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Michael Peterson of Netflix’s “The Staircase” writes new ebook

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Michael Peterson wonders if David Rudolf made a mistake in not permitting him to testify

“I paid him a fortune, so I went with it,” Michael Peterson stated about regretting David Rudolf’s determination to not let him testify through the trial, what Peterson thought stored himself from being humanized earlier than the jury.

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“I paid him a fortune, so I went with it,” Michael Peterson stated about regretting David Rudolf’s determination to not let him testify through the trial, what Peterson thought stored himself from being humanized earlier than the jury.

Michael Peterson has completed his story. He has labored on it for a very long time, in some methods since his eight years in jail. Now it’s full — a ebook he put on-line, free to obtain. It’s about every thing: the dying of his spouse, Kathleen; his trial; his conviction; his time incarcerated; his life since.

“Behind the Staircase,” it’s referred to as — a play on the title of the Netflix documentary, “The Staircase,” which was launched final summer time. The documentary launched Peterson and his case, arguably essentially the most infamous true-crime spectacle in latest North Carolina historical past, to a worldwide viewers.


Michael Peterson photographed at his condominium in Durham, NC Saturday, April 21, 2019.

Scott Sharpe


For months, we now have talked in regards to the ebook. He had hoped to have it prepared in mid-November, then after Christmas. In February, he sends an e mail saying that the web site to obtain it’s prepared.

“There may also be an Amazon Kindle and print ebook obtainable in a number of days,” he writes. “Out of respect for you, I can’t ship this info to different media for a short while, together with that bitch from London on the Day by day Mail who banged on my door, then did a 10-page hatchet job on me. …”

It’s a jarring description of a feminine reporter who arrived at Peterson’s condominium in Durham at some point final summer time, on the top of the craze over the documentary. It’s jarring, particularly, coming from a person who spent eight years in jail after being convicted of killing his second spouse.

Peterson is 75 now, and for practically twenty years his life has been consumed a method or one other by what occurred on Dec. 9, 2001, when Kathleen Peterson was discovered useless on the backside of the again staircase of their house, lined in blood. Peterson has insisted that he was harmless.

On the trial, a jury convicted him. In jail, he misplaced his appeals. Then got here the revelation that Duane Deaver, a former SBI blood spatter analyst, exaggerated his experience and misled the jury. Peterson’s conviction was thrown out in 2011.

For years after, he lived in purgatory, uncertain if prosecutors would retry him, uncertain if he’d return to jail for the remainder of his life. Lastly, in 2017, he accepted an Alford plea, which allowed him to plead responsible to manslaughter in trade for a sentence of time served.


Michael Peterson (heart) is flanked by his attorneys David Rudolf (left) and James D. “Butch” Williams (proper) on the Durham County Courthouse, in Durham, N.C. Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. He was talking to the media after taking an Alford plea for manslaughter within the dying of his spouse Kathleen Peterson on Dec. 9, 2001. Peterson maintains his innocence regardless that he plead responsible, which is allowed when taking an Alford plea.

Chuck Liddy


He walked out of courtroom a free man — as free as anybody could be after a homicide conviction, after accepting obligation for his spouse’s dying, and after a civil judgment that ordered him to pay certainly one of his stepdaughters, Caitlin Atwater, $25 million, cash he doesn’t have and by no means will.

“I can’t personal something,” he says to me at some point in his condominium, “as a result of I’d lose it.”

He rents the place. He leases his automotive. He says 4 New York Metropolis publishers had been curious about his ebook, however they backed off once they understood his authorized predicament. He speaks about every thing as if he’s come to phrases with it, and but he finds fault within the logic.

“I owe her now with curiosity, most likely $35 or $40 million {dollars} for what (Caitlin) considers me killing her mom,” Peterson says. “Effectively, I didn’t do this. So ought to I owe her that cash?”

That’s why the ebook is free: As a result of in some methods, Peterson nonetheless isn’t. What’s freedom to a person many suppose ought to nonetheless be locked away?


