Michael Peterson's bisexuality and testimony about a death
similar to his wife's were relevant in the author's 2003
murder trial, North Carolina prosecutors say. In
a filing Tuesday with the state court of appeals,
lawyers for the state attorney general's office said
Peterson, a Durham novelist, received a fair trial.
Peterson, 62, was convicted of first-degree
murder in the death of his wife, Nortel Networks
executive Kathleen Peterson, whose body was found
December 9, 2001, at the bottom of a staircase in the
couple's home. Peterson said her death was an accident.
In his appeal, Peterson challenged trial rulings
by superior court judge Orlando Hudson to allow
evidence of Peterson's bisexuality. He also challenged
Hudson's decision to allow testimony regarding the similar
death 20 years ago of Elizabeth Ratliff in Germany.
In their response, assistant attorneys general
John G. Barnwell and William B. Crumpler wrote: "The
State's case against defendant was not merely
convincing; it was powerful."
In 1985, Ratliff, a Peterson family friend, was
found dead at the bottom of a bloody staircase in her
home. Prosecutors said Peterson was the last person to
see her alive. Ratliff's death was ruled an accident until
Durham prosecutors had her body exhumed and a second autopsy
concluded that she had been attacked. Peterson's
attorneys said the evidence didn't show that their
client was involved in the death.
But the prosecutors said that at the very least,
Peterson could have learned from Ratliff's death.
"This understanding, these lessons, would not have
been lost on defendant once he decided to kill
Kathleen," the state attorneys wrote. "He had a pattern, a
model, that he could follow in creating the illusion
of an accident."
Peterson's lawyers also argued that prosecutors
could not show that his sexual orientation was
relevant. Prosecutors argued that the defense opened
the door for that testimony when one of Peterson's trial
lawyers said the couple had an ideal marriage. "The
defendant led two lives," the state's lawyers wrote.
"One of them was a sometime novelist...and the
socially prominent (and supposedly perfect) husband of
Kathleen Peterson. The other was as a homosexual, or
bisexual male, with an obsessive interest in male,
homosexual pornography.... The existence and
revelation of this second and secret life was highly
relevant to his motive for murder."
A decision on the appeal is not expected until
midsummer or later. (AP)