possible.
Peterson now reportedly will be entering an Alford plea, which is recorded as a guilty plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have evidence that could lead to a jury conviction. Reports are that Peterson will plead to manslaughter and likely go free since he already has served eight years in prison. He emphatically denies he killed his wife.
Perhaps the plea will bring peace — or some measure of it — to Kathleen Peterson’s friends and family, but it cannot be said there is any kind of victory here. A much-loved person died in 2001. The intimate details of her life were discussed in a courtroom through a long-running saga, the investigation itself came under scrutiny. A second trial might have lasted for weeks.
This outcome is imperfect, but it seems the appropriate one.