Michael Peterson stands along with his spouse Kathleen as he watches the ultimate tally come up brief for him in his quest for mayor of Durham. At again is certainly one of his daughters.

Chuck LIddy

Information & Observer file picture

He appears to understand the thriller surrounding him. A lifelong storyteller — a novelist who wrote freelance political columns for The Herald-Solar in Durham within the mid-to-late 1990s — Peterson embraces the drama.

The hyperlink within the e mail he despatched me goes to his web site for the ebook. There’s an “In regards to the Writer” part.

“Kathleen as soon as instructed me that I used to be each character in each ebook I’d written; she stated she might establish me in all of them,” Peterson writes, earlier than itemizing a number of characters. “… ‘None of them are all unhealthy,’ I stated. ‘True,’ she answered, ‘however none are all good both.’

“I believe she was on to one thing. So who am I?”

‘I didn’t kill Kathleen’

The query posed in his ebook’s introduction units up Peterson’s story. He’s usually telling one. A couple of minutes after knocking on his door in mid-November, our first assembly, I’m following him inside, previous the lounge, to a small nook subsequent to the kitchen.

Stacks of memorabilia cowl a desk: pictures from his time in Vietnam, the place he served within the Marines; certainly one of him in a hospital mattress after an damage. Close to the highest is a duplicate of Time journal. He opens it to the web page the place there’s a blurb about “The Staircase.”

The article describes him as “suspiciously laid-back.” He wonders what which means. He doesn’t prefer it. Peterson has stored every thing he might discover that has been written in regards to the documentary. Among the tales, he doesn’t admire. He retains these, too.

“Suspiciously laid-back.” He asks once more what that’s about, shaking his head.


Michael Peterson on Oct. 6, 2003 throughout his homicide trial in Durham, NC. At proper is Martha Ratliff and at heart is Margaret Ratliff, the 2 younger ladies Peterson has reared from childhood.

Chuck Liddy

Information & Observer file picture

Peterson is aware of that some folks simply suppose he’s responsible, that he belongs in jail. He lives with that, simply as he lives with the distinction between the life he’s nonetheless studying to dwell and the one which was his earlier than Dec. 9, 2001.

Again then, he was often known as a profitable novelist with a ardour for politics. Individuals delighted in his conflict tales. He counted docs and attorneys and politicians amongst his pals. Only a few of them stay in his orbit. Now the reminiscences of what was occupy the identical house as these from jail.

In a single second, Peterson can inform tales about being a pupil at Duke College and assembly B. Jordan Everett, the Democratic senator from North Carolina. In one other, his thoughts redirected, Peterson can describe the lads he met inside Nash Correctional Establishment.


Michael Peterson is handcuffed by Durham Sheriff’s officer Bryan Mister after being discovered responsible of first diploma homicide within the dying of his spouse Kathleen Peterson. He was sentenced to life in jail.STAFF PHOTO:CHUCK LIDDY

Chuck LIddy

Information & Observer file picture

He has tales about inmates with names like Johnny Blood, Banger, Jay Chicken, The Dwarf. He can inform tales about Rae Carruth, the previous Carolina Panthers participant who served time in Nash, too. They shared the identical legal professional, David Rudolf. Peterson says he and Carruth turned pals.

“Some main, main, main characters in jail,” Peterson says. “Much more fascinating than the cocktail crowd I used to hang around with.”

Peterson feels the rejection from that crowd. After his conviction was overturned in 2011, there was no welcome-home get together. There was no house. The big home that he shared with Kathleen, the one off of Cedar Road in Durham’s Forest Hills Neighborhood, was however a reminiscence to Peterson. So had been a variety of his friendships.

“Individuals I had recognized, those who Kathleen and I had recognized nicely … none of them reached out to me,” Peterson says, sitting inside an condominium that’s about four miles away from Cedar Road. “At first I believed, my God, I’m out of jail, , my conviction was overturned – I didn’t kill Kathleen …”

“I believed, ‘Oh, what’s it, ? Was it as a result of it got here out (within the trial) that I used to be bisexual and so they had been going to be contaminated, that it was contagious or one thing?’ I don’t know. However then I noticed, hell, I don’t wish to be part of their life — not remotely curious about their life.”

