Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New trial for Michael Peterson

People who know me know I was practically obsessed with the Michael Peterson murder trial for a while.  And holy cow -- he's now getting a new trial!
(Don't know what it is? Pick up one of these books, "Written in Blood" or "A Perfect Husband," or this fascinating documentary, which I really can't recommend highly enough.)

He's an author and very smart guy with a weird situation. He ended up taking in two girls, Margaret and Martha, when their mother died at the foot of a staircase years ago in German military housing. Then when he moved back to the States, his second wife, Kathleen, died in another staircase fall, and the amount of blood everywhere seemed to indicate she had been beaten.

And, of course, there were secrets. They lived in a mansion, but he didn't have any money -- his wife had a good but stressful job, however. And he was trolling gay military-themed escort sites -- one of the weirdest parts of the trial was when one of those hunks he contacted, who never quite got to meet him, testified about their emails. One belief was that Kathleen found the emails and confronted him, and then he killed her. And there are plenty of other oddities -- the similar death of Margaret and Martha's mother, his loopy first wife, his grown sons, one of whom planted a bomb at Duke, his war with the Durham N.C. authorities via his newspaper column, the fact that the prosecution tried to say a fireplace poker was the murder weapon and the defense produced an untouched, unbloodied poker near the end of the trial.

A French film crew covered the trial for a multi-part documentary called "The Staircase" which is unquestionably sympathetic to Peterson and they had unprecedented access. It's really fascinating if voyeuristic to watch him making dinner with his family in his home just days before the jury comes back, not knowing if he'll go to jail or not, and to watch the faces of his daughters (the birth daughters of the first woman to die on a staircase) as they cry when he's found guilty. (They don't believe he killed either of the women.) Kathleen, also had a daughter, and she does believe Peterson killed her mom, so the family ended up permanently split.

I'm wondering now if the French film crew, led by Jean-Xavier Lestrade, will come back for another go and a second documentary. Things are about to get interesting.

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