Novelist convicted in wife’s murder
DURHAM, N.C. ? A novelist was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison Friday for the beating death of his wife, whose body was found at the foot of a staircase.
Michael Peterson turned to his family with a pained smile, saying “I love you … it’ll be all right,” before a bailiff handcuffed him and led him to a holding cell.
The 59-year-old novelist will not be eligible for parole. His lawyer planned an appeal.
Peterson maintained his wife, Kathleen, must have fallen down the stairs Dec. 9, 2001, after drinking in celebration of a movie deal for one of his books.
Prosecutors introduced evidence of Peterson’s bisexuality and attempts to hire a male prostitute. They uncovered credit card debt of $143,000 and said Peterson was worried that his wife’s job as a Nortel executive was in jeopardy.
Prosecutors suggested the Petersons argued when she found e-mail he had sent to a male escort, and he killed her knowing the $1.4 million life insurance would settle their debt.
They also pointed out similarities between Kathleen Peterson’s death and that of Elizabeth Ratliff, a friend of Michael Peterson’s who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in 1985 in her home in Germany.
Prosecutor Jim Hardin said prosecutors were pleased with the verdict and relieved for Kathleen Peterson’s family.
The Petersons were married five years and had five children between them — Michael Peterson’s two sons, his wife’s daughter and Ratliff’s two daughters, whom he adopted.
Kathleen Peterson’s relatives were frequently in court, sitting across the room from Michael Peterson’s children. That group sat steadfastly behind him, his adopted daughters leaving only to avoid graphic testimony about their mother.
Authorities initially said Ratliff died because of a stroke, but her remains were exhumed and a North Carolina medical examiner said she, like Kathleen Peterson, had been beaten to death.
Defense lawyer David Rudolf said the evidence about the male escort and Ratliff’s death would be key in his appeal.
“There was evidence admitted here that was prejudicial that had nothing that had to do with this case,” he said.