Persons are curious about his. In March, the “Dr. Phil” present flew Peterson to Los Angeles for a taping of the present, which is able to air over two episodes April 22 and 23. (“We didn’t bond, … he thinks I used to be responsible,” Peterson writes in an e mail to me about his interview with psychologist Phil McGraw.)

He says he has a whole lot of pal requests on Fb. Throughout a latest journey to the airport, he says he usually felt stares. Not way back, at Goal, he says a person within the car parking zone requested for a selfie. He says two extra did on the library.

“Occurs on a regular basis,” he says, “as a result of, clearly, of Netflix.”

He says he had no concept earlier than “The Staircase” was launched that Netflix had bought the documentary. Peterson hasn’t made any cash from it and, even when he had, it wouldn’t be his to maintain. Within the months after it started streaming final June, his case once more turned a spectacle.

He says he hasn’t watched the documentary. He has problem remembering when the filming ceased, and even when he accepted the plea deal that formally ended his case.

“I hold shedding observe of time,” he says.

‘I can… make up life’

In jail, time slows down in some methods and accelerates in others. Peterson spent eight years there, but emerged trying like he had spent 20 or extra. In an e mail earlier than our in-person introduction, he gives a warning: “Don’t be frightened once you see me. I appear to be hell and am hobbling round on a walker.”

He has simply had surgical procedure on his toes, a process he describes as lengthy overdue to restore an previous navy damage. His toes look gnarly, with little steel pins, like small nails, protruding of every certainly one of his toes. He’s in ache. He seems older than 75. His eyes are nonetheless a piercing blue, however usually there’s a touch of concern in them, as if he’s anxious about one thing. They’re set again within the sockets.


Michael Peterson photographed at his condominium in Durham, NC Saturday, April 21, 2019.

Scott Sharpe


Peterson lives alone. The relative isolation doesn’t trouble him. It didn’t, both, in jail, the place he says he took 5 journeys to “the opening” — solitary confinement. He says the longest of these lasted roughly 34 days. He earned these journeys, he says, as a result of he was usually “antagonistic to authority.”

“Generally I welcomed it as, thank God, . I’m away from all these different assholes on the market. I don’t should cope with something. It’s good. So solitude by no means has bothered me. I imply, writers are, by selection or necessity, solitary people. …

“And I’ve this terrific creativeness and I can simply, , make up life.”

Statements like which can be sufficient to present pause. Peterson has a historical past of embellishment. Twenty years in the past, he ran for Durham mayor, and constructed a part of his marketing campaign on his navy report. In Vietnam, he had earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Valor. Peterson additionally claimed two Purple Hearts. His navy report, nevertheless, contained no proof of these, and after a Information & Observer reporter confronted Peterson throughout his marketing campaign, he acknowledged that he had fabricated a narrative a couple of leg damage.


Michael Peterson speaks with protection legal professional David Rudolf as his homicide trial continues Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2003, in Durham, N.C. Peterson was on trial for the homicide of Kathleen Peterson.

Chuck Liddy

Information & Observer file picture

When he tells a narrative lately, it’s tough to know the place the exaggerations may lie. His tales from jail are crammed with accounts which can be practically unimaginable to confirm. He has tales about teaching Carruth on a jail softball group, and turning into shut. Peterson has others about serving to inmates earn their GEDs, which he says earned him respect from Nash’s chief of the Bloods, the infamous gang.

In one other story, Peterson has misplaced his marriage ceremony ring. He was allowed to put on it, and at some point after a bathe he seen it was gone. He knew the ring can be a profitable commodity in a spot the place even postage stamps are like money. An hour handed. A youthful prisoner discovered Peterson and introduced the ring.

“He cleaned the bathe, which is the worst job you possibly can have,” Peterson says.

