Did Michael Peterson kill his then-wife Kathleen Peterson?

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Other topics: Michael Peterson
Short answer: Peterson submitted an Alford plea of manslaughter, meaning he denies committing any crime, but recognizes that the evidence would likely convince a jury of his guilt.

His wife Kathleen Peterson died on December 9, 2011[edit]

On December 9, 2001, at 2:40 a.m, Peterson called the emergency services on 911, reporting that he had just found his wife Kathleen Peterson, lying unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in their Forest Hill Neighborhood home. On his first call, he said that his wife had fallen down fifteen to twenty steps and is lying unconscious. Later, Peterson called 911 again and reported that Kathleen wasn't breathing. He later claimed to the authorities that he had been outside by the pool and had come in at 2:40 am to find Kathleen lying unconscious at the foot of the stairs. He even said that she must have fallen down the stairs due to alcohol and Valium consumption.[1]

The State presented evidence with regards to autopsy, lies, and a neighbor’s death[edit]

State alleges lacerations caused by a homicidal assault[edit]

The autopsy report concluded that Kathleen had sustained a series of severe injuries, including a fracture of the superior cornu of the left thyroid cartilage and seven lacerations to the top and back of her head. The examiner reported them to be consistent with blows from a blunt object, and Kathleen died from blood loss ninety minutes to two hours after sustaining the injuries.[2]

State alleges Peterson has lied in the past[edit]

In his statement to authorities, Peterson had mentioned that his wife Kathleen had been watching a movie and drinking wine, which led to her stumbling, intoxicated, and on valium, which caused her to fall down the steps. However, the autopsy concluded that Kathleen’s blood contained only 0.07% alcohol at the time of her death. The authorities stated that the legal limit to drive is 0.08% of alcohol, suggesting that Kathleen was not as drunk as implied by Peterson. Although a possible interaction with valium might have increased her level of intoxication. Fran Borden, a veteran police sergeant who worked on the scene, testified that he was perplexed by the fact that Kathleen’s head and spine had remained in alignment even after she had supposedly fallen down the stairs. He stated that “I squatted in the stairwell and looked up the stairs, trying to visualize every possible scenario of how Kathleen would have fallen and landed in the position where her body was found and where did all the blood come from”. He stated that it all just didn’t make much sense and correlated.[3]

State alleges Peterson might have killed Elizabeth Ratliff in a similar circumstance in the past[edit]

Elizabeth Ratliff was friends with Peterson. Peterson was the last known person to have met Ratliff alive. However, he was not found suspected of any wrongdoing. Shortly after the sudden demise of Ratliff, Peterson adopted her two daughters, Martha and Margaret Ratliff.[4]

On November 25, 1985, 43-year-old Elizabeth Ratliff was found dead in her home in Graefenhausen, Germany. She was found dead early in the morning by her nanny, lying at the bottom of the staircase surrounded by blood splatters. At that time, her death was believed to be from natural causes, concluding with an intra-cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a pre-existing blood disorder known as Von Willebrand’s disease.[5]

In June 2003, owing to the similarities between Elizabeth Ratliff’s and Kathleen’s death, German authorities reopened Ratliff’s case. Her body was exhumed after 17 years and a new autopsy was performed. The report concluded that Ratliff died from blunt force trauma to the head, likely as a result of a homicidal attack.[6]

1st trial results in conviction[edit]

On July 1, 2003, Peterson’s trial began in Durham, North Carolina. During the trial, the prosecution argued Petersson to be guilty of murdering Kathleen using a blow poke in the family house. Meanwhile, the defense claimed that Kathleen’s death was an accident- stating that she slipped on the stairs, hit her head, started bleeding, and slipped in her own blood as she tried to get up, leading to more severe head injuries.</nowiki>[7]

The prosecution also brought former male escort Brent Wolgamott to stand, testifying about his relationship with Peterson for sex on multiple occasions, in exchange for money, confirming the allegations of Peterson being bisexual and having sex outside his marriage. However, Peterson argued that Kathleen knew about his bisexuality and extramarital affairs.[8]

After four months of deliberation, on October 10, 2003, the jury held Peterson guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment without the possibility of parole.[9]

Successful retrial appeal due to misleading testimony[edit]

On September 14, 2011, Peterson was granted a new trial by a judge in North Carolina. The retrial appeal was granted after one of the key witnesses for the prosecution was found to be a suspect. Duane Deaver, who gave damning testimony regarding the blood spatter patterns at the crime scene, was found to have misled both the judge and the jury in Peterson’s case. On the basis of false testimony, Peterson was released on $300,000 bail, after serving almost a decade behind the bars. Subsequent to his release, Peterson was placed under house arrest with an ankle monitor.[10]

Peterson submits an Alford plea for manslaughter[edit]

Peterson entered an Alford Plea (a guilty plea entered because sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the offense, but the defendant asserts innocence) to the voluntary manslaughter of Kathleen, on February 24, 2017. Peterson was sentenced to seven years and a month in prison, but got out right away, with credit for time previously served after his first trial. He had already served more time than the sentenced (98.5 months), owing to which he did not face additional prison time.[11]


  1. Guimarães, Elisa (15 June 2022). "'The Staircase': Where Are Michael Peterson and His Family Now?". Collider. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  2. Morfoot, Addie; Morfoot, Addie (15 June 2022). "'The Staircase's' Michael Peterson Slams Series as 'Homophobic,' Calls Colin Firth 'Not My Favorite Actor' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  3. "Michael Peterson". Crime Museum. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  4. "A Complete Timeline of The Staircase's Michael Peterson Murder Case". Town & Country. 4 June 2022. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  5. Drapkin-Grossi, Dara (19 August 2022). "The Staircase: Where is the Real Michael Peterson Today?". MovieWeb. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  6. "There's a Reason Producers Keep Adapting 'The Staircase'". Esquire. 5 May 2022. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  7. Deutschmann, Jennifer (24 September 2022). "The Horrific Autopsy Report Of Staircase Murder Victim Kathleen Peterson - Grunge". Grunge.com. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  8. "What Happened to 'The Staircase' Subject Michael Peterson & Where Is He Now?". Just Jared. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  9. "Jury convicts Duluth man in 2019 murder". Duluth News Tribune. 24 September 2022. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  10. Peterson, Michael. "Behind the Staircase: Michael Peterson Murder Case". amazon. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  11. Feldman, Dana. "'The Staircase': A Defense Attorney Explains Why Michael Peterson Took An Alford Plea". Forbes. Retrieved 28 September 2022.