He nonetheless wears the ring. He says it reminds him of Kathleen, but in addition of incarceration, and “that poor child who had nothing, and returned it to me.”

“So I’ll by no means take it off,” he says.

Peterson’s life after jail

In some methods, Peterson tells me, it was tougher to go away jail, to readjust to the skin, than it was to go in. He has been out now for about eight years, which is about so long as he spent inside.

He nonetheless finds pleasure in easy issues: the house and quiet of an empty room, the liberty to slowly sip a cup of espresso within the morning. His again window overlooks timber and greenery — a distinction to the grime observe and patch of cement that stuffed the slender view from his cell.

He cried so much there, at first. One evening he went to the ballet along with his first spouse, Patty Peterson. (They’re nonetheless shut.) Peterson broke down on the efficiency. He visited a psychiatrist: “I would like you to un(expletive) my head,” Peterson says he instructed him. The physician instructed him to cry.

“What’s incorrect with crying?” Peterson asks now. “What’s incorrect in getting into and remembering the sorrow for Kathleen, the sorrow in your kids? My mom was useless. My father who died whereas I used to be in jail. All of this stuff, it’s okay to cry about that.

“And it’s referred to as catharsis. And it’s additionally referred to as book-writing. In order that’s what I did.”

In Peterson’s thoughts, he’s a sufferer who wrongly spent eight years in jail, and who, out of concern of going again, pleaded responsible to manslaughter. If he might have profited off of his ebook, he says he would have donated the cash to 3 charities, together with the Innocence Undertaking.


Larry Pollard at a press convention in entrance of the Durham County Courthouse in 2008. Pollard, a former neighbor of convicted assassin Michael Peterson, was making an attempt to bolster his speculation that an owl killed Peterson’s spouse, Kathleen, as an alternative of Peterson.

Harry Lynch

Information & Observer file

The Owl Concept

On a chilly sunny day in January, a small group has gathered with Peterson in Durham: Patty; Joan Miner, who labored on Peterson’s mayoral marketing campaign; and Eric Smith, a pal who went to Duke and likewise works out on the identical Durham YMCA as Peterson does. Michael Peterson is shifting round higher, two months after the surgical procedure on his toes.

Peterson’s social circle is small. His pals now have been his pals for a very long time. They’re those who visited in jail, who stood by whereas others turned away.

“I felt like that’s what occurred to Michael, that he acquired accused after which abruptly everyone simply form of acquired on the bandwagon and figured he was responsible as a result of he was accused,” says Miner, who for years managed Peterson’s visitation listing at Nash. “… So why did I wish to keep pals with him? Effectively, as a result of he wanted a pal.”

We’re heading to Raleigh for a lunch go to with Nick Galifianakis, who was a U.S. Congressman within the late 1960s and early ‘70s earlier than he unsuccessfully ran for Senate, shedding to Jesse Helms when Helms gained the primary of his 5 phrases. I’m in the midst of the backseat, the place Patty, to my proper, gives me lozenges and tries to buckle my seat belt.

“You’re in essentially the most harmful place within the automobile,” she says. She’s a retired trainer.

Peterson drives, and shortly the dialog turns to politics.

“I do know all of us would agree on this automotive right here, that the world be completely different if Nick had overwhelmed Jesse Helms,” Peterson says.

His thoughts takes him again to that Senate race within the early ‘70s. Peterson’s service within the Marines had simply ended. He and Patty had simply purchased a home on College Drive in Durham. It was near the 1972 presidential election, when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern within the largest landslide in historical past.

“Patty went canvasing for McGovern,” Peterson says. “Do you do not forget that, Patty? You went up on Oak Drive.”

“By no means to be forgotten,” she says.

She and Peterson are pals, regardless of their divorce and all that got here after. Patty is aware of it appears a bit uncommon. She was shut, like sisters, she says, with, Elizabeth Ratliff, who was Peterson’s neighbor when he and Patty lived in Germany within the 1980s. Ratliff, like Kathleen in 2001, was discovered useless on the backside of a staircase.

Peterson then raised Ratliff’s younger daughters, Margaret and Martha, as his personal. Through the trial, the suspicion surrounding Ratliff’s dying was used towards Peterson. Elizabeth Ratliff, Patty says within the automotive, “was my dearly beloved pal.” Patty tries to elucidate her relationship with Peterson.

“I lecture myself each day,” she says. “Attempt to be a greater human being. Attempt to be form. As my kids and all of my college students know, we should have a form coronary heart for others and I stated this to all of my college students, the best side of human intelligence is compassion and love for others.”

Peterson parks exterior the senior dwelling facility the place Galifianakis lives along with his spouse, Louise. The constructing has the texture of a luxurious resort. Contained in the unit, Galifianakis, 90, is lounging in a chair, the TV tuned to CNN, the place they’re speaking in regards to the newest with President Trump, and his claims of a disaster on the border.

Peterson walks in and makes a joke that his previous pal ought to run for president. They share a second, and Galifianakis, who’s the uncle of actor and comic Zach Galifianakis, asks Peterson about his ebook.

Nick Galifianakis had visited Peterson in jail and labored with Peterson’s protection. The dialog jogs Galifianakis’ reminiscence: “Oh, I’ve acquired to let you know this,” he says with pleasure. And so begins a narrative a couple of lunch Galifianakis shared with pals, certainly one of whom requested about notable circumstances he had tried.

“I acquired right into a dialogue with him,” Galifianakis says, “about my pal, your neighbor.”

“Oh, Larry,” Peterson says. “Larry Pollard.”

“Larry Pollard,” Galifianakis says. “And I instructed him about Larry and the owl.”

Larry Pollard is one other lawyer. He nonetheless lives in Durham on Cedar Road, not removed from the place Peterson and Kathleen lived. Pollard invented what has been referred to as the Owl Concept, and in some methods has devoted his life to it. It’s the speculation that an owl assault led to Kathleen’s dying.

Not even Peterson took it significantly, at first. Now, in a wierd approach, each males really feel empathy for the opposite; Pollard as a result of he feels Peterson didn’t kill his spouse, and Peterson due to the response Pollard has obtained for years.

“That man has suffered greater than anyone, besides me, throughout my trial and afterwards,” Peterson says. “He was ridiculed, dismissed as a lunatic. After which it got here out oh, wait a minute, there may be extra to this.”

The Owl Concept has grow to be a fascination. Peterson listens to Galifianakis go on about it. He tells Peterson that not way back Pollard introduced over a big stuffed owl, the identical form he believes attacked Kathleen. He introduced over a ebook with proof he’s collected over time.

One of many items, Pollard says throughout a cellphone name later, he calls “my smoking feather.” Throughout that cellphone name, Pollard talks for about an hour, most of it unprompted by any query. He makes a number of invites to see the proof he’s collected, together with the stuffed owl. He is aware of how all of this sounds: “It has triggered me to lose friendships, lose respect, be ridiculed within the press,” he says.

Galifianakis asks Peterson if he’s seen the stuffed owl.

“Oh, God sure,” Peterson says.

Now Galifianakis remembers, too, that Pollard introduced a small memento: just a little owl figurine. It’s cartoonish-looking — an owl hatching out of a pumpkin. It seems like a fall ornament.

“Louise, would you get that little owl factor?” Galifianakis asks his spouse. “You thoughts getting it?”

“Yeah, I do,” she says, taking pictures him a glance earlier than rising off the sofa.

“Behind you,” Galifianakis says. “There’s just a little owl sitting on that factor there.”

She brings it over to Peterson. He holds it and appears at it, this cartoonish owl, a illustration of the fowl that, maybe, might have attacked his spouse 18 years in the past, resulting in the tip of her life and endlessly altering the course of his. Peterson grows quiet however not for lengthy.

He palms the owl again and rises from his chair. He leads the group downstairs for lunch. There, they speak about conflict and jail and rising previous. Peterson has completed his ebook however his tales proceed.

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